5 historic Singapore restaurants

5 historic Singapore restaurants

North Indian curries, hearty borsch soup, squid ink pasta ... here's how 5 trend-immune eateries have solved the mystery of longevity in Singapore
The food isn't exactly served in tiffin carriers but who's looking at the presentation.

Singapore diners have seen a fair share of boom and busts.

But a clutch of restaurants has quietly endured the cycles. Through good times and bad, they continue to dish out their signature plates to the baby boomers and their children -- and grand children.

While a handful, such as Shashlik and Pete’s Place, have retained their old-school ambiance, others, like Gordon Grill and Ristorante Bologna, have spruced up their menus and interior to keep abreast of the times.

Shashlik

Shashlik's hearty borsch soup cannot be found anywhere else in Singapore. The history: Singapore’s first Russian restaurant, Troika, opened at Bras Basah in 1943; it subsequently moved to Liat Towers in 1967. When Troika shut its doors in year 1986, a troop of former staff -- mostly Hainanese folk –- got together to create Shashlik at Far East Shopping Centre. Today, a sixth-generation chef helms the kitchen.

Why it’s still good: “It’s been 25 years but Shashlik continues to serve borsch soup from a rickety push-trolley and baked Alaska is still prepared at table-side with fanfare,” says Anthony Ang, an IT professional who dines here regularly.

“Best of all, 81-year-old, Shashlik co-owner Uncle Tan still calls the shots and runs the floor.”

Perfect meal: Have a hearty bowl of borsch soup crowned with a dollop of whipped cream and follow with the succulent fish en papillotte. For sheer nostalgia, end with bomb Alaska.

545 Orchard Road, #06-19 Far East Shopping Centre; +65 6732 6401

Gordon Grill

At the meat wagon, start with delicious wagyu beef carpaccio. The history: Singapore’s first formal grill room opened in 1963 as Gordon Room at Goodwood Park Hotel; it was then the first restaurant to offer Black Angus beef on a meat wagon.

In 1965, the restaurant relocated to its current location and was renamed Gordon Grill. In 2004, the restaurant underwent a major renovation to bring a contemporary interior with neutral palette.

Why it’s still good: Seventy percent of diners are regulars who flock to the restaurant for premium steak cuts prepared by executive chef Gan Swee Lai, who has been presiding over the kitchen for the last 10 years.

“One of the greatest lures is the meat trolley, where different cuts of premium steak are wheeled to guests, cut and weighed at the table," says Patricia Law, a 43-year-old diner who has been eating at Gordon Grill since she was a small girl.

"This is a one-of-its-kind meat trolley introduced since the late 1970s.”

Perfect meal: Pick from the meat trolley’s most requested steak cuts such as the USDA Gold Grade Snake River Farm wagyu or the U.S. Black Angus prime beef. The six-course degustation dinner (S$108 per person) is a perfect introduction to Chef Gan's culinary talent in both the meat and non-meat departments.

22 Scotts Road; +65 6730 1744

Restaurant Bologna

Restaurant Bologna's signature squid ink pasta. The history: Restaurant Bologna debuted as a fine dining Italian restaurant in 1987, together with the inception of Marina Mandarin hotel. In 2005, Restaurant Bologna was given a complete makeover when the hotel underwent a major renovation.

Why it’s still good: After the 2005 renovation, Restaurant Bologna revealed a slick and airy interior with full glass windows and a well-stocked bar.

With the interior updated, you can no longer guess the restaurant's age -- all 24 years of it -- but the menu continues to serve up Chef Carlo Marengon’s rendition of classic Italian cuisine with herbs freshly plucked from the adjoining herb garden.

Perfect meal: Start with a capresse dressed with basil from the herb garden and organic virgin olive oil; then try the grilled Italian-imported scampi, cod fish and mussels; follow with the porcini-stuffed tortelli. Cap your dinner with tiramisu made a la minute.

6 Raffles Blvd., 4/F Marina Mandarin; +65 6845 1111

Pete’s Place

At the Grand Hyatt Singapore, Pete's Place is one of Singapore's dining treasures. The history: The red brick walls, red-checked table cloths and red floor tiles at Pete’s Place recall the restaurant’s glory days when it first opened at the basement level of Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Today, Pete’s Place retains the same rustic look and feel it did when it opened in 1971. The soup and salad buffet remains classic, with the hearty flavors of the crowd-pulling minestrone and mushroom soup.

Talk to Alfa Lu, the 58-year-old captain who joined Pete’s Place in 1973, and he’ll tell you how Pete’s Place is "trapped in a beautiful time warp."

Why it’s still good: “The quality of the food is predictably good and the staff are like my old friends,” says Mr G M Lau, a regular diner for the past 30 years. “My kids literally grew up with this restaurant.”

Perfect meal: Start with the soup and salad buffet before you proceed to share some excellent homemade pastas, such as the signature cioppino spaghetti with scallops, prawns and clams crowned with shell-on lobster.

10-12 Scotts Road, Grand Hyatt Hotel; +65 6416 7113

Tiffin Room

Elegance and curry at the Tiffin Room.The history: Back in the 1890s the Sarkies brothers (founders of the Raffles Hotel) ran a curry restaurant called Tiffin.

It wasn’t until 1899 that the restaurant serving light curry meals was relocated to Raffles Hotel. In 1976, it was officially named the Tiffin Room, but the now-popular North Indian curry buffet was only introduced after Raffles Hotel was restored in 1989.

Why it’s still good: With Indian chef de cuisine, Kuldeep Negi, at the helm and head sommelier, Dheeraj Bhatia, handling wines from an extensive list, the Tiffin Room equals the finest Indian restaurants in town.

Perfect meal: Standouts from the buffet include a pepper-studded papadum, creamy and tart yoghurt dip, Goan-style prawns in an addictive coconut-based tamarind curry, butter chicken and dessert of vermicelli in milk.

To add to the grandeur of the British-Raj experience, garlic-flecked naans with minced lamb curry and raan (tandoor-roasted lamb) in mint sauce are served at the table by poised, white-jacketed staff.

1 Beach Road, Raffles Hotel; +65 6412 1816

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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