This postcard from Four Seasons Hotel Singapore shows just what a melting pot this city is, with a bit of Old China, a bit of Malaysia and more than a hint of India. The mound of rice reminds the gal of that great Chinese comfort food, chicken rice. It seems far from the realm of a luxury hotel but today’s aesthetic includes simplicity. Chicken rice (wenchang chicken in Hainanese) supplies just that. The original used fat old birds to get maximum oil when the chicken is boiled but today leaner and younger birds are preferred, and in Singapore the water is flavoured with garlic and ginger. Sometimes the resulting broth is used to cook the rice, and the whole is served with a hot chili sauce dip.
But just as I learned about shaken and deconstructed bouillabaisse in that fish stew’s home town, Marseille, here, at the hotel’s Jiang-Nan Chun restaurant, I found a menu studded with chicken dishes, served with rice. Chicken rice, with a difference, by Jiang-Nan Chun chef Alan Chan, is casserole of braised chicken with shallots and garlic. Which tea would I have with it? The restaurant’s tea selection includes a Silver Needle White Peony, even more effective an anti-oxidant than green teas, though I favour the idea of Rain Flower green tea, from JiangSu province, which is not only anti-oxidant but anti-cholesterol – but I might choose the 18-year old Aged Old Pu Er from Yunnan, a black tea that lowers fatty acids, aids digestion and improves the appetite.
Eating is serious business, as well as fun, here at Four Seasons. Jiang-Nan Chun specializes in roasts but do not expect to do a Morton’s on the amount of meat you eat. Look at the exquisitely delicate sampler meat plate. Top row there is suckling pig on the left, and roast duck on the right. Bottom row is traditional honey-roast pork on the left, and roasted crispy pork belly on the right. One bite and each is gone.
In cosmopolitan Singapore, every cuisine has to be available – Spanish is one of the new flavours of the month, I am told. The hotel’s international restaurant, One Ninety, re-opens July 29th, 2013 after a three-week closure to put in a wood-burning oven. Breakfast here has all the traditionals for most main nationalities. For Japanese, for instance, you have a choice of soba and udon noodles and, as shown here (top row, left to right) unagi eel and chicken teriyaki and (bottom row), miso-marinated salmon and a tamago omelette with crabmeat and seaweed.
There is, of course European too, but people do not stick with what you might expect to be their norm. During One Ninety’s closure, buffets are set up in the adjacent bar. On the lunchtime antipasti section, we watched with amusement as a couple of young Singaporeans, of Chinese descent, practically emptied the marinated grilled mushrooms and the courgette plates. That was a lovely place to eat, by the way, looking through to the main lobby, with its cupola decorated as a 16-petal flower (in real gold leaf) by Marcus Walkley.
This is a hotel for the serious, be they on business or leisure. There are local tycoons gathering daily in the private members’ club on the third floor, next to the hotel gym, when it opens at six each morning. You are offered the International Herald Tribune, but stocks of Financial Times are available, with a smile. There are iPhone chargers in bedrooms. But it is also a hotel that is fun. Stationery and office supplies are in an antique Chinese chest with old calligraphy inside, and as for the flowers, well, here is another ‘hat’ for the Melbourne Cup.