Predictable it might be – but after you’ve toured the bustling, spotless streets and sights of Singapore, ridden the cable car to Sentosa, the MRT train to a highly emasculated Bugis Street (which now only sports open air shopping of a merchandising kind without all the previous risqué razzmatazz of the transgender beauties of the seventies) and taken in the endless Malls of glittering consumerism then it’s good to step away from clinical Singapore and settle into the still clean but refreshingly old-school Raffles Hotel.
Situated in the heart of the business district at Beach Road, Raffles is a quiet classically colonial oasis. The liveried Sikh doormen, more used to welcoming famous personalities, writers, celebrities, politicians and members of royalty, politely ushers us into the building. We’re only here for lunch so have booked into the Tiffin Room, one of fourteen restaurants; this one offering a northern Indian buffet style cuisine.
The hotel and grounds are free to explore and we spend a little time before lunch to investigate the beautifully maintained buildings and gardens that still reflect the luxury and history from when it was established in 1887. Each white courtyard, archway, column and walkway leads you to another cameo of colonial architecture set off by lush tropical planting and places to rest, relax, dine or dream.
As you might expect, we eventually find our way to order the inevitable Singapore Slings – more from the perspective of tradition than taste as it’s almost one of the rites of passage in travel. We avoid the darker but famous Long Bar (with no immediate desire to follow tradition and throw peanut shells on the floor just because we can – an anathema anywhere else in antiseptic Singapore) a reflection of Malayan plantation life in the 1920s, in favour of a light airy veranda with slowly rotating ceiling fan; with seating that overlooks the verdant gardens.
If you’re more conscious of presentation than price then you’ll enjoy the Slings, as much as you’ll enjoy wandering around the museum, the shop and the rest of the property. For us it’s just a simple pleasure in Singapore that reminds us what the country once must have been like before it became a rather sanitised replica of anywhere else in the Far East. That’s not to say that cleanliness is to be criticised in Singapore but much of the East’s character comes from the chaotically colourful ramshackle juxtaposition of shops, homes and trades that care little for order and civic purity. If you like your Eastern travel to be safe, predictable, reliable and simple then you couldn’t be in a better place – but take time out for a Singapore Sling to restore your thoughts of what once was.
Throughout 2015, Raffles is paying tribute to the Singapore Sling as it marks its Centennial Anniversary. First created in 1915 at the Long Bar in Raffles Singapore by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, you can now sign up at Raffles for the Singapore Sling Masterclass, where bartenders from the Long Bar will divulge the secret to making the perfect cocktail. In the meantime you might want to have a crack at it yourself.
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The Singapore Sling recipe:
As with all ‘gin-slings’ the Raffles recipe has varied over the years and remains an ever-changing ‘secret’ that includes varying amounts of fruit juice and liqueurs – the original notion being that it should be more pale pink than red – but you might like to try these two and then compare them when you visit!
- Measure 25ml of Tanqueray London Dry Gin, 25ml cherry brandy, 5ml of Benedictine, 25ml of lemon juice and 10ml of Grenadine. Pour into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes and shake until chilled.
Strain into a long glass filled with ice cubes and top with a couple of splashes of soda water.
2. The Savoy’s 1830 recipe:
One quarter volume of lemon juice; one quarter volume of Dry Gin; one half volume of Cherry Brandy. Shake well and strain into medium size, long glass; fill with soda water then add one lump of ice.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore