Is it possible to get cabin fever – even with an entire country to explore? From the chatter I’ve been hearing, yes. Frustrated with having to listen to another grounded jet-setter reminiscing about the Louvre and whining about how she misses “having Champagne in the airport lounge” or a travelling foodie going on about missing finding new places to eat at, I check myself into the Valley Wing at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore to see if one can approximate an essential element of luxury travel – sans travelling. Here’s a loose guide to indulgence.
9am – Check in
The Valley Wing has a designated drop-off point and check-in concierge that’s a fair distance from the main hotel lobby. It doesn’t look like it from the outside, but Shangri-La covers 6ha of land with three wings, plenty of greenery and all the amenities you could ever want. There’s even a mini water park, although it’s only accessible to adults if they’re accompanying a child – I asked. In light of the pandemic, the Shangri-La Group has launched Shangri-La Cares, an initiative detailing the extensive steps taken to ensure the safety of guests – from more frequent sanitisation of the premises to the necessary travel declarations when checking in. Complete information on its measures is offered, although I’ve never felt uncomfortable with any of the practices. Each well-appointed room also has a care kit with face masks, hand sanitiser and wipes.
9.30am – Breakfast
I eat in the Summit Room that’s exclusive to Valley Wing guests. It has the kind of old-school opulence expected of a grand dame of hospitality in Singapore: chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling windows, silverware and an indulgent breakfast menu to match. I give in a little too easily to the staff’s suggestion of a confit egg topped with a mound of Kaluga Queen caviar and sitting in a pool of moreish parmesan sauce. It also serves some of the best French toast I’ve ever had that’s lightly sweet, delicately crisp on the outside and almost unbelievably fluffy and custardy inside. Of course, there are other international options. Tip: stretch your time with breakfast because the wing’s all-day Champagne – the perfect start to hours of blissful leisure – begins at 11am. The house pour is a toasty, relatively complex Veuve Clicquot and the perfect impetus to start your day of leisure.
11.30am – Time to explore
After a few years of avoiding Orchard Road, I set out to give it another go. As usual, there’s no lack of shopping options nor drinking and eating ones. I happen upon Bacha Coffee in Ion Orchard that was first established in Marrakech in 1910 and is inspired by the architecture and interiors of the Dar el Bacha Palace. Further down, No. 5 Emerald Hill opens at noon and does a very decent dry martini. Orchard Road might be an upscale district, but it’s also home to some of the best casual food in Singapore — ideal for countering all the rich European cuisine you’ve been having. Hit up the semi-hidden Inasal at #04-49/50/51 Lucky Plaza for great sisig and its namesake dish of savoury grilled chicken served with steamed white rice. If you like a little heat, the famous Ayam Penyet Ria is in the same mall. Its crispy-skinned, smashed chicken accompanied by a ferocious sambal and washed down with sugary Teh Botol is the stuff of legends.
While not traditionally considered an arts district, the area also boasts a surprising number of independent galleries, each with a unique focus. Located at Ion Orchard is the sizable Opera Gallery Singapore that showcases 20th to 21st century masters as well as renowned contemporary artists. Tours aren’t currently being offered because of Covid-19 but visitors are encouraged to check in periodically since works rotate quite often. British-American Anthony James, known for his minimalist, geometric sculptures, has a solo exhibit there from Oct 1 to 18. White Space Art Asia, which leans towards Chinese artists, is at Paragon and contemporary fine art space Yang Gallery is at The Shopping Gallery Hilton.
2.30pm – Massage at Chi, The Spa
The Valley Wing Indulgence Package includes a 90-minute session for two. I’m not usually a spa kind of guy. Every month, I pay a burly Chinese sinseh to pummel the knots out of me. Sometimes, I hear him laughing when I groan in agony, so it was a nice change of pace to have the therapist at Chi, The Spa constantly checking to see how I was doing – “Is the pressure too hard?”; “Is the room too cold?”. My choice: the Signature Asian Blend Massage, which combines techniques like Thai pressure points, Chinese tui na and Balinese deep strokes that are all meant to refresh and invigorate. Other neat touches include the chance to choose the scent for my massage oil and a heated bed and pillow to help with muscle tension.
4.30pm – More bubbly
So much food is offered during the stay that the main issue is finding the time to try everything, including high tea that’s between 2pm and 5pm and evening canapes, 5pm to 7pm. I opt for tea, which comes with a two-tiered tray of sweets and savouries, plus warm scones, jam and clotted cream, and the option to enjoy more free-flow Champagne with your meal. Alternatively, you could explore the verdant grounds with a flute in hand to build up an appetite for dinner. Later, I get the butler to draw a rose petal bubble bath – included in the stay at the Valley Wing – that magically happens when I briefly leave the room. For the curious: Valley Wing suites are stocked with Acqua di Parma toiletries.
6.30pm – Degustation dinner
I have the five-course degustation of modern European creations at Origin Grill, Shangri-La’s steakhouse concept, and enjoy my second serving of caviar for the day in a starter called Posh Toast with foie gras terrine, confit orange and caviar. Other highlights of the meal include tender Fremantle octopus served on a bed of cumin-spiked tomato jam and the crowning glory: a melt-in-your-mouth slab of A4 snow- aged wagyu from Niigata, Japan, that arrives with roasted mushrooms, beef jus and garlic-Jerusalem artichoke foam. While the hotel’s award-winning Origin Bar is still closed, its drinks are served in the restaurant and at the Lobby Lounge (2.30pm to 6pm). A streamlined menu of favourites from the past two years is available along with its excellent rum programme of house creations like chocolate-aged rum.
8.45pm – Stretch your legs
After dinner, I head out in search of a nightcap. Orchard Road isn’t just all dive bars and the grimy allure of cheap beer, as well as some of the best chicken wings in town from Cuscaden Patio. While the pandemic-induced 10.30pm curfew has made bar hopping a little challenging, a few more than adequate options are within a short walking distance of the Valley Wing. I pop by The Horse’s Mouth, a speakeasy hidden inside Yoshi Restaurant at Forum The Shopping Mall that I need to climb a deliberately dark stairway to get to. While I haven’t been back in a few years, it’s great to see that things are still bustling. I have the Christmas Old Fashioned (Scotch, cinnamon-maple and chocolate bitters) about three months too early. If rare whisky and plush leather seats are more your speed, head to The Writing Club at Palais Renaissance.
10.30pm – Over too soon
Although all festivities outside have to end by 10.30pm, the grounds are quite stunning at night as the lush tropical greenery is lit up. I decide to draw another bath, no rose petals this time, cradle some tea and think about the good life.
Photography Weets Goh and Shangri-La Singapore