Room Service: Dazzling design, confused comfort
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013.
Saturday 27 April 2013
In a city that teems with upscale hotels, this boutique venue stands out from the crowd for its originality. Its location also offers an alternative to a hyper-modern city centre that heaves with corporate-class luxury and glass-on-steel skyscrapers.
Wanderlust sits in the heart of vibrant Little India. The four-storey building was built as a school in the 1920s and converted into a 29-room hotel in 2011 by the award-winning hotelier, Loh Lik Peng. Loh is the man behind the new One Leicester Street (opening in London on Wednesday), together with London's Town Hall Hotel and the New Majestic in Singapore. With Wanderlust, his ambition was to create an "experimental boutique hotel". The colonial exterior is a stark contrast to the modernity inside. Each of the four levels has been designed by a different Singaporean design agency: "industrial glam" by Asylum; "eccentricity" by Phunk Studio; "is it just black and white" by DP Architects; and "creature comforts" by fFurious.
The lobby's industrial glam look comprises a mix of retro and contemporary furnishings – mismatched chairs and tables and plenty of metallic surfaces and mirrors. A rustic-chic French restaurant, Cocotte, sits at one end, with an open kitchen that serves up generously portioned brunches (homemade pancakes with maple syrup, French butter and streaky bacon, or fruit with honey and a chardonnay dressing). The lobby segues into a bar, serving drinks and an assembly of scrumptious cakes in the evening but on my visit, last orders for food were at 10pm (it closes officially at 11pm most weekdays, 3pm at the weekend) and it was so over air-conditioned that it felt very nippy. Meanwhile, a large outdoor Jacuzzi rather unglamorously backs on to next door's rooftop generators.
Little India lies on your doorstep. Turn right onto Upper Dickson Road to hit the first of the panoply of Indian shops, restaurants and spas that lead up to the adjacent central drag of Serangoon Road.
A gloriously calming Ayurvedic salon (amrita. com.sg) is a short walk away, where therapies include the traditional Indian shirodhara: hot oil dripping onto your forehead from a large urn overhead, which leaves you floating on air.
Also close by is Lagnaa (lagnaa.com) a charming, open-fronted restaurant celebrated for its low-cost, quality cuisine. Watch the world go by as you tuck into South and North Indian dishes, from chilli chicken to threadfin fish curry which comes as hot as you can take it (the restaurant prides itself on its "chilli challenges").
The up-and-coming district of Holland Village, a short taxi ride from Little India, has rows of bars and restaurants. Look out for the 2am Dessertbar (2amdessertbar.com) a dimly-lit, minimalist-style eaterie of extravagantly priced gourmet puddings that look like miniature works of art.
A 10-minute taxi ride will take you to the city centre's array of sprawling shopping malls, as well as Chinatown with its innumerable restaurants, temples and street markets that comprise a riot of smells, colours and tastes.
There are 29 themed rooms, and as quirky or original as they appear in style, design sadly triumphs over function in some cases. The 10 Pantone rooms are designed in different colour swatches, as is the luxurious Pantone Delux, which includes a cast iron bath. Eight Mono rooms are inspired by origami and Pop Art, while the singular Mono Delux has a glass-encased bathtub. The nine mezzanine loft rooms are individually themed: Space sports black walls with tiny LED stars and a rocket structure along one side and a narrow ladder up to a futon bed. Conceptually, it's all very clever. In reality, it feels like you are stuck inside a theme park.
I spent the night in the modestly sized Space room. Its open-plan gave dominance to the bathroom, consisting of a shower cubicle, twin sinks and an iron tub, which ran alongside a narrow coffee area, an uncomfortable metallic stool and bizarrely, a leather swing chair. There was little overhead lighting so the room felt dim at night; the hotel staff eventually rustled up a torch so I could find my way to the loo without risk of breaking my neck while coming down the ladder.
A free non-alcoholic mini bar was provided as well as Kiehl's toiletries, Wi-Fi, a selection of teas and a Nespresso coffee machine. There was no room service and the fresh-faced front-desk staff seemed sweet, if callow.
Wanderlust aims for high-concept style but ultimately delivers a lacklustre experience.
Wanderlust, 2 Dickson Road, Singapore (00 65 63963322; wanderlusthotel.com).
Doubles start at S$280 (£150), including breakfast.
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