Fourteen years ago, Aussie expat Emma Maxwell visited Singapore for what she expected to be a three-month stint. But thanks to the island city’s incredible dynamism, the globally acclaimed interior designer decided to call it home.
“It’s so vibrant and exciting,” says the founder of Emma Maxwell Design. “While it’s a thoroughly modern city, it’s still an incredibly comfortable and intimate place to live.”
Emma has a portfolio spanning Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels and she’s got her finger on the pulse of one of the world’s most buzzing destinations.
“You can go out every night of the week in Singapore. One of the best things about living here is feeling like you’re on holiday every day of the year.”
Here’s Emma’s guide to doing Singapore in style.
Ultimate dining experience: Burnt Ends
“I’ve been a regular at modern barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends for years. The chef and owner, Dave Pynt, is an Australian, and when he moved last year to a new site at Dempsey Hill in a former colonial barracks, he asked me to do the interiors. It’s architecturally stunning, with lots of Australian inspiration in earthy textures. And it’s super fun… exceptional food, but no stiffness or formality.
“Almost everything on the menu is touched by fire; I particularly love the Alaskan crab leg drenched in garlic and butter sauce. It’s a great place for solo diners to perch at the bar and witness the theatre of the open kitchen.
“The private dining room is a global foodie secret. A hidden door leads to a gorgeous space that seats 16 for pure dining indulgence.”
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Ultimate stay: The Capella
“The Capella is Singapore’s go-to staycation. It’s an amazing luxury hotel in a lush tropical setting on Sentosa Island, which is accessed by a small bridge from mainland Singapore. Part of it is an exquisite colonial building, while the famous architect Norman Foster is responsible for an extension that’s a beautiful piece of complimentary modernism – aligning with Singapore’s philosophy of combining old and new. You’d struggle to find anything else like it in the world. I love having brunch with friends overlooking the amazing infinity pool before a dip.”
Ultimate beach experience: Tanjong Beach Club
“Sunday sessions at Tanjong Beach Club are legendary. On a beautiful stretch of pristine beach on Sentosa Island, it’s a place people go to meet friends to enjoy a bottle of Champagne and a bucket of prawns. There’s always a DJ playing and a really vibrant atmosphere – and the people-watching is unbeatable.
“You can be as active or as lazy as you like, whether your thing is lazing on a sun lounger, playing volleyball or dancing, and you can dip in and out of the pool or the ocean because it’s always hot here. On weekdays it’s more serene and a lot of people take laptops to work remotely. I’ve taken my team down here a few times to enjoy the change of pace.”
Ultimate nature escape: MacRitchie Treetop Walk
“One of the amazing things about Singapore is that you can catch a taxi from the centre and in 15 minutes find yourself in the jungle. Few tourists know about the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, which is set around the city’s water reserve. The forest is what it would have been like when settlers arrived; you’re almost guaranteed to see creatures like monitor lizards, monkeys and if you’re lucky, pangolins and lemurs.
“The treetop walk runs for around 250 metres along a swing bridge travelling through and above the canopy. It’s otherworldly and quite an adventure, especially considering you can only reach it after a one- to two-hour walk through the park.”
Ultimate locals secret: Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant
“Every Singaporean has their favourite restaurant for chilli crab and I can’t go past Sin Hoi Sai in the hip area of Tiong Bahru. It’s a real locals’ spot at the bottom of one of Singapore’s first-ever public housing developments from the 1930s, so it has really cool architecture too. It’s very old school, with raw light globes dangling overhead and the smell of joss sticks from the Buddhist temple across the road wafting over.
“Singaporeans are food obsessed and people will think nothing of travelling from the other side of the island for the chilli crab here.”
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