Will our local experts agree on the ultimate fine-diner and best chilli crab? Larissa Dubecki puts them to the test.
THE CHEF: Tetsuya Wakuda
The Japanese-born chef behind Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Singapore’s two Michelin-starred Waku Ghin.
THE CRITIC: KF Seetoh
Food writer, television host and founder of the Makansutra hawker-food guide, website and eateries.
What’s your favourite fine-diner?
TW Gunther’s Restaurant. Gunther Hubrechsen is one of the most creative chefs in Singapore. He has a classical European pedigree but the menu is almost Japanese in its style and approach. He cooks with a true respect for each ingredient. The food is light and the flavours are clean.
KFS Candlenut is the first pure nyonya [combination of Chinese and Malay cuisines] restaurant with a Michelin star but that’s not why I like it. Chef Malcolm Lee is a millennial who is still evolving, creating desserts such as buah keluak ice-cream.
And for a casual meal?
TW Don Quijote serves very casual Spanish food with big portions to share – it’s really good and inexpensive. They cook wonderful paella and the roast pork is pretty special, too.
KFS J.B. Ah Meng Restaurant (534 Geylang Road; +65 6741 2418). If you have 30 minutes of waiting time to spare, line up for a table at this local-style Chinese kitchen. Class acts include white pepper crab, salted egg yolk tempura prawn and fried fish skin with sour-spicy mango chilli dip. No-one cares who you are or what you wear – just eat and go so they can turn the tables.
What about the best hawker stand?
TW I love going to Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street; +65 9691 4852). It’s always really busy at peak times so go in the mid-afternoon. There is only one dish to try, of course – the chicken rice – but they do it so well. The real test is the rice, which is cooked perfectly.
KFS Roast Paradise (01-121 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Road; +65 9786 7396). Their char siu [barbecue pork] and sio bak [roast pork belly] are ridiculously good – they use fattier cuts and roast them in a woodfired oven.
Where can you get the most delicious chilli crab?
TW Jumbo Seafood Restaurant in Dempsey Hill. This place is popular with locals and visitors to Singapore. It’s a bit traditional, with fish tanks along a wall and an outdoor seating area, but the chilli crab is exceptional.
KFS Keng Eng Kee Seafood at Alexandra Village Food Centre. It’s the thick, spicy, eggy, sourish and more-ish sauce that you want to mop up with fried mantou bread. Their Sri Lankan crabs are meaty, sweet and gorgeous.
Which shopping precinct offers the best dining experience?
TW Ion Orchard is a great place to shop, eat and be surrounded by thought-provoking art.
KFS StraitsKitchen in the Grand Hyatt Singapore, which is surrounded by shopping centres such as Pacific Plaza and Far East Plaza, is a no-brainer: a comfy place to chow down. It’s one price, a cook à la minute buffet and halal, too.
What’s your recommendation for breakfast?
TW For me, Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh (58 Seng Poh Road; +65 6223 3075) delivers the perfect Japanese-style breakfast. Bak kut teh is essentially a pork-rib soup that is both herbal and peppery. This place cooks it beautifully and the smells in the morning of the pork cooking are magnificent. I like to sit outside in the street and just soak up the atmosphere while taking a bowl of comfort.
KFS Tong Ah Eating House (35 Keong Siak Road; +65 6223 5083) for kaya toast and local coffee or the Old Airport Road Food Centre (51 Old Airport Road) for a mind-boggling array of choices, including Ru Ji Kitchen (+65 9435 0820) for sambal fishball noodle; Xin Mei Xiang for lor mee, a noodle dish slathered with a thick seafood sauce, and Hua Kee Hougang Famous Wan Ton Mee (+65 9620 1543).
What about a caffeine fix?
TW Toby’s Estate . In Singapore, it’s not always easy to find great coffee, as you would in a Melbourne laneway, but Toby’s Estate manages to deliver that fix.
KFS You have to try the Hainanese-style coffee, inherited and adapted from the Europeans during the colonial era. Kopi More (B1-49 Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Road) is one of the very rare hawker stalls that uses a barista espresso-coffee machine. They blend largely robusta beans with some arabica and infuse the coffee with two kinds of milk – evaporated and condensed – which give it a buttery milkiness that puts Starbucks to Division Four in the coffee league.
Where would you go for a cocktail?
TW For the setting, the beauty and the charm, it has to be Atlas in historic Bugis. Even if it’s just for a glass of champagne, there’s an old-world elegance that I particularly like.
KFS I am looking forward to heading back to the Long Bar at Raffles, which is currently under renovation. It’s traditional, colonial and almost forgotten. You eat monkey nuts [peanuts] and throw the shells on the floor. Order your favourite poison from the bar, sit back à la W. Somerset Maugham and let it all hang.
Is there one place that really nails the Singapore vibe?
TW Canvas is one of the coolest places in the world. During the day, it hosts different artists and creative events; in the evening, it becomes a lounge that leads on to a full-on club. It has an incredible energy and is a great place for a night out.
KFS J.B. Ah Meng Restaurant, which is also my favourite casual restaurant. It always has a long queue and they don’t entertain reservations for a simple reason: their Malaysian- and Singapore-inspired Chinese food is very popular with locals as well as tourists, which is rare. Their white pepper crabs look calm and polite but are among the most potent in Singapore. Spanish chef Ferran Adrià once asked the chef for his salted egg yolk tempura prawn recipe. He declined.
Where do you go for a traditional Indian meal?
TW Right in the middle of Little India, The Banana Leaf Apolo has been there as long as I’ve been coming to Singapore.
It’s surrounded by many typical curry houses but the food there is a little different. It’s the nearest thing to being in India, surrounded by all the aromas and colours.
KFS For fine authentic stuff with a bit of a twist, it has to be the Rang Mahal, an Indian-food icon. For more commonplace and no-frills hawker food, I head to the Tekka Centre on Bukit Timah Road in the Little India area. You’ll find a collection of local and regional Indian dishes, including lamb biryani, vegetarian dosai and thali sets, roti prata and murtabak, Chettinad meals and even Nepalese choices.
What’s Singapore’s best-kept eatery secret?
TW Black pepper crab. Chilli crab is the dish that everyone associates with Singapore but the creamier, fragrant pepper flavour works better with the sweet crabmeat. For the best version, it’s back to Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Jumbo Seafood Restaurant.
KFS The humble “coffee shop” Hoy Yong Seafood Restaurant (352 Clementi Avenue; +65 6778 2223) will dazzle you with its deep-fried duck roulade stuffed with salted egg yolk, minced pork and coriander or its stunningly smooth and eggy hor fun noodles. It’s out of town in a quiet neighbourhood and serves food to please the Singaporean palate. ￼