In August 2019, I checked into the Palm Court Suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore, which was unveiled on 1 August 2019 after a multi-million-dollar makeover. The Grand Old Dame’s reopening has been one of the industry’s most anticipated, especially after its feature in the Hollywood smash hit Crazy Rich Asians and the Japanese blockbuster animation film Detective Conan: Fist of Blue Sapphire. Set within an idyllic garden of palm and frangipani trees in the heart of town, the 115-suite hotel is three minutes away from City Hall MRT and Raffles City Shopping Centre and a stroll away from malls such as Marina Square and Suntec City as well as attractions such as National Gallery Singapore and Merlion Park. In terms of local heritage hospitality, Raffles Hotel Singapore stands proudly alongside contemporaries such as The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore as well as The Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Notable former guests at the hotel include personalities such as Rudyard Kipling, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth II.
I was one of the first ever paying guests to check into the property, arriving at 6.00am on 1 August 2019. My reservation was under the “Raffles Opening Package” which comes with daily breakfast for two at Tiffin Room, guaranteed late check-out until 3pm, a commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir, SGD$100 daily experiential credit as well as a complimentary one-way limousine airport transfer.
The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Glossy revival of the Grand Old Dame.
The must-dos (if any): Tour the beautiful premises, have Mee Goreng during breakfast at Tiffin Room, enjoy a Singapore Sling at Long Bar, take a dip in the swimming pool.
RAFFLES HOTEL SINGAPORE
Established in 1887, the internationally renowned property possesses a very rich history, from its years as the rebranded Syonan Ryokan (“Light of the South Hotel”) during the Japanese Occupation in World War II and the hotel’s various change of ownership over the years to the hosting of various heads of states or royalty such as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Indonesian president Suharto, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia as well as Prince William and Princess Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Gazetted as a national monument in 1995, the hotel has undergone various large-scale renovation and restoration exercises over the past few decades, and its reopening on 1 August 2019 marks the completion of its latest rejuvenation since the hotel’s closure in December 2017.
The hotel restoration works are led by global architecture and design firm Aedas, with interior design courtesy of award-winning designer Alexandra Champalimaud (past projects include New York’s The Plaza Hotel, The Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and various Waldorf Astoria properties around the world) and support from local architectural restoration and research consultancy Studio Lapis.
The Raffles Hotel Singapore experience begins once you set foot onto the hotel’s distinctive portico. Post-rejuvenation, the Main Building retains its signature neoclassical architectural features, with Corinthian and Doric columns, Palladian windows and white marble colonnades at every turn. After being greeted by the hotel’s iconic Sikh doormen in their distinctive white uniforms and turbans, you are soon ushered past the front doors into the energetically bright Grand Lobby, and the first thing that greets you is the glimmering contemporary chandelier above the grand floral centrepiece, both of which stand out dramatically amidst the soaring, Raffles-white colonial proceedings. There are social spaces created on every level of the three-storey Main Building, and a casual tour of the premises does generate the requisite awe and taking of one’s breath.
To pay tribute to the hotel’s long list of illustrious former guests, each hotel keycard bears the likeness of a famous former guest of the hotel – I had actress Elizabeth Taylor as well as author James A. Michener keycards. Elsewhere, hotel tours are conducted on a daily basis and a Hall of Fame on the second level showcases photographs taken of the various esteemed guests who have graced the hotel’s halls, including a fresh-faced Mandy Moore pre-This Is Us and circa-I Wanna Be With You to zombie apocalypse survivors Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead.
If you visit the Grand Lobby during Raffles Afternoon Tea, you might catch the lady who plays her harp with a certain world-weary resignation and agitated anguish. On that note, one does feel like a character from Pride and Prejudice traversing its hallways and adjusting one’s imaginary breeches (or bodice/corset, whichever applies) amidst the baroque music and posh colonial stylings.
PALM COURT SUITE
Located in the historic Palm Court Wing with verandah seats which overlook the tranquil Palm Court, the 70sqm Palm Court Suite plays it all romantic colonial elegance with its Raffles-white interiors, high ceilings, whirling ceiling fans and polished teakwood floors, while simultaneously being technologically updated with an abundance of USB ports and power outlets as well as a new iPad system which allows you to control the lighting, blinds and sheers in the suite as well as summon your private butler to your suite. Despite the Palm Court Suite being said to be one of the brightest room categories, the amount of natural sunlight which can enter the room through the windows is fairly limited, and it may be that the suite is best enjoyed fully lit a la night mode.
The parlour (which reminded me strongly of the Stamford Suite at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore) is furnished with a sofa, dining table and television set. The pantry is stocked with both Nespresso coffee facilities as well as tea from The 1872 Clipper Tea Co specially curated and packaged for the property. A selection of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages – think soft drinks, orange juice and coconut water – are complimentary, with various beers, bottled spirits, wines and champagne available for your libation pleasure.
The bedroom is equipped with a four poster king bed, power panels with USB ports on both sides of the bed, twin wardrobes as well as a dresser with attached hair-dryer. Those with Goldilockean craniums can place orders from the pillow menu, which showcases various TEMPUR options such as the Original, Long Hug and Millennium pillows. Elsewhere, the marble bathroom features a free-standing bathtub, double vanities as well as a walk-in shower with rainfall shower facilities. Bathroom amenities are from London-based perfume house Ormonde Jayne, with the range being exclusive to the property.
Each suite guest gets the iconic Singapore Sling cocktail as a welcome drink, which can be served at the Long Bar or enjoyed in the privacy of your suite or verandah. Whilst the lush landscape does invite its fair share of winged guests, verandah lounging is essential if your suite faces the Palm Court, and I spent a lazy afternoon sipping on my Singapore Sling as I soaked up the atmosphere thinking about how much the dreamy Palm Court resembles the campus of my alma mater.
My commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir was a Raffles brass key-holder. Being a collector extraordinaire of all things hotel mascot, I separately purchased the Raffles Safari Tiger mascot from Raffles Boutique (see the “Wellness Facilities and Raffles Arcade” section below).
WELLNESS FACILITIES AND RAFFLES ARCADE
The colonnaded Raffles Arcade has been reimagined as a lifestyle destination with shopping, dining and lifestyle options comprising both new as well as international brands. The flagship outlet is Raffles Boutique, which incorporates a retail concept, a heritage History Gallery as well as drinks and pastry concept Ah Teng’s Café. Souvenir seekers can consider getting a Raffles Safari Tiger plush, a miniature Long Bar gunny sack or even a Long Bar giant peanut (?!) as a keepsake, while degenerate drinkers can go for a bottle of either the Sipsmith Raffles 1915 Gin or the limited edition Billecart-Salmon champagne specially released to mark the reopening of the hotel.
On the grooming and wellness front, the mineral-focused and seven-suite Raffles Spa offers restorative treatments and private facilities such as a spa, sauna and vitality pool available for hotel guest use, while Hiro Ginza Premium Barber offers a range of premium grooming services for men. Retail tenants include multi-label boutique The AC Boutique; luxury watch retail boutique The Hour Glass; German camera and optics brand Leica; Italian luxury furniture brand Minotti; established luxury luggage concept Rimowa; and new Chinese cultural-lifestyle brand Xuan. Other tenants include co-working space The Great Room and contemporary art and design gallery Art Matters.
The hotel’s fitness centre, swimming pool and pool bar are located on the 3rd level of the Main Building. Against the backdrop of azure skies behind the colonial structure of the pool-house, and surrounded by soaring modern buildings such as JW Marriott Singapore South Beach and Fairmont Singapore, the swimming pool was very much the quiet and calm oasis hideaway in the bustling city area.
Breakfast is served at Tiffin Room, the hotel’s North Indian dining concept which offers a semi-buffet lunch and a la carte dinner. The space features 1900s patterned wood and mirror wall panelling, with their specialties served in the eponymous tiffin boxes during lunch and dinner service. For breakfast, a variety of buffet items such as fruits, cheeses and cold cuts, pastries and salads complement the a la carte selections which includes the hollandaise-drenched Crab Cakes, eggporn-worthy Paysan (poached eggs, rösti, bacon, pancetta) and the masala-tinged Raffles Signature Omelette. Those seeking local flavours should skip the ubiquitous and coconut essence-challenged Nasi Lemak and the thick-skinned Wonton Soup with Prawn or Pork Dumplings and instead go straight for the scrumptious Mee Goreng, which is brought to great new places with the help of accompanying limes and a handheld squeezer. Other Asian delights include Congee, Vegetable Dhal Curry with Prata and Japanese Bento with Grilled Salmon.
The classic tiered Raffles Afternoon Tea, now served at the restored Grand Lobby of the hotel, includes various finger sandwiches (think crab mayo with curry bread and smoked salmon with squid ink bread), sweets and as many home-baked scones as you can devour, paired with your choice of Mariage Frères tea. The truly glossy socialites and tai-tais can elevate their experience with a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne and an additional item from the patisserie such as the Lemon Meringue Tart and Hazelnut Paris-Brest.
The cosy Writers Bar, situated near the entrance of the Main Building, has been expanded to a full bar with a range of craft cocktails, wines and spirits. Inspired by an upcoming book by Pico Iyer, the bar’s first writer-in-residence, the current cocktail menu includes the burdock-centric and gin-based Escape to Home and the savoury, mildly spicy and tamarind-intense Rojak (Daron XO peanut calvados, tamarind, campari, chilli, gula melaka). The drink experience comes complete with an alcoholic palate-cleansing welcome drink as well as white chocolate balls encasing liquid Raffles 1915 gin. (Given the fairly upscale pricing of the cocktails – my Rojak cost S$38++ – one should view a Writers Bar visit through gustatory as opposed to buzz-seeking lenses.)
The hotel has called upon various acclaimed celebrity chefs to headline the progressive dining programme. Playing it all peony-inspired and feminine shades, French restaurant La Dame De Pic by Michelin starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic serves exquisite creations by way of set menus which change seasonally, and the opening marks Anne-Sophie Pic’s debut in Asia. The former Bar & Billiard Room (BBR) has been reimagined as BBR by Alain Ducasse, a Mediterranean sharing and grill concept from the French Michelin starred chef which will incorporate the original concept’s energetic bar setting when it launches later this year. Elsewhere, 兿 yì by Jereme Leung is an upcoming contemporary Chinese fine dining restaurant located on the 3rd level of the Raffles Arcade which will mark the return of celebrity MasterChef Jereme Leung to Singapore.
Dining concepts located within Raffles Arcade include the Malayan plantation-inspired Long Bar, the iconic home of the Singapore Sling cocktail and countless fallen peanut shells; the lushly landscaped Raffles Courtyard which offers cocktails and Southeast Asian plates in an alfresco setting; communal dining steakhouse concept Butcher’s Block; famous London concept Burger & Lobster; and GATHER, a crepe and coffee concept. The latter three concepts are scheduled to open within the next few months.
My only other Raffles Hotel experience was Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh, and while that experience was a suitably idyllic throwback to the glorious colonial era, with the in-room copy of the hefty, 200-page “Soirées, Sojourns & Stories By Raffles” tome on the writing desk doing much heavy lifting in bringing to life the engrossing Raffles Hotel narrative, the much-anticipated revival of Singapore’s Grand Old Dame feels like a decidedly more glossy and unapologetically commercial affair in spirit, with the pricing across the various F&B concepts of the hotel generating enough eyebrow raises to fulfil the week’s facial exercise requirements.
While the butler service was commendably flawless and the Palm Court Suite well-appointed and comfortable, the overall Raffles Hotel Singapore stay somehow lacked a certain hospitality heart-ware element which I appreciated from my opening day stays at Rosewood Hong Kong, The St Regis Hong Kong and Six Senses Maxwell, with the experience (especially as a first day guest) missing a sense of occasion and warmth and instead being all brisk, clock-work efficiency in delivering its slice of historical legacy.
The evening of my stay, as I carried a cup of Jenjudan Brown Sugar Boba Thai Milk Tea towards the front door, one of the Sikh doormen politely enquired whether he could be of any assistance. I showed him my keycard and told him I was simply returning to my room. After I entered the Grand Lobby on my way to the Palm Court Wing, a silver-haired staff stopped me and made the same enquiry. I instinctively looked down to confirm I was wearing covered shoes and appropriately dressed, and as I provided a similar response, my eyes scanned the Grand Lobby and took account of all the glorious blonde, curly-haired and ivory heads around me who no doubt constituted the hotel’s primary market.
“Raffles Hotel stands for all the fables of the exotic East,” the playwright Somerset Maugham famously said. The Raffles Hotel Singapore is certainly a legendary ultra-luxurious experience like no other, but the fabled Grand Old Dame’s fantasy offering is probably an aspirational one strictly for the bucket list.
Raffles Hotel Singapore
1 Beach Road