Singapore has long been feted for its vibrant and diverse local cuisines. Established as a trading post of the British East India Company in 1819, this tiny city state attracted émigrés and cooking styles from Kerala to Canton.

But for all the multicultural flavours of this food- fanatic city and its bustling coffee shops and hawker centres, it is fine dining that’s demanding attention these days. Energised by a clutch of international celebrity chefs opening satellite kitchens at the new casino-driven Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa Resorts World, Singapore now has more culinary confidence than ever.

It’s a spectacular line-up that includes restaurants by French chef Joël Robuchon (whose establishments have collected 25 Michelin stars), Kunio Tokuoka from Japan, new York’s Iron Chef Mario Batali, and an eatery established by the the late Catalan chef, Santi Santamaria.

Not to be outdone, local chefs are upping their game. Ignatius Chan, owner of Iggy’s, often rated Singapore’s best restaurant, says, “Marina Bay Sands is setting the tone, the benchmark for restaurants now. But it is innovative, locally based chefs such as André Chiang who are changing the face of the city. With them, maybe one day Singapore can become another [culinary hotspot like] San Sebastián”.

Degustation

Waku Ghin

Hushed and minimalist, with wood-panelled teppanyaki booths for dining, and polished service, Tetsuya Wakuda’s second restaurant, Waku Ghin, is a world away from its location on the top floor of the boisterous, smoky, casino hall at Marina Bay Sands. The restaurant is also distinct from the chef’s eponymous Sydney kitchen, with stronger Japanese influences running through his extraordinarily refined cuisine. Waku Ghin’s 10-course dinner menu changes daily, depending on the seasons, but is likely to include a creamy salad of raw botan ebi (prawn) with sea urchin and caviar, or thin slices of Tasmanian grass-fed wagyu beef seared on the teppanyaki plate at the table and served with nose-tingling wasabi ground on a shark skin grater.

Open: dinner daily. Licensed. Degustation $SG450.
Level 2, Casino Building, Marina Bay Sands; +65 6688 8507; www.marinabaysands.com

Fifty Three

There is also a dash of theatrics at Singaporean Michael Han’s Fifty Three located in the Peranakan Museum shophouses. Han was 22 years old and studying law in the United Kingdom when he spent his pocket money on a £50 lunch at the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s molecular marvel in Bray, outside London. “It changed my perception of food,” said Han, who later left law to work in the kitchen with René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen (2011 S Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the World). Fifty Three clearly takes its cues from Noma, with exposed brick walls, blond wood tables, stone serving plates, foraged ingredients and innovative dishes including a mud crab with Chinese gooseberries and fresh almonds that tastes distinctly of mandarin. Just make sure to leave sufficient room for Han’s postprandial G&T – a gin and tonic jelly tablet that becomes more intense as it dissolves.

Open: lunch & dinner Tue-Sat. Licensed. Degustation lunch $SG65, dinner $SG250.
53 Armenian Street; +65 6334 5535; www.fiftythree.com.sg

Restaurant André

Born in Taiwan, André Chiang arrived in Singapore in 2008 – from the Parisian kitchens of Joël Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire – to work at Jaan, a long-standing restaurant on the 70th floor of the Swissôtel, the Stamford. In 2010, Chiang went solo, transforming a terrace house in Chinatown into the elegant 30-seat Restaurant André. The frequently changing degustation menu orbits around “octaphilosophy”, what Chiang believes are the eight characteristics of gastronomy: unique, texture, memory, pure, terroir, salt, south, and artisan. It is possible to represent texture, for example, can be represented by a fish krupuk with green-pea risotto; salt, by an oyster with sea grapes and granny smith apple foam. The cuisine is as delectable as octaphilosophy is difficult to describe- and best to be treated as entertaining and edible theatre.

Open: lunch Tue-Fri, dinner Tue-Sun. Licensed. Lunch tasting menu $SG128, dinner degustation $SG288.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road; +65 65348880; www.restaurantandre.com

Iggy’s

For years, Iggy’s- known to both the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants and the Asian Miele Guide as Singapore’s finest restaurant- was characterised by its window-less, cubby-sized home in the Regent Hotel. But the food won a loyal following; it was delicate and subtle, with contemporary European techniques marrying the finest Japanese and French ingredients. Iggy’s got a new lease of life when it moved to the Hilton in 2010. The cuisine was also transformed, becoming fresher and cleaner, with dishes such as Gillardeau oysters with sago, lemon and dashi stock, and eel with avruga and the Japanese citrus, yuzu, all served with sparkling sake, an unusual, refreshing wine Chan picked up on a trip to Osaka.

Open: lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Licensed. Lunch tasting menu $SG85, dinner degustation $SG195.
Level 3, Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road; +65 67322234; www.iggys.com.sg

À la carte

Cut

Jazzy and smart, with oversized portraits of movie stars studding the walls, a walk-in wine cellar, leather seats, top-notch service and the tunes of David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac flooding the floor, Austrian-American Wolfgang Puck’s first Asian restaurant takes first prize for its upbeat, friendly ambience. Although it is essentially a steakhouse that serves extraordinarily expensive Japanese wagyu, Australian angus and USDA-grade prime cooked over hardwood and charcoal and finished in a griller, steak is not what Cut does best. Instead, come to sample the sensational cocktails that are served with glass-sized chunks of ice, and the comfort food starters and side dishes, including a tantalising bone marrow with crusty bread, a foie gras burger, and asparagus served with a poached egg and a generous heap of crispy fried bacon.

Open: dinner daily. Licensed. Mains $SG42 -$SG225.
B1 Galleria Level, The Shoppes, Marina Bay Sands; +65 6688 8517; www.marinabaysands.com

Annam

With handpainted tile floors, moss green-coloured windows, marble tables and cottage-style chairs, Annam looks straight out of French-colonial Vietnam. The debut restaurant for Vietnamese-born, Danish-raised Nguyen Quoc Nam serves “family style Vietnamese cooking”, fresh and hearty Vietnamese dishes designed to be shared. Start your meal with banh xeo – crispy pancakes stuffed with pork, prawns and bean sprouts; and bo la lot – tender beef slices wrapped in betel nut leaves. The pho is a little lacklustre compared to its homegrown counterpart. Instead, order ca kho rieng, simmered fish with galangal and caramel sauce. Finish with a Vietnamese sugar fix: rich and velvety crème caramel and thick black coffee made drip-style and served with sweetened condensed milk.

Open: lunch & dinner Tue-Sun. Licensed, Mains $SG26 -$SG35.
1 Scotts Road, Shaw Centre; +65 67356656; www.annam.com.sg

Cocotte

Rustic Cocotte, set on the ground floor of Little India’s Wanderlust Hotel, offers a casual change in scenery- and price- from Singapore’s fine dining scene. Industrial-chic exposed ceiling pipes and wooden floors are teamed with a Moooi Dear Ingo lamp, communal tables and wooden trolleys stacked with cheese, checker napkins and wine. The hearty French farm food is just as casual: think tongue-tingling onion and anchovy tarts and succulent organic roast chickens served whole with a pot of roast vegetables on a wooden platter (the chickens need to be pre-booked). The three-course set-menu lunches, which change every fortnight, are great value, and include dishes such as smoked salmon and spinach crepes topped with lumpfish caviar and sole meunière- flaky, lemon-infused New Zealand sole coated in burnt butter.

Open: lunch Mon-Sun, dinner Mon-Sat. Licensed. Mains $SG58 -$SG139.
2 Dickson Road, Little India; +65 62981188; www.restaurantcocotte.com

Sky on 57

The kitchen of Justin Quek is the only celebrity chef restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands complex with a Singaporean at the helm. Quek dubs his menu “Franco-Asian”, merging his French cuisine training with Singapore’s vibrant hawker food. The service is slick, and dishes such as Quek’s signature foie gras xiao long baoi (dumplings), mushroom cappuccino (soup) and suckling pig with a lip-tingling yuzu pepper sauce are tasty and well presented, albeit somewhat overpriced. But the real reason to come here is to experience the extraordinary view. Sky on 57 commands sweeping vistas across the city and harbour; a 270-degree light extravaganza that’s best soaked up in one of the outdoor lounge areas, a glass of Champagne in hand.

Open: breakfast, lunch & dinner daily. Licensed. Mains $SG48 -$SG148.
Tower 1, Sands Skypark, Marina Bay Sands; +65 6688 8857; www.marinabaysands.com

DB Bistro Moderne

Born in Lyon, France, Daniel Boulud achieved star-chef status with his New York restaurant, Daniel, a three Michelin-star, fine dining spectacle often cited among the Big Apple’s best. In Singapore, Boulud has toned down the tempo, rolling out a stylish and well-priced bistro in the Marina Bay Sands retail atrium. DB Bistro Moderne’s lavish take on American beef burgers- the extravagant Frenchie burger is topped with pork belly, morbier cheese, caramelised onions, rocket and French gherkins- has won a solid fan base. However, Boulud’s entrees and desserts are just as impressive; chunky house-made terrines and pâtés served with crispy toast; loup de mer, a pea risotto with wild asparagus and chicken jus; and tarte aux fraises of pistachio mousse with sable Breton and strawberry-ripple sorbet.

Open: brunch Sat-Sun, lunch & dinner daily. Mains $SG22 -$SG170.
B1-48, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands; +65 66888525; www.marinabaysands.com

This article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Qantas Inflight Magazine.