Sleek but stark and sterile; hands up if you’ve heard words like this being used to describe Singapore? I have, for years now. The connotations conjure up images of skyrise after skyrise, a country so immaculate but ultimately somewhat soulless. For all those years, I always thought it was an unfair description, but now that I’ve returned to the country over a decade since my last visit, I am even more convinced that the description is just plain wrong. Of course there are elements of the sleek, stark and sterile in Singapore, as there would be in any other big, bustling city, but there are also many pockets of colour. In amongst the tall towers of grey are flashes of bright hues, and expanses of greenery. They have excelled at combining the new with the old, the man-made with the natural, and in order to make the most of your visit to Singapore, you should too…
After boldly putting my Wellingtonian status on the line, I thought I better try and salvage what chance I have left of being let back into the city by pointing out that there is actually great food in Wellington. I stand by what I said: Auckland’s restaurant scene is better and booming right now in terms of style and quality, but… Wellington’s isn’t too shabby either. Wellington has always had fantastic cafes and once upon a time when I lived here, I actually liked going out for brunch. It excelled at cheap and cheerful eateries too with Malaysian cuisine leading the pack for the best wallet-friendly hearty dinners, and the craft beer buffs were always well looked after.
The coolest little capital in the world does have some culinary prowess and I was reminded of this once again on a recent trip home. We were back in Wellington for a few weeks over the summer and though we spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family, and taking advantage of the fact we had a temporary kitchen, we did manage to eat out a bit too. Would I be Connie Consumes if I didn’t?! I took many trips down memory lane with my favourite pick-your-own sushi and bagel lunches, leisurely weekend visits to old favourites such as Sweet Mother’s Kitchen (I still love their curly fries) and a few wines on the waterfront for old time’s sake.
There are very few places in the City where I find myself wanting to linger a little longer, it’s just not the done thing in this part of town. People are more likely to be strutting from meeting to meeting, sweet-talking themselves into networks and closing deals, and the spaces are equally sharp and business-like. In a world where time is money, no one can afford to linger around too long… which is what makes Bar20 at Birleys even more of an anomaly. Sitting pretty in the shadow of the Walkie Talkie building, the location couldn’t be more City if it tried… but inside, it feels more like Mayfair.
Bar20 at Birleys is part of the Robin Birley portfolio which explains the private members club atmosphere; it’s plush and refined but still very relaxed. I get the feeling that the breakfast and lunch rush does have a certain City spirit and speediness to it, but in the evenings the bar descends to a pace which is perfect for those of us who have the luxury of time. We settled into a table by the window but I would have just as happily cosied into any of the corners under the eye-catching and conversation-evoking artwork (which is courtesy of Mr Birley’s private collection) or lounged on one of the large sofas in the centre of the room.
The first time I tried matcha, I decided that the bitter taste wasn’t for me and I’d better off trying to absorb all those health benefits in cookie form. My second experience made me realise that I had made it all wrong the first time – less is more, and the whisking part is quite crucial. When left in the hands of a true tea expert, the results were far less grassy and gross than my attempts and I actually didn’t mind it. However it took a bartender, a delectable set of canapés, and a roof terrace to really convert me into a regular matcha consumer. Third time’s the charm, as they say.
Standing in the middle of the Teapigs Matcha on the Terrace at Harvey Nichols in the heart of Knightsbridge, there was absolutely no mistaking what we were here to sample and celebrate – matcha, matcha, matcha. We were welcomed to the terrace with a Matcha Rum Punch, a vibrant concoction with plenty of rum and pineapple, and quite obviously from the colour, a good heap of matcha too! A cool, refreshing cocktail was just what I needed after a long, muggy afternoon in the office, but I enjoyed it even more knowing I could perhaps claim that it was actually good for me too…
Ever the optimist, I am going to be bold and claim that spring has finally sprung in London! Our days are getting longer and lighter, and the temperatures are creeping up slowly… it won’t be too long before the winter coat gets officially relegated to the back of the wardrobe and it’s all about the summer dresses, sandals, and frolics in the sunshine. Wishful thinking on my behalf? I don’t think so, but if you think the weather gods are still messing with us and are less convinced about spring’s imminent arrival, I would suggest a cocktail from TwoRuba is just what you need to snap out of your gloomy winter mood!
TwoRuba is handily located in the Hilton London Tower Bridge, but trust me, it’s far from your usual stuffy and sterile hotel bar. This bar has personality, and their sense of fun is evident is their eclectic cocktail selection and the way they’ve transformed some of their bar space into a welcoming Spring Garden! There’s a luscious green lawn, couches, flowers, deck chairs… if one look at this doesn’t put a spring in your step, then the cocktails and snacks should at least put a smile on your face.
I’m starting to wonder why I even bother leaving Tooting these days. My favourite burger joint is round the corner, there are at least three decent pubs within stumbling distance, there’s a wine bar, a sushi bar, plenty of nail bars, and more curry houses than I can shake a stick at. And now… now, it seems the cocktail crews are coming in droves – there are four cocktail bars at my last count and the best part is, one of them is literally at the end of my street! Brick & Liquor is all sorts of trendy with its exposed brick walls, moody lighting, copper cocktail shakers, and pretty glasses… but looks will only get you so far, someone bring me a cocktail, pronto, and let me judge it properly!
My cocktail choices are fairly predictable; a cosmo from the classics or something fun and fruity from the fancier selections will do me just fine so the Clover Club seemed like a safe place to start. This combination of vanilla-infused Beefeater gin, lemon juice, egg white, and their own homemade raspberry syrup was absolutely the kind of thing I order all the time, and that was even before I saw how it was presented… stencilling the Brick & Liquor logo onto a cocktail screams the kind of attention to detail I like in my bars. Cocktails are generally expensive and I, like most, want to know that they have made with care. They’ve proved this point.
Being stranded on a tropical island doesn’t seem like the worst fate on earth until the beach frolicking grows tiresome and the call of the tummy can no longer be ignored. Only a teeny weeny problem if you’re anything like me and have no hunting, fishing or foraging skills; the prospect of playing Russian roulette with leaves and berries is not particularly appealing. In fact, it’s terrifying. And rather irrationally, it was a fear I had about spending three to four days on Pangkor Laut Resort.
I know, I know, I overreacted… we were knowingly going to a luxury resort on a private island. Not exactly washing up on a grim deserted island. My first world fear was not about the need to hone my scavenger skills, the issue was whether any of the food would be any good. Restaurants in resorts have a notorious reputation for being overpriced and underwhelming; where’s the incentive to wow where you’ve got a captive customer base?