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Off Duty: Singapore

What's new in this city state that punches above its weight

Ian McCurrach
Monday 28 April 2008 12:55 BST


Singapore has been synonymous with commerce since its days as a trading post for the British East India Company in the early 19th century. Today, business centres on Raffles Place, a soaring skyline of glass and steel clustered around the mouth of the Singapore River and named, of course, after the island’s colonist, Sir Stamford Raffles.

Below the skyscrapers stand Boat Quay’s rows of shophouses, a reminder of how business was once conducted here; these traditional Singaporean homes, which often housed 10 families or more, doubled as the occupants’ workplace. They continue to have a commercial role; most have been converted into boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants.

This year’s big event here is Formula One. Thanks to mega-tycoon, Ong Beng Seng, husband of fashion and hotel empire guru Christina Ong, Singapore has bagged one of the extra legs on the much-coveted circuit for a five-year race season starting in September. It’s guaranteed to be a star-studded event that will keep this city state in the world’s eye.


For culture offerings visit the recently refurbished National Museum of Singapore ( Behind the neo-Palladium façade is a modern high-tech interior, within which you will find a huge variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions on contemporary and historic themes from food and fashion to archaeology. Current exhibitions include Bedazzled: Sequined Costumes of Cantonese Opera, and Surrounding David – an installation by Indonesian artist Titarubi. If you work up an appetite, stay on to eat at one of its two dining options. For a snack try the WA Café-Bar, or for something more substantial choose the European menu at the chic eaterie Novus. For further details and full listings of upcoming events, go to

The Singapore Arts Festival ( runs from 23 May to 22 June, offering dance, drama and music from around the world in a programme featuring world premieres along with specially commissioned international works.

If shopping is more your bag, the Great Singapore Sale runs from 23 May to 20 July. Retail therapy, one of Singapore’s favourite pastimes, reaches a climax during this period, with bargains on offer even in Christina Ong’s fancy designer stores in Club 21( on Orchard Road.

For something more unique, try the hip concept stores on Haji Lane, Singapore’s latest place to shop. Shophouses stack up along the narrow lane showcasing the work of local designers and trendy new labels from the US and Australia. Check out For Like Ever and Propaganda Machine where the young entrepreneurs are passionate about their products.


The island is home to a luxurious hotel from the Shangri-La group (, which has a deluxe Garden Wing with butler service. But it is likely to face some competition from the new St Regis Hotel (, due to open its swish doors this month. Situated on Tanglin Road, the high-rise property has a high-tech spec, butler service, a panoply of health and fitness offerings, meeting rooms and a private art collection, including works by Miro and a sculpture by Fernando Botem. If you want to impress and make a big arrival, book one of the hotel’s chauffeur-driven Bentley fleet, a package that includes use of JetQuay, Changi Airport’s private terminal.

For entertaining and networking, head for House ( on Dempsey Hill. Set in an old British Army camp, this restaurant/café/bar and spa complex bills itself as a “one-stop locale for all your sensory needs”. The décor mixes military with contemporary and historical funky; long wooden mess tables mingle with Louis XIV-style chairs, concrete floors and pillars. The menus offer bistro fare, such as chicken breast roulade and Patagonian beef skewers.

After-work cocktails and dinner are served over at Rochester Park. The area and its buildings were once home to top British military brass but are now being turned into restaurants and bars such as Graze (, where modern Australian tucker is dished up with panache. For post-prandial activities, check out the St James Power Station ( Housed in a former coal-fired power station, the complex forms part of the multi-billion-dollar regenerated Harbourfront area, and features a Moet & Chandon champagne bar and several live music and dancing venues.

Clarke Quay ( went under cover last year so is a safe late night bet if you want to dodge Singapore’s famous short, sharp showers. Some of the best new kids on the quay include Lunar, Barfly and the microbrewery The Pump Room.


It is hard not to miss the country’s latest high-tech attraction, the Singapore Flyer ( The world’s biggest observation wheel, it is as high as a 42-storey building.

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