Breakfasting in the great outdoors doesn’t get any more glamorous than at the leafy, safari-themed Dempsey Hill branch of Tiong Bahru Bakery. The nosh is similarly picture-perfect: think buttery croissants, beautifully glazed kouign-amann pastries and colourful lattes tinged with beetroot or turmeric for an antioxidant boost.
Once you’re all fuelled up, take a cab ride to the north to explore Admiralty Park, where you can work off the sugar high. It’s arguably one of the best public playgrounds in Singapore, with a wild assortment of 26 tubes and slides, suspension bridges and a mini flying fox wheel.
Head back down to the central area of the city for a spot of lunch. Once gritty with secret societies, modern-day Balestier’s colourful shophouses are part of a hawker food haven. Whampoa Drive alone has two excellent hawker centres sitting side by side. We recommend the popular Singapore Fried Hokkien Mee and Nan Xiang Chicken Rice for indulging in arguably two of Singapore’s most popular dishes.
After lunch, grab a coffee from the nearby Wheeler’s Yard, then download the recently updated Balestier Heritage Trail brochure to explore the area’s multicultural architectural legacy. There’s Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple, home to one of Singapore’s last few permanent wayang stages, and which still holds Chinese operas and puppet shows during major festivals; the Sim Kwong Ho shophouses with their colourful Chinese Baroque façades; Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, a colonial-era villa that was once the Southeast Asian headquarters of the revolutionary leader; and Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple, which boasts the largest marble Buddha statue outside of Myanmar.
For sunset hour, perch yourself at LeVel33– the world’s highest urban microbrewery – which offers a spectacular view of the Marina Bay skyline. Food-wise, it’s modern European flavours with beer-inspired twists, such as local seabass and beer malt risotto, as well as choux puffs piped with malt-and-stout parfait filling. Sample each of their five signature brews on tap by ordering the beer paddle flight.
Begin your day at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, an iconic breakfast haunt along East Coast Road. The mosaic flooring and marble-top tables transport you back to the 1950s and the signature fluffy kaya buns are still toasted over charcoal.
Next up is a photo walk around the Peranakan quarter. At the alley after Mount Pleasant Animal Clinic, a two-minute stroll from breakfast, you’ll find colourful terrace houses built over concrete stilts – a practical necessity back before land reclamation pushed the coastline out from here to present-day East Coast Park. Diagonally across at the start of Tembeling Road are shophouses done in the transitional style.
Browse the trove of eclectic knick-knacks and books at Cat Socrates, then continue along Joo Chiat Road to the Koon Seng Road shophouses, which are pastel-toned with porcelain wall tiles and decorative eaves. Once you’re all walked out, pop into Hiew to pick up ornate Peranakan tableware and tiffin carriers, or to commission a hand-embroidered kebaya by Heath Yeo, one of Singapore’s last kebaya makers.
For lunch, make a beeline for Halcyon & Crane, a newly opened café in Paragon along Orchard Road.It offers a European-meets-Sichuan menu, with dishes such as mala sausage shakshuka and beef carpaccio with Sichuan vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, at Plaza Singapura, you’ll find NomadX, one of the many retail concepts in Singapore heralding a new high-tech approach to shopping. At this multi-label store, a gamified “onboarding” process generates product recommendations based on customers’ shopping personalities.
From here, take a quick cab ride to Capitol Piazza and join the queue at Tiger Sugar for some brown sugar boba milk tea – fresh milk swirled with brown sugar syrup and sweetened tapioca pearls. And for dinner, enjoy a seafood extravaganza at Famous Treasure, known for local zi char-style (home-style) dishes like salt-baked flower crab and wok-fried squid with okra and cincalok (fermented krill or small shrimp).
Once night sets in, explore the Light to Night Festival, which runs till 24 February. At the Arts House, “Common Life” features Ho Chee Lick’s sketches of everyday local scenes with poems by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng in response to Ho’s drawings. Meanwhile, the installation Resonance at the Asian Civilisations Museum offers a tactile representation of the present’s impact on the future by inviting the audience to pull and push a metal mesh tunnel.
Start the day with a trip to Chinatown Complex, which is as local as it gets. The hawker fare here is cheap, delicious and incredibly varied. If you have time to spare, queue up at Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu for the homemade yong tau foo(assorted tofu and vegetable items stuffed with fish paste). Meanwhile, the basement wet market– which is stocked with ingredients such as eels, live frogs and even soft shell turtle meat in addition to the standard goods – is a good browse.
Then traipse around the surrounding streets, which are transformed into a bazaar laden with Lunar New Year goodies, ornaments and waxed meats right up till Lunar New Year’s Eve on 4 February. Thereafter, the festivities continue with lion dance troupes clanging up a merry chorus through the area.
Join in the feasting with a Lunar New Year lunch set (minimum two diners) at the National Gallery’s Yàn. The staff will guide you through lo hei– a tradition of tossing raw fish and julienned veggies while chorusing propitious sayings – before plying you with roast duck, steamed lobster with aged rice wine and more.
More photo-taking opportunities await at the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, which has been transformed into a glorious Chinese garden with pavilions and over 100 dahlia varieties until 24 February.
Once you’re done, recharge at Beach Road’s Spa by JW, where your massage treatment includes complimentary access to the spa facilities.
Then stop by Fort Canning Park,where you can have a go at Keys of Light, an interactive piano installation that strikes a different animation with each note. From here, carry on down the Singapore River and around Marina Bay to visit the rest of i Light Singapore’s installations. Be sure to keep a lookout for Sails Aloft– an ethereal holographic projection of a 19th-century sailboat race over the waterfront.
Dinner at Preludio is just as artsy – the avant-garde, fine-dining restaurant draws inspiration from a different theme every 12 to 18 months (the current debut theme is “Monochrome”). Finally, conclude your evening with a dash of Shanghainese glamour at new bar Eliza. It’s styled as a cocktail club, with solid tipples and live band rearrangements of pop, bossa nova and Mandarin hits.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine