at Wild Rocket, owned by much-celebrated local chef Willin Low, the well-travelled man has an imaginative menu, fusng Singaporean flavours with modern cooking techniques, as seen in the salted egg yolk crab meatball, a dish inspired by the popular local dish served with a duck egg sauce. Splash out on a full culinary journey with his omakase dinner set, or head here for the three-course set lunch, which sees dishes like rice bowls topped with rendang.
Arguably Singapore's national dish, there are as many places to find it as there are ways to eat it. Maxwell Food Centre alone has several different chicken rice stalls, including the star-approved Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (Stall 10), which has been visited by celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain (for his show No Reservations in 2008) and Gordon Ramsay. Expect a queue for their boiled 'white' chicken, which is known for being exceptionally tender, and try it drizzled with their special sauce and sesame oil, or dipped in their punchy chilli. Also nearby is Ah Tai Chicken Rice (stall 7) or Maxwell Chicken Rice (stall 40), which offers the roasted version – try them all to see which you prefer, then add your voice to the fray.
Another quintessential Singaporean dish, chilli crab is at once sweet and savoury and tangy. Plenty of seafood restaurants serve it, but our best bet is Hua Yu Wee Seafood, housed in a colonial bungalow off the beaten tourist track. The second-generation family members who run the place still produce a brilliant chilli crab, with well-balanced flavours and just the right amount of spice to be scooped up with the obligatory deep-fried man tou (bun).
at Esquina, a local venture with British chef Jason Atherton, who is gaining a reputation that he's becoming known less as Gordon Ramsay's protégé and more as the Michelin-starred chef behind restaurants such as London's Pollen Street Social. The food at this narrow space, overseen by executive chef Andrew Walsh, is an interesting interplay of classic and fun – highlights include a pull-apart ox cheek oloroso, which is braised in sherry for eight hours and served with creamy mash, capers, crispy bacon and bone-marrow crumbs. The wine list is chosen well, with some good sherries and a range of Spanish beers.
Popular dim sum dive Swee Choon Tim Sum doesn't get started until the evening, but it keeps its doors open right up to 6am the next morning – perfect for jetlagged dinner bellies or night owls. Over-the-counter treats for on-the-run basics include char siew pau, siew mai and yam fritters ($1-$3.50).
In the day, this Tiong Bahru coffeeshop houses Hua Bee, which sees one of Singapore's very popular mee pok (flat yellow noodles) stalls by day. By night, the space transforms into Bincho: a sleek industrial yakitori-ya with set menus from $60, as well as spirits and cocktails with a Japanese state of mind.
Seek out the oldest, tastiest teh terik
Old of the oldest surviving milk tea (sarabat) stalls in town, No Name Sarabat Stall is a shoebox space with, literally, no name. But its frothy, creamy and flavourful teh terik (pulled milk tea) are known throughout the country.
Singapore is regrettably slow on the raw food trend, but with the #eatclean movement on the rise, vegan deli-retail-bar Afterglow by Anglow has its sights set on bringing the movement proper to our shores. Working with local and regional farmers to procure the crops for their inventive fare like dragon fruit, pomegranate, avocado salad bowl with chunky chopped macademia and mint dressing or raw taco bowl topped with salsa, walnut 'meat' and cashew cream. Afterglow's also noted for making its own vegan cheese.
Local coffee roasters Papa Palheta helped pioneer the third-wave coffee scene in Singapore, particularly with the opening of their uber-popular café-retail complex, Chye Seng Huat Hardware (becoming one of the first joints to plant a flag in the hipster hood of Jalan Besar). Their house blends are roasted directly in the complex from single origin beans; there's also a retail wall with grinders and bew contraptions to release flavour from the beans.
Old seamlessly fuses with new at chef-owner Bjorn Shen's Nordic-minimalist space. We love Artichoke Café + Bar's modern riffs on authentic flavours – an approach best represented by the eggs shakshouka – tender, fall-apart chunks of fresh lamb in a lightly tart tomato stew scented with cumin and tumeric, and topped with fresh eggs and a dollop of home-made labneh. The mix of traditional and modern makes sense when you learn that Shen is a returnee from Australia, a country known for its graceful approach to fusion. Pssst. Their bakery overdoughs (at the entrance) bakes up some amazing Middle Eastern treats.
A six-to nine-course omakase ('up to the chef') meal at chef Yamashita Teppei's 17-stool restaurant in the heart of the CBD goes for $40, $50 or $60. There's no catch – prices are kept low by the low maintenance of the small open-kitchen space, and dishes are quietly creative with an honest-to-goodness deliciousness. This cosy space is where every value-conscious Singaporean wants to be, and the waitlist hovers at three months.
Ditch those forks and spoons, put on your bibs and prepare to get real messy at The Cajun Kings, the forerunner of the wave of Creole-style seafood cuisine in Singapore. They offer diners free reign to pick and mix their own selection of seafood like crab, Manila clams and Boston lobsters, that are served with a house sauce of Cajun spices, garlic butter and lemon pepper. Other so-good-in-the-mouth dishes include a burger-like lobster roll – our pick for the best in town – and the Kings Burger jam-packed with a beef patty, béchamel-poached lobster, mustard seed caviar and onion jam.
Fry your own snacks at Hum Jin Pang
DIY is part of the fun at Hum Jin Pang in Maxwell Food Centre. Customers at this hawker stall are required to fry their own hum jin pang (fried sweet-savoury pancakes). Join the queue, take note what the person in front of you does, and be sure to turn the pancake over quickly – the oil is hot and everything cooks really quickly.
Chef Alain Devahive Tolsa spent a decade at elBulli, probably the most hyped restaurant on the planet, and while the tapas-focussed Catalan fare here is mostly unpretentious and delicious, there are hints of elBulli's molecular-type food, such as the exquisite Omelette Deconstrucción, a kind of gazpacho of foamy mash in a cocktail glass, with caramelised onion lying at the bottom. Tapas highlights include a suckling pig with lemon purée, so tender that it's almost foie gras-like in consistency. A carousel-like bar counter also stocks one of Singapore's biggest range of Spanish sherry and stellar cocktails created by Spanish mixmaster Adrian Batlle.
Given Tiong Bahru Market's long and checkered history, there are, unsurprisingly, plenty of stalls with storied backgrounds, and more than enough variety to build yourself a four-course meal. We suggest you start with a fluffy meat-filled bun from Tiong Bahru Pau (#02-18), followed by chwee kueh (rice cakes topped with preserved radish) at Authentic Tiong Bahru Chwee Kueh (#02-62). Partake in the perennial debate on which stall – 178 Lor Mee (#02-58) with its shark nuggets, or long-standing Tiong Bahru Lor Mee (#02-80) for its tradition – does the best lor mee (yellow noodles in braised gravy) before washing it all down with a bowl of Liang Liang Garden's (#02-75) famous dinosaur ice kachang.
When a restaurant is helmed by someone with as long-standing a reputation as Majestic Restaurant’s chef-cum-owner Yong Bing Ngen – formerly from Hai Tien Lo at the Pan Pacific Singapore – you can almost bet that the eatery will always be buzzing with activity. And it is, thanks to the crowds who can’t get enough of Yong’s ‘well-executed’ (according to Van) Chinese fare with a modern twist. Dishes such as crispy prawns with a subtle wasabi dressing and the succulent Peking duck served with pan-seared foie gras have had critics like Wu raving about its ‘excellent Canto-classics’.
You wouldn’t think it from the traditional, colourfully tiled shophouse exterior, but Cocotte – located behind the lobby of boutique hotel Wanderlust – is a French thoroughbred serving up its much raved rustic, Campagne-inspired cuisine. Bring company – and an appetite – for their Poulet Roti, an incredibly tender and flavourful whole roasted chicken. They also turn out a killer brunch menu, complete with a dim sum-like cart of small plates wheeled out periodically by chef Anthony Yeoh and team.
The best produce, includng artisan-plucked vegetables (yes, they're a thing) and artistic plates are what define meals by JAAN's chef de cuisine Julien Royer. With utmost respect to seasonality, terroir as well as the ingredients themselves, the menu of plates at this intimate 40-seater features signatures like Royer's much-loved 55-degree organic egg, placed on a bed of smoked potato, truffle and buckwheat.
Hong Kong may have gotten him first, but Joël Robuchon (the world's most Michellin-star-studded chef) now has two outposts at Resorts World Sentosa. We prefer L'Atelier over the fine-dining Joël Robuchon Restaurant because it's more interactive – from the 28 bar seats ringing the black-, red- and gold-hued counter, you can watch the grill being fired; the fabled mashed potatoes being hand-whipped (for at least 45 minuted by one person); and the dishes being plated.
In Chinatown's Restaurant André is where celebrity chef-owner André Chiang mixes food and art. Each of the dishes in his set menu resembles an artist's palette, whether in the colours or shapes of perfectly partnered ingredients to the dishes in which each course is served. The crispy porcini and onion tart, for instance, arrives on a piece of birchwood; a thin black shell created from crunchy baked risotto, dyed with bamboo charcoal and resting atop a smooth cauliflower purée. It's all very exquisite, but prepare to pay.
Fish head curry is an iconic dish created by Singapore's migrant Indians, who thriftily plonked fish heads into spice-rich gravies, and the best we've had is at Muthu's Curry. The menu is small (try the creamy butter chicken and the crispy onion-flecked brinjal) with a good vegetarian section, but the star attraction is the fish head curry. Even the small serving is a huge bowl of tart pineapple-scented sauce bathing a fleshy whole fish head. Bonus: the food comes out fast and furious.
Learn to love durian
There's no getting around it: nothing stinks like a durian. No other fruit is as pungent, with a scent so strong that it wafts through the sturdiest packaging, to the point where it gets banned on public transport. Yet despite all this, many adore the spiky-shelled fruit for its creamy texture and rich, bittersweet flavour. One favourite hunting ground is the row of over 20 durian stalls that lines Sims Avenue in Geylang. One of the biggest and most reputable ones is the reassuringly-named Wonderful Fruit Enterprise. It's got plenty of seating and free water, but it is also one of the most expensive places around, with prices going up to $22 per kg for the coveted Mao Shan Wang durians.
At acclaimed chef Tetsuya Wakuda's only internationa outpost, Waku Ghin, a meal has often been described as a 'once in a lifetime' experience. There are only two seatings (25 diners each time) every night for his ten-course degustation menu, which sees dishes such as marinated botan shrimp with sea urchin, Ohmi beef and charcoal-grilled king crab. The dishes may look deceptively simple, but the flavours ring true.
You'll have to queue for Tonkotsu King, a cosy little place near Tanjong Pagar MRT – but it's worth it for the best ramen in town. The tiny paper menu keeps things simple: 12 Tonkotsu ramens from central Japan, four of them black-spicy and four red-spicy. You then get to choose whether you want the broth light or rich, oily or not, and how firm you want your noodles. The Tonkotsu Ramen Special ($14.80) is glorious: a rich, slurpable broth, a creamy-yolked egg and three large pieces of pork. You get unlimited hard-boiled eggs, slightly spicy beansprouts and grind-them-yourself sesame seeds on the side, making a meal at Tonkotsu fun as well as tasty.
At Cookery Magic, owner Ruqxana Vasanwala has created a peaceful escape with a bohemian decor, filled with antiques and a Balinese garden out back – the perfect setting for devouring your culinary creations. Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Chinese dishes are all offered, but she remains best known for iconic Singaporean dishes - chilli crabs, pepper crabs, chicken rice and char kway teow. Read: a dash of salt in the wok prevents oil splatters.
Kaya toast – you simply can't miss out on this classic. This widely available breakfast item of toast, butter and coconut jam, is available at every kopitiam and local coffee shop. Old-school bakery Chin Mee Chin Confectionery does a beautiful rustic job – just be sure to call them kaya buns, rather than toast – although you'll need to arrive relatively earlier if you want to score any of these babies, as they often sell out by lunchtime.
Order coffee like a local
Local coffee terms can be tricky, but this quick guide should suffice in helping you fake it at the kopitiam (local coffee shop). Say 'Kopi O' if you want your coffee black and sweet, 'Kopi' if you want it with condensed milk and sugar, and 'Kopi C' if you prefer it with evaporated milk and sugar. Add 'peng' at the end if you want to make your order an iced version.
The 24-hour prata houses at Jalan Kayu have satisfied many a late night craving for oily, fried dough slathered in curry gravy or dipped daintily in sugar. Thasevi Food Famous Jalan Kayu Prata is possibly the most famous roti prata in Singapore – it pioneered a new kind of roti – the type that's crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside and not too oily, but they're small. Then again, it's open 24 hours, so you can always come back for more. Wash it down with a mug of frothy teh terik (milk tea).