This landmark 5-star hotel near Bugis MRT and joined to Bugis Junction Mall slickly straddles the business/leisure divide
Singapore is hot stuff. It’s also best seen on foot, so when you walk back into a hotel feeling like you’ve been standing next to a roaring fire for hours, to be greeted by a cold towel and a lemongrass drink is perfection. It’s something akin to renewal and rebirth.
The Intercontinental Singapore exudes colonial charm with a modern touch, though it’s actually only 21 years old, dating back to a mere 1995. It’s clearly modelled on hotels of old, with a large central area for taxis drop-offs and pick-ups lending it a spacious feel most city centre hotels completely lack. Across the entrance is a glass version of the awnings that adorn many traditional Singapore shophouses of old – and this turns out to be something of a theme.
Not only is the facade of the hotel itself modelled on a row of shophouses – complete with European-style wooden shutters – but the Bugis shopping mall it blends into has a similar theme. The entire area was gentrified back in the 1990s, but the essential structure and rows of terraced shophouses retained. Does it work? It’s fake, of course, and underneath many of the facades are western brands of no particular interest, but it’s a convincing attempt at some semblance of preservation in a city where many treasures of old have long been swept away by faceless modernity.
Beyond the facade, the Intercontinental Singapore continues to impress. The lobby is spacious and decorated with striking black and white floor tiles, but the ceilings are low. The concierge has a small lounge near the front door lined with traditional-looking furniture and decorated with garish Peranakan crafts (a local creole culture that refers to the ancestors born to Chinese traders who settled in Singapore and married local women). You can join a free two-hour tour on Saturdays of the surrounding Bugis area, which I thoroughly recommend.
Further into the hotel is an impressive, though simple staircase, and an impressively large lounge. Its columns are dotted with colourful Peranakan tiles and the carpet influenced by Chinese motifs, but the overall feel is distinctly ‘light colonial’.
Off this is the excellent Ash & Elm, a relaxed restaurant where breakfast is served. You’ll find Asian and European fare, of course, but a nice inclusion is a range of South Indian breakfast items … and the special charcuterie room is always open. Easily available Spanish iberico ham and French cheeses in Asia is what this century has been all about (it was impossible to find such a thing 16 years ago), though I’m not convinced it’s necessary given both the skill of the chef, and that fact the Singapore is a foodie’s heaven.
Michelin street food
Talking of which, during my visit the staff wanted to give me an insight into how they like to offer guests advice on the very best of Singapore without making assumptions about their … how can I say this … lack of adventurousness. Ask what the best restaurant in town for Singapore food and the concierge won’t send you to one of their own, but to the Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles on Crawford Lane. Housed in grubby-looking hawker centre, this is as definitive a Singapore eating experience as its possible to have. The food – a simple S$8 bowl of noodles with roast pork, pork liver, fish balls, and flying fish flakes – was delicious, the three staff slaving over hot-pots and steaming noodles, but not rushing for anyone. Oh, and one more thing … there’s always a queue at lunchtime for two hours. Luckily for me, the Intercontinental Singapore sent a member of staff (thanks, Denise!).
What I especially liked was the multi-adaptor outlets that will take any kind if plug, six dedicated USB slots for recharging gadgets (on either side of the bed as well as on a desk), and a LAN cable own the desk drawer. This has mostly been phased-put by hotels, but it’s (a) much faster than WiFi (b) less hassle to set-up – you just shove it in and off you go and, (c), it’s much safer from snoopers – five-star hotels are prime places for snoopers, who know that it’s places like this that CEOs and their ilk hang about. Few guests take security seriously; I could see three other guests’ computers purely through the WiFi network.
That said, the WiFi service was excellent throughout the hotel, with one small exception. To have AirPlay on a hotel TV is rare, but although it was offered at the InterContinental Singapore, I couldn’t get the service to work. For me it’s no drama; I don’t tend to spend much time in my room when on vacation, but the chance to stream a movie from an iPad/phone to the hotel TV is a great concept (amusingly it doesn’t work for any content purchased from Apple … which rather amusingly makes it suitable only to those with rip-off content on their devices).
While the rooms are well-equipped with a mini-bar fridge, tea-coffee-making facilities and a spacious bathroom (which even includes a Peranakan-pink soap dish), they’re nothing compared with the Presidential Suite, which I also got to peek in. Containing a massive lounge, four-poster bed, walk-through office and even a boardroom, it’s the ideal space for a very special business meeting.
Finally, a word about the Chief Concierge – Syed Musaddiq – who also happens to be the Les Clefs d’Or Singapore President , and exudes the very slickest combination of helpfulness and a light touch. In this newly colonial-cum-Peranakan designed hotel that sports a fresh, distinctive look, Musaddiq is also responsible for the piece de resistance; he’s the one that keeps the towels cold …