Another chapter to Singapore’s most storied hotel.
This storied heritage hotel is the epitome of colonial-era elegance. Set in prime position, No. 1 Beach Road, like a grand three-tiered wedding cake decoratively iced with elaborate balconies and balustrades, and fringed by sweet-smelling frangipani trees.
Raffles Hotel Singapore is a national treasure, a 5-star hotel that remains a vestige of a glorious past. Somerset Maugham once remarked that Raffles “stands for all the fables of the exotic East” and it’s romanticised reputation still captivates travellers to this day.
The mythology of Raffles Hotel Singapore includes a long list of illustrious guests and literary luminaries, a legend of a tiger that came to tea and the tale of a Singaporean bartender who in 1915 created the famed Singapore Sling – an amaranth pink cocktail (gin, cherry liqueur, pineapple juice) served at the roaring parties of the hotel’s heyday.
The luxury hotel moonlights as a living museum. So much so that it has its own resident historian, Leslie Danker. Danker is more than happy to elaborate on stories that took place inside the walls of this institution on an afternoon tour arranged for guests. You know that a hotel has an authentic old-world charm when a specialised team is dedicated to counting the antiques.
Adding another chapter to the fabled history of Singapore’s ‘grand dame’, Raffles Hotel recently announced plans for restoration. The project will be conducted in three phases before closing its doors at the end of the year. Thankfully we’ve been promised that this exciting revamp “will retain what is so special about Raffles – the ambiance, the service, the charm and the heritage of the hotel”. There is a splendid reopening set for early next year.
Raffles heritage dates back 130 years when the Armenian hoteliers, the Sarskie Brothers, opened a ten-room hotel in the form of a beachfront bungalow. Over the next decade the hotel flourished with the addition of a palm court and the sumptuously decorated Neo classical building. It soon became the playground of the rich and famous.
Amongst Raffles narrative is its literary legacy where esteemed writers have long graced its halls. Joseph Conrad was one of the establishments’ earliest guests, not long followed by Rudyard Kipling. In the next century the hotel charmed the likes of Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward. Today, the presidential suite is accommodation of choice for celebrities and the British royal family.
It’s time for one ‘last hoorah’ in this chapter of Raffle’s story, so I promptly book myself a suite at Raffles Hotel. Its reputation for grandeur is confirmed as our taxi pulls up at the imposing circular driveway. We are welcomed by the Sikh doorman who escorts us along a royal red carpet into the lobby – sparkling white marble floor, vaunting ceiling and a majestic twin staircase. Inside the air is cool, a welcome retreat from Singapore’s sticky heat. There’s a faint scent of lilies from the magnificent floral decoration that takes centre stage.
Whilst our check-in is performed, we are seated on a pair of antique wing armchairs and presented with Singapore Slings decorated with a wedge of pineapple and a cherry. Dizzy with glee (and gin) we are guided across the romantic Palm Court. Our ‘Somerset Maugham’ suite is one of the twelve ‘personality suites’ dedicated to noteworthy guests closely tied to the hotel’s history. The Palm Court is a prime location with spacious rooms that open onto an idyllic veranda.
Room: The Somerset Maugham Suite
The parlour entrance feels as though one’s walking into a colonial-era apartment. There’s an abundance of character – high ceilings with a wicker fans gently spinning overhead, teakwood flooring and tasteful period furnishings. The bedroom is bedecked with potted palms, thick curtains, oriental carpets and a sizeable bed embellished with plush cushions. The antiquated writing desk has a few books written by Somerset Maugham (yes, he actually stayed in this very room). The en-suite bathroom is equally charming – a marble twin sink, a standalone bathtub, separate shower and decorative touches such as the golden taps and duck egg blue tiling.
Additional luxuries include plush robes, designer toiletries and there’s a mini bar with a bespoke Raffles 1915 botanical gin. If one fancies anything else, there’s the button to call for 24/7 butler service.
Around the hotel
Although popular with visitors who come for a drink at the bar or partake in the signature afternoon tea Raffles, the hotel remains private. There are areas where the sign ‘Residence Only’ wards off unwanted sightseers. Facilities include palm-lined courtyards, a small rooftop pool, a gymnasium, an exclusive Raffles spa and an arcade when you can locate the gift shop and the Long Bar.
The iconic Singapore Sling was invented in the hotel’s Long Bar in 1915. The bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon, created this vibrant concoction so that ladies could discreetly consume alcohol at the fashionable drinking hole. Over the coming months The Long Bar will be closed for restoration. However, there are still queues to order the drink at the Bar and Billiard Room – legendary for the tale of Singapore’s last wild tiger who was discovered hiding under the billiard table in 1902.
As Rudyard Kipling declared “feed at Raffles”. This adage still proves true as there are a variety of dining options within the hotel that are sure to take your fancy.
The Raffles Grill
For an intimate lunch, dine at The Grill. Sunlight fills the room through the tall French windows and the chandeliers sparkle accordingly. It’s a fine dining venue worthy of the Raffles’ name. We decide upon a three-course menu with a wine pairing. The entrée of seared scallops, white asparagus, kumquat chutney and barberries sauce ($52) is delicate and visually striking. For main I opt for the confit wild trout, kale, turnip salmon roe and chartreuse sauce ($85). The dessert offerings demonstrate skilful pastry work, particularly the melt-in-your-mouth mille-feuille intricately layered with vanilla pastry cream and topped with a dollop of salted caramel ice cream ($18).
North Indian Buffet in the Tiffin Room
The North Indian curry buffet is served in the unique heritage setting of the Tiffin Room. ‘Tiffin’ is an English Indian term for ‘a light midday meal’ and enjoying curry on Sundays was a typical feature of colonial life. Raffles has sought to continue this tradition for well over a hundred years and still serves an authentic Eastern flavours for lunch, as well as dinner. The spicy aroma wafting from the buffet spread is sure to induce an appetite. Whilst many flock to the famous afternoon tea, the North Indian buffet is Raffles’ best kept secret.
An international breakfast buffet is served in the Tiffin Room and it’s the hotel breakfast that dreams are made of. Order from the selection of dishes off the a la carte menu. It’s difficult to look passed the signature omelette of chopped onions, red cut chilli, fresh coriander leaf with a dash of masala and Emmental cheese. For those who are more adventurous, you could just as easily choose an Asian-style breakfast and serving of steaming dim sum.
There’s a buffet selection of fresh tropical fruit, a variety of yoghurt, cereal and bread. The display was also brimming with cakes, crumbly pastries and quality croissants. The friendly wait staff offer you exotics juices and your preference in tea or coffee.
It’s likely that once you’ve settled into Raffles you might not feel inclined to ever leave. However, if you do decide to venture elsewhere, the hotel is located in the heart of town. Although Beach Road no longer offers shimmering sea views, it’s in close proximity to museums, art galleries and Marina Bay Sands. It’s walking distance to public transport and Raffles City Shopping Centre.
To borrow a quote from a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, James A Michener, – “To have been young and had a room at Raffles was life at its best”. A stay at Raffles lived up to all my expectations and, like many before me, I consider it the place to stay in Singapore.
Before departing on the Eastern & Oriental Express bound for Bangkok, I have one last Singapore Sling to toast raffles before it undergoes its much-anticipated restoration.
For more information visit:
1 Beach Road, Singapore
For those wanting a wistful glimpse of the hotel before the final renovations take place, Raffles are taking bookings until mid-December 2017.
The writer was a guest of Raffles Hotel Singapore. My opinion is, and will always be, my own. The Portmanteau Press only includes content that aligns with the aesthetic, standard and values of the brand.