Does the ‘new’ Raffles – celebrating its 135th birthday TODAY – live up to its reputation? It far exceeds it … the doormen at RAFFLES SINGAPORE are still as upright, and sky-high, as ever, but the gravel in front of them seems polished and the 1887-vintage building behind them is whiter than before.
Go in, and the former back office to your right is now the Writers’ Bar, mixologists’ and drinkers’ heaven. Various railings have been removed. The old grill space beyond, on the right, is now lounge seating. The Tiffin Room on the left shows eternal can continue.
Take an elevator, or 36 polished-and-carpetted stairs up to the next floor’s suites: go down a further ten uncarpeted stairs to the main suites, round open and beautifully landscaped courtyards. Suite 207, named for Elizabeth Taylor, is typical. Two steps up from the shared 1.5-metre wide terrace that is general, but private (no-one intrudes when walking past as you sit in one of the two chairs, with table, that ‘belong’ to each suite). Alexandra Champalimaud has worked miracles in turning what were dark and somewhat gloomy suites into light and airy havens, white apart from a soft teal and grey patterned wall separating dressing area from the all-white bathroom. You enter to sitting, with dentil moulding atop the walls and a fan overhead. Proceed to bedding area, thence to dressing and finally washing. With easy-work eight-metre blinds controlled by old-fashioned bronze round-switches and USBs a-plenty, and now faultless WIFi, Sir Stamford Raffles would be proud.
As he would be by the Sipsmith gin, distilled by a Raffles descendant, used in drinks here. The signature Singapore Sling, by the way, has become eco, with local additives and potato-starch straws (and, thanks to a partnership with ECOspirits, for every Sling sold a contribution goes to tree planting in Indonesia). Do get to see the ‘slinger’ in the Long Bar. It looks like six of your grandmother’s mincing machines, side by side and painted bright green. This contraption, turned by hand, mixes half a dozen Slings simultaneously.
In one of Raffles’ many inner gardens, hotel MD Christian Westbeld, above, explained the well-chosen boutiques around the courtyards. Here’s a hat shop, for instance, with a rear wall of shelves lined with oh-so-trendy bucket titfers. Surprise! This is American Express’ Centurion club. The ‘shop assistant’ checks credentials and, if muster is passed, she opens up the back wall – which is actually double doors – and you are in the best private members’ club in town.
More surprise. You can eat Chinese, French, Italian or whatever here, with celeb chefs galore. The hotel itself conceived and runs Butchers Block. It’s upstairs, a cavernous wood space with one corner of glass-walled aging chamber. Whole carcasses abound. In the main room displays of wood boxed may tempt with, say, multi-coloured carrots from the Loire. There is no Manager here. Hawaiian chef Jordan Keao is in charge, he commands the room, which includes a surprise-menu Chef’s Table. Gosh the food is good. Memories of divine kale and salad as starter, and short rib – all bones, including fish bones, are recycled for stock. Pepper Wind Syrah 2018 Limited Release Old Road Wines Franschhoek and OH the breads, superb artisanal with cream-like seaweed butter.
And, so unusually, the breakfast breads were ‘real’, too. Room – sorry, suite – breakfast arrived on the dot of 6.30am, crisp linens and all, and as your correspondent left for the airport, today’s Financial Times was put in the waiting limo, with a perfect wrapped sandwich for what was going to be 24 hours, total, up in the air. Among a guard of honour waiting to say goodbye – at that just-dawn hour – was celebrated 50-year team member, Leslie Danker, author of the best-selling A Life Intertwined: Reminiscences of an Accidental Raffles Historian, 2019. Summary? New-look Raffles, a bastion of quality, is worth every minute. And more.
Here is another champion of quality: