Friday, 28 April 2023

5 new bars and restaurants to try on your next trip to Sydney

Sydney is a world-class culinary destination, as famous for its waterfront brunches as it is for its celebrity-backed fine-dining temples. And with ambitious, exciting new restaurants opening every week, it’s hard to know which ones to book. These days, we’ve got our eye on the talented chefs and sommeliers behind these five new venues. From stellar cuisine in luxurious dining rooms, rare bottles from the owners’ personal wine cellars to outstanding pizzas fired in a hideaway location, these are the bars and restaurants to try on your next trip to Sydney.

Bar Copains

Claim to fame: A stone’s throw from the CBD, Surry Hills is awash with great F&B options for any time of day. But wine-lovers seek out this convivial wine bar championing rare wines alongside inspired small plates. “We’ve always talked about opening our own spot, the kind of place we’d want to go. We tried to create a great bar where mates can enjoy good food and wine,” says Bar Copains co-owner Morgan McGlone.

At the helm: Chefs Morgan McGlone and Nathan Sasi’s friendship began at celebrated Nashville restaurant, Husk, where McGlone was chef de cuisine and Sasi was stage (intern chef). McGlone returned to Australia and opened Belles Hot Chicken, and Sasi was a founding chef at Nomad, later opening Adelaide’s Leigh Street Wine Bar.

Must-orders: The pair is famous for their love of natural wine (organic, low intervention, preservative-free), and the list taps into their thousands-strong personal collections, ranging from the best and rare, to delicious, affordable bottles. Each week Sasi’s menu evolves. There might be light-as-air cod roe with potato chips, barbecued beef tongue with salsa verde, or pappardelle in rich lamb ragu. 

City Oltra

Claim to fame: City Oltra is a loud, fun pizza joint in the middle of Central Station that started as a beloved Sunday pop-up with party vibes at Poor Tom’s Gin Hall in Marrickville. “We do full pizzas and by-the-slice, so if someone misses their train, they can have a slice and hang out – or they can stay for a few hours with a bottle of wine. It’s nice to have the best of both worlds,” says co-owner Ben Fester.

At the helm: Skilled pizzaiolos Drew Huston who honed his craft at gourmet pizza joint Dimitri’s Pizzeria in Darlinghurst, and Ben Fester who also makes superb pies and keeps the soundtrack of rare tunes playing. In the spirit of the old pop-up, Fester and guest DJs throw a party on the last Sunday of every month. 

Must orders: The menu is simple: five rounds, four squares plus a special, with a handful of choices in the window for pizza-by-the-slice. For dine-in, there’s a growing list of natural wines from local producers, which complement round pies like the bestselling spicy pepperoni with cooling house-made ranch, or roast butternut, miso-mato cream and red shiso. Square pizzas come topped with mapo tofu-style mince, Thai sausage, or San Daniele prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella and a balsamic reduction. 

Sink your teeth into delicious pizzas at City Oltra

Brasserie 1930

Claim to fame: A collaboration between Bentley Group and Singapore’s Capella Hotels, Brasserie 1930 is a luxurious fine diner in Capella’s first Australian property, in Sydney’s Sandstone Precinct. “We’re a uniquely Australian brasserie in a world-class hotel, and we want to be a destination for all of Sydney,” says co-owner Nick Hildebrandt. 

At the helm: Since sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and chef Brent Savage opened Bentley 16 years ago, the pair have been redefining Sydney’s dining scene with acclaimed eateries like Cirrus, Monopole and the all-vegan Yellow.

Must orders: The focus is on local produce and native ingredients, with dishes like Rangers Valley beef tartare with mustard, capers and eschallots, coal-roasted Murray Cod with pepperberry butter, and Kinross Station lamb rump with carrot and harissa. Whole duck with dry aged breast and sausage is the signature dish, meant to be shared. The wine list taps into the Bentley Group’s extensive cellars and is well balanced: old and new, iconic and up-and-coming, conventional and natural. 

A mouthwatering selection of dishes at Brasserie 1930. Image credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

Kiln at Ace Hotel

Claim to fame: A woodfire restaurant on the 18th floor of the buzzing new Ace Hotel, Kiln showcases some of Australia’s best producers. “I like pushing boundaries and challenging conventions. This is an opportunity to help redefine what hotel restaurants in Australia can be,” owner-chef Mitch Orr says. 

At the helm: Orr is well known for deconstructing genres and breaking rules. His beloved restaurant acme was so influential because Orr led the way with inventive dishes that spanned Italian, Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisines. After it closed in 2019, he did short stints at Pilu at Freshwater and Cicciabella Bondi, but Kiln is his first full-time gig since acme. 

Must orders: Fire is at the heart of Kiln, fuelled by native ironbark and fruitwood. The food crosses cuisines, with plenty of Asian ingredients on the seasonal menu. Grilled snowflake mushrooms are served with wasabi leaf, stracciatella comes with shiso and grilled peach. For mains, there’s whole flounder with miso brown butter, grilled coral trout with smoked bone sauce and a single red meat dish: dry-aged ribeye with sudachi ponzu, a tangy sauce made from Japanese sudachi citrus juice mixed with soy sauce. 

Kiln’s version of stracciatella comes with shiso and grilled peach. Image credit: Nikki To


Claim to fame: Gilda’s is Lennox Hastie’s ode to the Basque region of Spain, where the celebrated chef learned to cook over fire. “In the Basque country, you can eat well at so many different levels,” he says. “Our menu celebrates a Basque-style of eating: with small plates that celebrate the best daily ingredients, to be eaten with a vermouth or a great glass of sherry.”

At the helm: Hastie’s early career was spent at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, but he considers the Basque country his most formative experience. He was featured on the award-winning Netflix show, Chef’s Table: BBQ and his ground-breaking work at all-fire fine diner Firedoor earned him a reputation as one of the best chefs in Australia.

Must orders: Gilda’s is inspired by the 1946 film-noir by the same name. Rita Hayworth’s character led to the creation of the first Basque pintxo: guindilla pepper, anchovy and olive. Hastie’s interpretation is smoked Port Lincoln sardine, pickled Dutch carrot and finger lime. There’s also tomatoes, black olive and aged sheep’s cheese, oyster mushrooms with smoked egg yolk and buckwheat, or cuttlefish with fennel, alubias and radicchio. European wines, vermouths and sherries dominate the drinks list. 

Gilda’s offers exquisite small plates inspired by the Basque region of Spain. Image credit: Nikki To

To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flight service to Sydney, visit the official website.

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Wednesday, 26 April 2023

9 awesome family-friendly hotels in Asia to visit in 2023

At Avana Retreat in northern Vietnam, you’re surrounded by natural beauty

Avana Retreat

For the nature-loving family

The 101
Fully operational from September 2021, Avana Retreat appeared seemingly out of nowhere (and in the middle of nowhere, four hours west of Hanoi). But after it was named Asias Leading Retreat by the World Travel Awards two years on the trot, this mountain sanctuary has entered a class of its own.

Avana Retreat is artistically wrapped around a gushing waterfall, which flows into rock pools, trickling streams and a duck pond. The villas, some of which have their own private pools, boast panoramic views of the jagged mountains and farmed valleys.

The family draw
The waterfalls highest cascade, accessible by a network of over-water bridges and pathways, will impress even the most disinterested teenagers. Theres also a kids’ club and on-site babysitters so you and your partner can catch a breather while the little ones are taken care of.

SilQ Hotel and Residences

For the family of park enthusiasts

The 101
SilQ opened in early 2022 just off Sukhumvit Road, the principal artery running through many of Bangkok’s shopping and entertainment precincts.

A sleek and modern hotel with a stylish onsen, fully-equipped gym with city views and a swimming pool that kids will love – all a stone’s throw from family-friendly spaces and activities.

The family draw
In a word, location. By foot, SilQ is just a few minutes from Benchasiri Park, a pleasant little green patch with childrens playgrounds, basketball courts and a skate park. From there, you can hop over Sukhumvit Road and head into EmQuartier, a luxury shopping centre with an entire floor dedicated to activities for kids like soft play and trampolining. A few minutes by taxi is the much larger Benchakitti Park, which is connected to Lumphini Park by a recently renovated public walkway.

The capacious rooms at Le Meridian Petaling Jaya make it ideal for big families

Le Meridien Petaling Jaya

For the shopaholic family

The 101
Part of the Marriott family, Le Meridien opened in January 2022 in Kuala Lumpurs dynamic Petaling Jaya (PJ) suburb.

Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, as demonstrated by Le Meridiens tantalising spread of world cuisines, including western grill, Chinese noodles, Malay stews and Indian curries.

The family draw
Travelling to – or through – Southeast Asias big cities with kids isnt always easy. But Le Meridien is conveniently linked to Paradigm Mall, with a huge cinema, toy stores, kid-friendly restaurants and the Milky Way Play Space, an ambitious adventure playground with virtual reality games and elevated rope walks.

The new wing at La Siesta boasts an additional children’s pool

La Siesta Resort & Spa

For the nature and culture-loving family

The 101
In Hoi An, less than an hour south of Danang International Airport, La Siesta fronts urban heritage, picturesque countryside, long stretches of sandy coastline and a storied food culture.

La Siesta opened its new club wing in July 2022, and now flaunts greater room choice, more facilities for kids and a gasp-inducing infinity pool overlooking Hoi Ans rice paddies.

The family draw
La Siestas proximity to Hoi Ans pedestrianised old town (a 10-minute walk or free shuttle bus trip) has long been popular with families. With its new wing, La Siesta now offers an additional childrens pool, an enlarged garden for playtime and duplex rooms designed with families top of mind.

Parkroyal Langkawi Resort

For the active beach-loving family

The 101
Opened in February this year, this luxe resort has a prime location on the idyllic Pantai Tengah beach on Malaysias Langkawi archipelago, famed for its wealth of family activities, including a soaring cable car, a network of sky bridges and a beachside water park.

Parkroyal Langkawis sheer size means that it can promise heaps: a trio of restaurants, various swimming pools – including a kids’ pool replete with fountains and slides – and a spa whose treatments are inspired by traditional Malaysian healing practices.

The family draw
The resorts diverse facilities are orientated towards families, such as the adventure playground and activity centre where little ones can participate in seasonally themed entertainment like Easter egg hunts and Lunar New Year arts and crafts.

The large and colourful kids’ club at Jumeirah Bali

Jumeirah Bali

For the family looking to live it up

The 101
The palatial Jumeirah Bali, a new, all-villa luxury resort inspired by Balis tranquil and enchanting Hindu-Javanese water temples, is sprawled beachside in Uluwatu, on the islands southwestern tip.

The property recently unveiled two-bedroom ocean villas that are perfect for large families, accommodating as many as six adults plus two little ones (or children under 11 years old).

The family draw
Right on arrival, kids are treated to a fun resort-wide treasure hunt that sets the tone for the trip. Then theres the resorts Peafowl Pavilion Kids Club, an imaginarium designed to spark curiosity about nature and the local culture. It boasts an indoor playground as well as outdoor sections where budding botanists and zoologists can spend hours discovering Balinese flora and fauna.

Your kids will be impressed by the opulent rooms at Serangoon House

Serangoon House

For a cultural immersion in the big city

The 101
The 90-room Serangoon House is one of the newest properties under Tribute Portfolio, Marriott Bonvoys collection of independent hotels that derive its look and feel from the locale, assuming a distinct sense of place. Serangoon House is located in Singapores Little India, one of the city-states most vibrant heritage enclaves.

Get your kids culture-curious and introduce them to the riches of Indian heritage – and its various evolutions outside the subcontinent – by eating your way through. Start at GupShup, the hotels dining spot that serves Indian street food. GupShup is decorated with richly upholstered furniture and mesmerising wallpaper of sultry Indian scenes, a perfect setting for savouring a sampler of chaats (savoury street snacks) or filling mains such as slow-cooked goat curry. Young palates craving comfort food can also opt for the GupShup’s TFC Burger (that’s tandoori fried chicken) or the chocolate chip pancake from the kids’ special breakfast menu.

The family draw
Not many city hotels in heritage hubs have the luxury of space, but the Serangoon House features rooms that can accommodate up to six – perfect for the whole brood. Family rooms come with gilded double-tier canopy beds for that extra swish.


One&Only Desaru Coast

For a jungle-tripping weekend

The playground at One&Only Desaru Coast

The 101
Go from the big city to a beach paradise and wild jungle in a matter of hours. Accessible via the Singapore-Desaru ferry service at Tanah Merah, One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysias southern state of Johor is an ideal weekend getaway spot.

The luxury resort is a chic and airy tropical retreat – think minimalist, soothing lines and relaxing neutral earth tones, replete with wide verandahs, plunge pools and lush jungle views. The 1.7km stretch of private beach is a sweet bonus.

The family draw
KidsOnly, the resorts kids club, teems with educational programming to keep the young riveted, and the adventures in nature are guaranteed to keep your little ones suitably occupied. Led by the resorts resident naturalist, Khairulizwan Bin Ismail, better known as Wan, young explorers of all ages can venture into the Panti Forest Reserve for birdwatching, tree-climbing or foraging.

The two-bedroom villa at Avani+Fares is perfect for families with young children

Avani+ Fares Maldives

For a once-in-a-lifetime underwater adventure

The 101
The hot opening in May 2023 is Avani+ Fares Maldives, Minor Hotels first Avani-branded property in the Maldives. Its located on Fares, one of 75 islands in the Unesco-listed Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve.

The Baa Atoll reserve is home to the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, where approximately 250 species of corals nourish an entire ecosystem that includes marine turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. Create beautiful memories with the family while swimming and snorkelling in the Maldives crystalline waters with these stunning sea creatures.

The family draw
Take advantage of their promotional opening discounts to score a great deal for a three-bedroom over-water villa. It also promises a kids-only restaurant tucked into the resort’s colourful indoor kids’ club that welcomes kids four to 11 years old. At Petit Bistro, open from noon to 2pm, tables and chairs are built to tiny-human scale (no legs dangling from high chairs here), and young guests can enjoy a with a menu of fun and nutritious food. Who’s ready for healthy pizza?

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from SilverKris

Tuesday, 25 April 2023

Island escapes easily reached from Singapore

Fancy a dose of Vitamin Sea but don’t want to venture too far away from Singapore? Luckily, the Little Red Dot is just a stone’s throw away from some of the world’s best islands, where you’ll find  crystal clear waters, luxe resorts and plenty of holiday activities to keep the kids busy. If you’re looking for ideas for your next island getaway from Singapore, consult our list below to pick out your next vacation destination.

islands from singapore - Lazarus Island
Pack your own picnic when you head to Lazarus Island, as there aren’t any food stalls here. Image credit: Marina South Ferries

1. Lazarus Island

If day-tripping is totally up your alley, then make a stop over the weekend at Lazarus Island. It’s one of Singapore’s southern islands and has gorgeous white sand beaches, calm waters and minimal crowding. Pack a picnic and your swimwear for an afternoon by the blue waters. The beach is also perfect for a dose of water sports and games like kite-flying, beach volleyball, snorkelling and more. And if you’re a cat lover, pack a few kitty treats too, as the island is home to many furry felines who love a scratch behind the ears. Getting here is easy enough – hop on a ferry from either Sentosa Cove or Marina South Pier to Lazarus Seringat Jetty with Marina South Ferries‘ express ferries or take a ferry to St John’s Island and use the walking causeway between the two isles to get to Lazarus Island.

islands from singapore - Lazarus Island tiny away escape home
These tiny houses are perfect for small families, couples or friends looking for a break from Singapore’s hustle and bustle. Image credit: Tiny Away Escape @ Lazarus Island

Lazarus Island is uninhabited, but as of April 2023, you can rent one of the tiny homes, also known as Tiny Away Escape @ Lazarus Island. These extremely compact, trailer-like homes are perfect if you’d like a weekend of off-the-grid living. These little homes are air-conditioned and include a mini kitchen, a bed for two adults and a sofa bed for little ones, as well as biodegradable shampoo and body wash. Tiny Away Escape @ Lazarus Island is completely eco-friendly; it uses solar energy as its main power source, is made using recycled plastics and wood fibre, is durable and even has a high-tech recycling system that composts food waste in 24 hours. Early bird bookings are currently available – just fill out the enquiry form on the website to get started.

islands from Singapore - Rawa Island Resort
Operations at Rawa Island Resort are designed to be as sustainable as possible. Image credit: Rawa Island Resort

2. Rawa Island

Secluded island getaways from Singapore don’t get any better than Rawa Island in Malaysia. This coral island in Johor’s Mersing district is relatively small and only has two resorts. Getting here begins with a bus or car journey from Singapore to Mersing, before you hop on a speedboat to your chosen resort.

islands from Singapore - Alang's Rawa
Snuggle into one of the cosy A-frame chalets at Alang’s Rawa, which stunning views of the clear water. Image credit: Alang’s Rawa

At Alang’s Rawa, weekdays pass by blissfully, as the peaceful oasis is filled with families looking for a break from the big city within one of six different types of accommodations. The restaurant here is known for its simple but delicious nosh, and come nightfall, you’ll find beachside tables lit by flaming lanterns to accompany the menu. However, children under age 16 aren’t allowed on weekends, as Alang’s Rawa transforms into party central, with Saturday night barbecues, exciting nightlife and a to-die-for cocktail list made with fresh local fruits, juices and spices.

Rawa Island Resort is the place to be if you’re in the mood for water sports such as snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving and even island hopping. There are four chalet and bungalows to choose from, and the room packages include three meals daily with sea transfer to and from Mersing. Want to really treat yourself to stellar views of Rawa Island? Take a leisurely hike to the top of the island to see the surrounding islands and the South China Sea. Unwind with a massage afterwards or enjoy a spa treatment that makes use of fresh local ingredients.

This 1,020-ha island is home to some of Singapore’s last villages. Image credit: Samiul Ratul/

3. Pulau Ubin

This boomerang-shaped Singapore island escape is situated off the northeast coast of Singapore, just $4 (add $2 if you’re bringing your own bicycle) for a 15-minute bumboat ride from the mainland. The jumping-off point is Changi Ferry Point Terminal – there’s an excellent hawker centre around the area, dishing up some of the country’s best nasi lemak (coconut rice with condiments), leafy cafés and other great eateries. There are no set times for bumboat departures, as these only set off when there are 12 passengers for the journey (if you don’t want to wait for other passengers to make up the numbers, simply cough up the difference.)

Setting foot on Ubin is like stepping inside a time warp, back to when skyscrapers and expressways were non-existent in the country. Some of the island’s earliest inhabitants were the seafaring Orang Laut people and indigenous Malays of Javanese descent, though Ubin was later settled by Chinese families and Malay fishing communities.

chek jawa boardwalk singapore islands
The boardwalk at Chek Jawa is a great place for a stroll or bike ride. Photo credit: Hanjo Hellmann/

Walking tracks and cycling trails lace around the island – you’ll cover more terrain on the latter. Bikes can be rented near the end of the arrival pier for around $10 a day, and you’ll be able to enjoy more of Ubin’s rustic, charming villages, shrines, thick jungle and pretty lakes created from old granite mining sites. On the eastern end of the island, you’ll find the Chek Jawa wetlands, home to a plethora of wildlife including kingfishers, snakes, fish, wild boars, otters and plenty of marine creatures. A boardwalk juts over the mangroves, letting visitors see the marine life up close.

There aren’t any resorts, hotels or lodges if you’d like to spend the night. Instead, pack your own camping gear for a night under the stars within the allocated camping grounds – just watch out for the wild boars and keep your food stowed away safely before turning in for the evening.

Bintan evening Singapore islands
An evening on one of Bintan’s white sandy beaches. Photo credit: Delpixel/

4. Bintan

This large, 1,173km2 island (almost double the size of Singapore) may be part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago, but the Lion City is regarded as its easiest access point – just an hour-long high-speed ferry ride away from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. While Bintan is a popular Singapore island escape for a weekend, most visitors don’t venture outside of Lagoi, where the sprawling Bintan Resorts property is located. It spans sweeping golf courses, family-friendly beach resorts and manicured luxury villas. But there’s plenty to explore further afield – the southeastern coast has gained a reputation as a first-rate dive destination, particularly for beginner divers, with its good visibility, shallow 10 to 15-metre reefs and an array of hard corals and marine life such as moray eels, cuttlefish and pufferfish.

The Sanchaya Bintan Island escape
The Sanchaya’s villas and suites are either colonial-inspired or Thai-style in design. Image credit: The Sanchaya

However, if you’re looking to take it easy, there are high-end resorts where rest and relaxation are elevated to art forms. Back in Lagoi, The Sanchaya – a luscious, 10-hectare beachfront estate built on a former coconut plantation – dials up the luxury several notches, boasting a gorgeous stretch of powder-white sand and even its own VIP lounge at the ferry terminal. The 29 villas and suites are all elegantly furnished – some are colonial-inspired with teak floors and marble bathroom fittings, and others feature Thai-style pitched roofs and Khmer antiques – and come with Bang & Olufsen televisions and sound systems, wine fridges and iPads. The pièce de résistance, however, is the 50-metre infinity pool – perfect for relaxing in before feasting on The Sanchaya’s excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Pulau Tengah features thriving marine biodiversity, and there are 15 dive sites. Image credit: Batu Batu

5. Pulau Tengah

This privately owned island in Johor, Malaysia is a 20- to 30-minute boat ride from Mersing. Although small, you’ll find eight sandy beaches and some of the country’s clearest waters dotted with rock formations. There’s only one resort on the island – Batu Batu – and it’s built to resemble a small Malay village. Guests are welcome to stay in any of the 22 villas, which are made from tropical hardwoods and blend into the uninhabited island’s rustic surroundings. The villages face either the sea or the jungle, guaranteeing privacy and a tranquil environment for couples or families.

islands from Singapore - Batu Batu villas
Batu Batu has 20 one-bedroom villas and 2 two-bedroom villas, each inspired by Malaysian architecture. Image credit: Batu Batu

Spacious bathrooms feature stonewashed bathtubs and showers, and guests can dine on European or Asian dishes at the restaurant and bar. With activities like snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, island trekking and diving on offer, there’s plenty of excitement here. Batu Batu also runs several conservation initiatives, with its most popular one being the Tengah Island Conservation programme, which includes sea turtle conservation efforts.

islands from Singapore - Sugi Island Telunas
From kayaking to jungle hikes and village tours, activities on Telunas are free. Image credit: Telunas Resorts

6. Sugi Island

For a holiday that will truly take you off the grid and give you time away from your tech devices, head to remote Sugi Island, which, like Batam and Bintan, is part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago. The two resorts on the island, Telunas Beach Resort and Telunas Private Island, are both free of Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and televisions – letting you truly focus on yourself while you’re there. Getting here may seem like a hassle, requiring a ferry ride from Harbourfront Centre Ferry Terminal to Sekupang Ferry Terminal followed by another cruise on a local ferry to the resort. However, the total travelling time is no more than three hours from Singapore. Upon arrival, gracious hosts will direct you to your spacious villa, which comes with a panoramic view of the water.

Telunas Private island rooms singapore islands
The resort’s rooms are both air-conditioning and WiFi-free. Image credit: Telunas Resorts

These resorts encourage you to focus on yourself and nature, so offerings like spa treatments, water sports and visits to untapped natural sights are part and parcel of your stay. For meals, take your pick from either Western or local cuisine.

Initially a project started by like-minded eco-conscious friends in 2004, Telunas continues to be committed to sustainable practices, supporting the local community through a myriad of initiatives such as preserving endangered species and offering scholarships to residents of the neighbouring islands.

Cempedak_Atmospheric singapore islands silverkris
Cempedak Island is approximately four hours away from Singapore

7. Cempedak Private Island

From Singapore, jump on a Bintan-bound ferry from Tanah Merah ferry terminal, traverse the island for about an hour by car, then transfer to a private speedboat – and in about two and a half hours, you’ll find yourself on the Cempedak Private Island resort.

Spread over 17 hectares, the resort is home to an array of wildlife such as otters, hornbills, monitor lizards and pangolins; a small but dedicated and friendly staff; and, thankfully, not much else. Its bamboo architecture is the star of the show – New Zealand-born architect Miles Humphreys, together with Balinese architects Chiko Wirahadi and Ketut Indra Saputra, both experts in bamboo, built the villas using this sustainable “super material”, along with recycled teak and rubber wood and cogon grass for the roofs.

islands from singapore - Cempedak Island Villa
Vaulted ceilings give the villas at Cempedak Island a capacious look and feel. Image credit: Cempedak Private Island

The villas are available either on the beachfront or perched atop jungle-festooned ridges with stunning views of the sea. Shaped like curvaceous conch shells, the two-storey, open-air villas boast luxe features such as stone en suite bathrooms, private infinity pools, organic cotton sheets and speaker systems. And while they’re completely wall-less and without air conditioning, the spacious 150m² floor plans are a true study in smart design – natural ventilation works a treat, and the sea breeze flows throughout the villas.

Meals are mostly enjoyed at the resort’s airy hilltop restaurant (private picnics can also be arranged), which comes with 180-degree views and private dining pods. The menu changes daily and spotlights the region’s rich local produce – think barbecued seafood sourced from local markets and organic veggies grown in the resort’s garden – while also putting a modern spin on Indonesian flavours. Have a nightcap at the bar, which has a fine collection of aged rums and top-notch craft cocktails.

islands from Singapore - Batam
The iconic Barelang Bridge connects Batam to other smaller islands close by. Image credit: Indonesia Tourism Board

8. Batam

While its slightly seedy reputation might precede it, Batam is a Singapore island escape that’s just a 45-minute ferry ride away and has a side that is sophisticated and prioritises luxurious relaxation as well as adventure and sports. The island is also the perfect starting point for further exploration of the Riau islands, especially for divers.

On Batam’s eastern side, you’ll find Montigo Resorts Nongsa – the gleaming white modern villas dot the coast and face the rolling waters of the South China Sea. To reach the resort, take a 10-minute shuttle bus ride upon disembarking at Nongsapura Ferry Terminal. Since the resort is secluded from the main part of the island where the bulk of tourists congregate, a stay here guarantees peace and privacy with the option to reap nature’s benefits. From bike tours and mangrove cruises to batik painting, dirt track racing and much more, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the quieter side of the island.

Montigo resorts Tadd's pool singapore islands
Montigo Resorts Nongsa offers many opportunities to relax. Image credit: Montigo Resorts

If you’ve come for a respite from the stresses of everyday living, the spa offers tailored experiences where you can fully rejuvenate your mind and body. On the other hand, thrill-seekers can get their adrenaline pumping with some target practice – go old-school with a bow and arrow at the archery range, or try a state-of-the-art Airsoft gun that’ll have you racing across the resort’s grounds playing wargames.

SEE ALSO: Best island and beach escapes around the world

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Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Neighbourhood Spotlight: Little India, Singapore

Since its days as a market for cattle traders in the 1800s, Little India has been the heart of Singapore’s South Asian community. Beginning with Tekka Market at its southern end, the bustle unfolds upward along Serangoon Road, punctuated by houses of worship, pre-WWII shophouses, pocket-friendly lunch rooms, old-time grocers and, of course, the famous Mustafa Centre.

But recent years have brought hip new entrants to this historic neighbourhood. The Michelin-starred Sri Lankan restaurant Kotuwa, impeccably decorated Podi & Poriyal and industrial-chic Meatsmith Little India have introduced new alternatives to the traditional dining landscape, while picturesque hotels such as Owen House and The Great Madras inject a sense of luxe into this otherwise budget traveller-friendly locale.

It’s an exciting time to experience Little India. Four locals share their insider knowledge on how best to do it.

Mathangi Venkatesh

Docent, Indian Heritage Centre 

Mathangi Venkatesh, Docent at the Indian Heritage Centre, Singapore

On pedestrian-only Campbell Lane, the impressive glass-and-concrete facade of the Indian Heritage Centre contains an impressive collection of artefacts that tell stories of Singapore’s South Asian diaspora. And docents such as Tamil Nadu-native Mathangi Venkatesh bring them to life for visitors.

“This place is a slice of my hometown,” she says of Little India. “When I first came here, I was impressed at how the sounds and smells were straight out of Chennai. It’s nice to have a place where our children can be immersed in our native culture.”

The glowing facade of the Indian Heritage Centre along Campbell Road. Photo: Indian Heritage Centre

“I’m most taken with the area around Tekka Market,” observes the mother of two, referring to the epicentre of Little India, where mutton butchers, fish mongers and vegetable sellers rub shoulders with dozens of hawkers. There’s even a shopping centre on the second floor, where you can purchase ready-to-wear garments or even order a new sari.

Venkatesh recommends the year-end season as the best time to visit Little India, when the festivals of Navaratri, Theemithi and Deepavali are held. “That’s when our traditions are on full display,” she adds.


Kenneth Lim 

Founder, Generation Coffee

Founder Kenneth Lim in his element at Generation Coffee

Little India is the kind of neighbourhood that loves its caffeine the traditional way: think kopi and masala chai. So it’s surprising to see Kenneth Lim’s specialty coffee stall nestled within Tekka Market and Hawker Centre.

The former air force technician and his business partner started Generation Coffee in 2020, with a mind to sell gourmet espresso-based drinks at hawker prices. “After working here, I’ve learned to respect our food hawkers – this environment is hot, sweaty and intense. And there’s always a long queue so you have to serve quickly.”

When it comes to eating in Tekka Market’s hawker centre, he recommends having a holistic view. “The Indian stalls are good, but so are the Chinese and Malay hawkers – this is multicultural Singapore, after all,” he offers. 

“Personally I’d go for Lim Kee Chicken Rice, Heng Gi Duck Rice and 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles.”


Regunarth Siva Thyagarajan

Third-generation owner, Jothi Store and Flower Shop

Regunarth Siva Thyagarajan: from helping to stock items as a child, to running the show at Jothi Store and Flower Shop

From a tiny hole-in-the wall in 1960, the Jothi Store and Flower Shop has grown to become a five-storey heritage institution a stone’s throw from the Indian Heritage Centre, selling not just religious items, but also pots, pans and pressure cookers. 

“We will be here for as long as the Indian community needs us”

Having spent his childhood days here, Regunarth Thyagarajan now continues his grandfather’s legacy as the store’s third-generation director. “We will be here for as long as the Indian community needs us,” he declares. “We see it as our duty to provide the materials needed for religious and everyday life.”

“Though the infrastructure has greatly improved and the streets are more orderly now, the close-knit community where I grew up is still around,” Thyagarajan reflects. 

He points out longtime neighbours Komala Vilas – one of Singapore’s oldest restaurants – and Tiffin Bhavan, where he used to eat as a kid. For a dose of nostalgia, he recommends hitting up nearby old-school provision shops Thandapani Co. and Selvi Stores.


Kavitha Chakravarti 

Business Owner, Podi & Poriyal

Kavitha Chakravarti enjoys a spice-infused cocktail at Podi & Poriyal’s alfresco bar corner

Standing out against a backdrop of bustling curry houses, upscale vegetarian restaurant Podi & Poriyal serves up lavish thali spreads and spice-infused cocktails inside a charming pastel-inflected postwar shophouse.

Its owner, Kavitha Chakravarti, envisions her establishment to be more than just another stylish F&B joint: “I plan to collaborate with South Indian artists, chefs and performers to showcase Indian culture in Singapore,” the Bangalore native shares. 

The swish interior of Podi & Poriyal. Photo: Podi & Poriyal

Chakravarti suggests checking out the nearby places of worship. “There are three Hindu temples and two mosques within walking distance of Podi & Poriyal,” she says referring to Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple and Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and the historic mosques of Angullia and Abdul Gafoor.  

“Anyone can visit them all – come and see for yourself how tradition is still a big part of everyday life in Little India.”


All photos by Lester V. Ledesma unless otherwise stated. 

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Tuesday, 18 April 2023

W Osaka

Japan’s first W hotel retains the hospitality brand’s funky aesthetic but also has an authentically Japanese feeling of harmony, starting with a reflective black monolith facade by renowned architect and son of Osaka, Tadao Ando. This minimalist exterior leads to bold, design-led interiors that expertly mix creature comforts and urban vibes, such as an origami-inspired arrival area, neon-lit rooms and a sleek infinity pool that swims up to a bar.

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Thursday, 13 April 2023

Yes24’s F1963 Branch

Located in the cultural complex F1963, a former wire factory, this used bookstore is the biggest in South Korea. Along with some 200,000 secondhand books, the store sells DVDs, Blu-Rays and vinyl records. To make book browsers feel welcome, a generous amount of seating is provided, including at the on-site café. There’s a large children’s section, and there are foreign books on the second level. Elsewhere in the F1963 complex are a pub and a store for gardeners.

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Commodore Hotel Busan

Looming near Busan Station with level upon level of gently curved eaves, the Commodore stands apart from the other big hotels in Busan. Inside and out, the Commodore is adorned traditionally — with vibrant dancheong motifs, intricate brickwork and light fixtures resembling lanterns. The snug rooms have trim wainscotting, plenty of amenities and views of Busan Port or the city hills. One of its on-site restaurants serves authentic Korean dishes, while the other tilts towards Western fare.

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