Singapore dining: Best of the old and new

Singapore dining: Best of the old and new

Stuck in an eating rut? Some of the city's top foodies and celebrities offer opinions on where to find the hottest plates in town
Tong Le Private Dining combines Chinese cuisine with glamour. The views are alright, too.

With incredible street food and a vibrant dining scene punctuated by glitzy new openings, we Singapore diners are a pampered lot.

But separating the great from the mediocre can be a time-consuming, if thankless, task.

That’s why we prefer to defer to foodies and in-the-know personalities for advice on favorite haunts –- Violet Oon, Vernetta Lopez, Hossan Leong, Dick Lee, Willin Low and myself, no less.

If you're looking for new ideas, herewith is our loot.

Cheap eats 

Few can resist the call of a steaming, creamy bowl of laksa. Roxy Laksa

Menu highlight: Prawn laksa

"I discovered Roxy Laksa years ago when I was cycling along East Coast Lagoon, and since then it has been my go-to venue when the craving for laksa hits.

"The creamy coconut milk broth that’s chock-a-block with umami flavors from ingredients like candlenuts and dried shrimps makes it quite impossible not to slurp to the very last drop."

-- Willin Low, chef-owner of Wild Rocket

1000 East Coast Parkway; 65-9630 2321

Lai Heng Mushroom Minced Meat Mee

Menu highlight: Pork noodles

"You have to wait between 15 to 45 minutes for this bowl of goodness, but I assure you that it’s well worth it -- bee hoon basking in a bowl of piping hot minced pork-flecked soup with crunchy bean sprouts and calorie-laden pork lard.

"Come early to 'chope' (reserve) a table and bring a packet of tissue to wipe the perspiration."

-- Evelyn Chen, Zagat editor, food blogger

Block 51 Lor 6, Toa Payoh; +65 9620 2074

Violet Oon, Singapore's top food ambassador. Tiong Shian

Menu highlights: Rice porridge, claypot dishes

"For good Cantonese-style porridge, I go to Tiong Shian where everything -- from the menu to the way orders are taken -- still stays the same.

"My favorite here is the 'chee chap choke' (mixed pork porridge), where the filling is a mélange of super moist and springy pork balls, sliced pork, just-cooked pork liver, perfectly tender boiled pig's small intestines and crisp deep fried small pig's intestines."

-- Violet Oon, cookbook author and owner of Violet Oon’s Kitchen

265 New Bridge Road (at the junction with Keong Saik Road) 

Founder Bak Kut Teh Rangoon Road

Menu highlights: Bak kut teh, prime ribs, tau kee, mee sua

"I like my bak kut teh not too peppery and Founder at Rangoon Road serves it well -- just the right balance of herbs and zing.

"I know many people will beg to differ because of the other bak kut teh stall down the street, but I think the standard has dropped since they sold it to a seafood chain."

-- Hossan Leong, comedian, actor, television host

154 Rangoon Road; +65 6292 0938 

Kwee Heng

Menu highlights: Duck and chicken noodles, porridge

"This stall faces the car park at Newton Circus Food Centre and they hawk chicken rice and duck noodles -- the dry duck kway teow is deliciously savory with thin flat rice noodles soaking in lip-smacking gravy and topped with thick slices of duck. I've been going there since I was a child and I'm now approaching 40!"

-- Vernetta Lopez, actress and radio DJ

#01-13 Newton Circus Food Centre 

More on CNN: Asia's 10 greatest streetfood cities

The old-timers

Back in the 1960s, Gordon Grill was the place for a juicy steak. Half a century on, the Singapore institution is still firing up its grills. Gordon Grill

Menu highlights: Wagyu burgers, U.S. prime black angus steaks, Australian lamb, seafood

"This is where my Anglophile family would go in the 1960s to enjoy a good steak, a good roast and a great Ang Mo meal -- all created by a Hainanese-staffed kitchen.

"My fondest memory is Bomb Alaska -- ice cream with a cake base and surrounded by freshly whipped meringue, baked in the oven and then flambéed for service."

-- Violet Oon

Goodwoodparkhotel.com, 22 Scotts Road, Goodwood Park Hotel; +65 6730 1744

Red Star

Menu highlights: Dim sum, egg tarts, porridge

"I'm a nostalgic person -- dim sum at Red Star may not be the best in town, but I'm not complaining. Go for the charm, the ambience and the pushcarts going round the restaurant. I'm Cantonese. I can't help it!"

-- Hossan Leong

54 Chin Swee Road; +65 6532 5266

Colbar

Menu highlights: Pork chops, steak and chips, full English breakfasts, chicken curry

"Not only has Colbar stood the test of time, it has stood the test of relocation (albeit not far from its original location) when the original outpost (circa 1953) made way for a highway extension. I find its Sino-colonial roots most appealing –- its curry chicken is not bad too!"

-- Vernetta Lopez

9A Whitchurch Road; +65 6779 4859

Pete’s Place

The only thing longer than a lunch crowd line at a popular hawker stall is Dick Lee's résumé. Menu highlights: Wood-fired pizzas, seafood gamberi, mushroom risotto, clam linguini

"I have been going to Pete's Place at Grand Hyatt for close to 30 years and it's where I still go to for my comfort food of salad bar (simple and hearty), and pasta and pizza to share. The decor is exactly the same, except for the Chianti bottles that used to fill the ceiling.

"The other thing that's changed are the uniforms. I designed the very one in the 1980s, which was my take on 'Italian Peasant,' with flouncy blouse and skirt in red, white and green!"

-- Dick Lee, pop singer/composer/playwright/Singapore Idol judge

10 Scotts Road Basement, Grand Hyatt; +65 6416 7113 

Hilltop Japanese Restaurant

Menu highlights: A teppanyaki joint, Hilltop has a massive menu of items ready to be grilled. Top picks include New Zealand steak, bean curd, prawns, salmon and garlic fried rice. 

"My fondest food memories as a kid were my family’s teppanyaki jaunts at Hilltop Japanese Restaurant in Jurong where the chefs were known to showcase tabletop culinary gymnastics whilst cooking up a storm on the teppan grill.

"Hilltop has now frayed around the edges and looks more shabby than swanky, but my crystal clear memories of Singapore’s then-best teppanyaki experience remains untarnished."

-- Evelyn Chen 

2 Jurong Hill; +65 6266 3522

More on CNN: Best all-day breakfast spots in Singapore 

Upscale

Tong Le Private Dining

What's on the menu: Tong Le offers set menus made up of classic and modern Chinese dishes, which change every couple of days.    

"For Western, I tend to go to CUT, which has overtaken my previous favorite at Morton's. For Chinese food, it would have to be Tong Le Private Dining because it combines great cuisine and glamour in a very contemporary way –- I love everything there, but I had my very first Shanghai hairy crab there a few weeks ago and it blew my mind!"

-- Dick Lee 

OUE Tower, Level 4 and 5, 60 Collyer Quay; +65 6634 3233

Restaurant Andre

Memory foie gras -- one of Andre's most memorable dishes. What's on the menu: The cuisine is modern French. The fixed eight-course dinner menu that changes daily.   

"Restaurant Andre fits in the best-of-the-best restaurants echelon and my heart flutters with intense anticipation every time I visit. Perhaps the most defining dish from the multiple-course Octaphilosophy tasting menu is the ‘memory’ dish of foie gras in black truffle coulis.

"Simply put, it tastes like chawan mushi with velvety foie gras and heaps of chopped black truffles. This can well be my comfort food but my twice-a-week restaurant diet can ill afford it and neither can my credit card limit."

-- Evelyn Chen 

41 Bukit Pasoh Road; +65 6534 8880

More on CNN: How Singapore became Asia's culinary capital

Esquina

Menu highlights: Esquina is a tapas bar with a broad, innovative menu. Top picks include baked bone marrow, grilled sea bass and aged rib eye. 

"The food at Esquina shines with the personality and creativity of chef Andrew Walsh: fried spicy squid ink calamari made with baby squid bought from local markets, wobbly roasted smoky marrow to be eaten off the bone and black olive ice cream are just some of the reasons I keep coming back here.

"In an age where celebrity chef restaurants (sadly sometimes with cookie cutter personalities) are the rage, Esquina stands out like a breath of fresh air."

-- Willin Low

16 Jiak Chuan Road; +65 6222 1616

Db Bistro Moderne

Menu highlights: French classics such as duck confit and escargot persillade; New York burgers; roasted Brittany cod. 

"Service at Db Moderne is excellent. We always let chef Stephane Istel recommend our meal -- and he never disappoints. A great restaurant to go to before a show at the theater."

-- Hossan Leong

2 Bayfront Ave., The Shoppes at Marina Bay; +65 6688 8525

CUT

Delicious rare beef. Doesn't get more American than this. Menu highlights: Anything with the word "beef" in it. Diners have a choice of U.S., Australian or Japanese cuts. 

"The steaks at CUT are really sublime. Wolfgang Puck has taken the traditional American steak house and bookended the splendiferous steak menu with great cuts augmented by modern appetizers and desserts.

"Service by Adam Croini is slick, chic and friendly without being overly familiar -- just the sort of great American service I have come to love."

-- Violet Oon 

2 Bayfront Ave., B1-71, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands; +65 6688 8517

Ristorante Da Valentino

"This Italian family-run restaurant delivers homey Italian fare with aplomb.

"I've never been disappointed with any dish they've placed in front of me -- rustic pastas, incredible pizzas and extremely fresh seafood all crafted with Valentino's special touch."

-- Vernetta Lopez

Valentino.sg, 200 Turf Club Road #01-19; +65 6462 0555

What are your favorite Singapore restaurants? Share your top picks in the comments box below. 

Evelyn Chen traded her frequent flyer miles from her jet-setting corporate days for a critic's pen, and has been eating and drinking on the job ever since. She is a former Time Out food critic and current editor of Zagat Guide; her food and travel features have published in Destin Asian, Travel + Leisure SEA and Conde Nast Traveller. For a collection of her gourmet jaunts, visit www.bibikgourmand.com.

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