Our Favourite Unique Restaurants in Singapore
Unique Restaurants in Singapore
What makes dining out in Singapore different from the rest of the world? Is it the collection of unique restaurants? The history of the food? The mix of different cultures? Or is it all of the above? Spoilers, it’s all of the above.
Dining in Singapore is a big deal. When you’re with people who ask “have you eaten?” as a stand-in for simply saying hello, you know what’s going on. It’s also interesting to see what constitutes having “eaten” because it’s not necessarily the usual Western structure of three meals per day. No, no, in Singapore if you haven’t literally just finished some food, you haven’t eaten. In fact, try an average of around six meals per day and you’re good for Singapore.
So for starters – see what I did there – let’s talk history.
Being so perfectly located, the city-state of Singapore has long been a mixing pot of Asian cultures and it’s no surprise that the food has a diverse history like the people. Added to that, there was the British colonisation thanks to the East India Trading Company and Singapore being under Japanese rule during World War II. Singapore has many historical backgrounds to choose from. And although the national dish is chilli crab, it’s often been said that Singaporean cuisine is just whatever food you happen to be eating while in Singapore.
People, however, like to stick to their own cultures and consequently small communities started to pop up, particularly among the less affluent of the immigrant groups. This was a way to sustain themselves and maintain a sense of their own cultures in their community, and so hawker centres, small unlicensed food stalls often family-run, started to appear. Affordable food of all kinds, just like they’d get at home, quickly became the beating heart of the food culture in Singapore.
Although extremely popular now, in the 1950s and 60s hawker centres were considered venues for the poor. Not just for the customers either, but also for the vendors who were unregulated and often had to operate in fair to extremely unhygienic conditions. Live animals were frequently seen running around and clean running water was not very common.
But their popularity was unmistakable, so government organisations got involved and instead of shutting them down helped regulate and organise them, upgrading the facilities and bringing standards up to a more sustainable and reliable level.
Nowadays, however, these government bodies aren’t just about regulating hawker centres and holding them to a minimum standard. They can recognise and reward vendors who achieve higher levels of hygiene. And in 2016, two such places (Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle; and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle) were even awarded Michelin Stars for excellence in eating – the first street food vendors anywhere in the world to ever receive such an accolade.
With so many different cultures and cuisines to choose from when dining out in Singapore, it’s important to remember that each comes with its own subtle set of rules. If you’re a tourist, you’ll often be forgiven for getting it mostly wrong. But if you’re wondering why some people might be looking at you a little funny, it’s possible that you’ve accidentally done something a little bit out of the norm when it comes to that culture’s particular dining habits. For example:
In China, a lot of emphases is placed on respect for your elders and generally speaking the oldest person of the party is the head of the table. Although chopsticks are the standard utensils you won’t actually be judged for asking for a fork, just make sure that you don’t cross your chopsticks, use them as pointers or leave them sticking vertically out of any dish (this is reminiscent of an offering to the dead and considered a very bad omen). A stranger one is if you’re ever served a whole fish, flipping it is also considered a bad omen, but specifically for fishermen, and it might get you a few raised eyebrows. A nice one for if you want to seem more like a local when your teacup is refilled you say thank you by tapping the table.
In Malay culture, however, it’s more common to eat with your hand. Specifically, your right hand, as traditionally speaking the left hand is reserved for matters of personal hygiene and is not used for handling food. Cutlery is often provided though, so you don’t have to eat with your hands if you don’t want to. Also since a large part of the Malay population are Muslim, alcohol is often not served.
In India, it is also very common to eat with your hands and the same right-left rule applies. Cutlery is also often provided, but making a small effort of excusing yourself to wash your hands before eating regardless is still considered polite.
Unique Restaurants in Singapore
With Singapore being a mixing pot of cultures and a mainstay on the world’s stage when it comes to food in general, the emphasis is not just placed on the extremely traditional restaurants and authentic food stalls. There is also a small number of unique restaurants in Singapore that have begun to gain popularity with tourists and locals alike. Some simply provide traditional food in a unique or quirky setting, while others take the food we all know and love and reinvent it to fit the out-of-the-ordinary surroundings. Some have recreated whole settings and endeavour to make you feel transported out of the city to somewhere totally new and different, providing memorable food to match. Uncommon and truly unique, these restaurants are not something you just stumble upon. So, here to help is a quick list of some of our favourite out-of-the-ordinary restaurants in Singapore.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have dinner while Batman and Superman both stand guard? Or chill eating a spider pig burger with Spiderman? Then Hungry Heroes is calling your name. This restaurant is decked out with everything from life-sized statues of your favourite superheroes, busts and posters, to action figure chandeliers and even a faux weapons cabinet (in case evil strikes). Hungry Heroes is a fun place to eat.
The menu is full of American style food with themed names and the decor will have your inner child bouncing up and down with joy as you go from one awesome Batman statue to the next, trying to work out how to hide them all under your shirt before you leave. The collection is legitimately breathtaking and whether your a hardcore comic fan or just enjoy watching the movies, you’ll want to check this place out. Because, realistically, where else can you get both Batman and Spiderman’s autograph at the same time? You can find Hungry Heroes on Tessensohn Road in the Kallang district.
A truly unique restaurant in Singapore, NOX Dining in the Dark is exactly how it sounds. You enjoy a mystery three-course meal in total darkness. You’re first greeted in the bar lounge where you can indulge in one of their signature cocktails or dive straight into the experience by letting their expert mixologist design a drink just for you. You’re then briefed on the details of how the experience works and finally are asked to lock up your personal belongings, including anything that could produce light, like phones, lighters and watches before your visually impaired guide leads you to your table. Your guide will be there to serve you throughout the meal and help you with any questions you may have.
In the meantime, you’ll get to experience food through taste and smell without the prejudice of vision. Once the meal is done, you’re led back into the lounge and shown images and given details of your meal. This way you can discuss how close your guesses were and get a real sense for how different a meal is when you’re not able to see what you’re putting in your mouth. NOX Dining in the Dark can be found on Beach Road in the Bugis district. Bookings are essential.
Hello and welcome to this flight onboard a Douglas DC-3 aircraft operated by Sushi Airways. Yup, that’s right, Sushi Airways is an airline-themed restaurant with the interior styled to resemble the inside of a Douglas DC-3 aircraft. This cosy Japanese restaurant prides itself on importing it’s ingredients direct from Japan four times a week, so they can ensure that you get the freshest flavours possible.
The 32-page menu is modelled around a flight manual and the attendants are dressed in classic style uniforms. It all blends together perfectly to help build the atmosphere of an aircraft in motion. You can choose from either the a la carte menu, or take the omakase rout and let the chef decide. Either way, this charming restaurant is a lot of fun and a fantastic Japanese restaurant. You can find Sushi Airways on Baghdad Street in the Bugis district. Space is extremely limited, so bookings are an absolute must.
Also mentioned in ‘Best Japanese Restautanyd in Singapore‘.
Sum Yi Tai, which means the third wife in Cantonese, is a lot of things. It is known as the place where Dragons gather over premium whiskeys, fine wines and good old Chinese food. Spread out over three floors of an old shophouse, traditional Chinese cuisine is served on the first floor before changing into an Asian tapas bar as the night goes on. Mona Lounge is on the second, which is a private cocktail bar which requires a code for entry (but more on that later), as well as a few private karaoke rooms. And finally, on the third floor, you can find one of Singapore’s few rooftop bars. Tucked away amidst the high-rise buildings like a sanctuary from the city, the rooftop bar is a hidden gem in the chaos.
Decorated to instil the feeling of Shanghai in the 80s and with music to match, what really sets Sum Ya Tai apart from the rest of Singapore is the bar’s narrative, the story that holds the whole place together.
Mona Lo, or Sum Yi Tai as she is more commonly known, is the third wife of a powerful man. Upon arriving in Hong Kong she had to fight to bring herself out of the ashes and achieved notoriety as a singer, gaining the attention of her future husband. Not long after that, she had to fight again to hold together his empire while he went into hiding in Japan – and that story is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to gain access to Mona Lounge and get a far deeper understanding and appreciation of Sum Yi Tai’s struggle, check out on their website. Sum Yi Tai can be found on Boon Tat Street in the Outram district.
If you’re looking for a truly unique dining experience and a whole lot of fun, then welcome to ANDSOFORTH. The concept is super interesting and is as much a show as it is a dinner. You need to book your ticket in advance, and then the fun start. At least 24 hours before your time, you will receive a message with the restaurant’s current address (it changes). You’ll arrive and be given a series of clues to guide you to the feast’s actual location, from there you get to indulge in a delicious themed 4-course meal and show.
This pop-up event restaurant fuses art, theatre and a whole lot of fun all together in one great night out. Once the feast is over you and your co-conspirators are sworn to secrecy, forever bound by your experieince that can only truly be shared by the people you shared it with, and then let back out into the world as you knew it.
It’s a lot of fun, fantastic food and drinks, a mystery and a show all rolled into one and is more than worth the effort. Also, each show is a very limited run, so if you see something you like, that’s your opportunity to get involved, don’t expect it to come around again. Have fun!
Stylised around the abode of legendary French Queen Maria-Antionette, this stunning Parisian patisserie is a wonder for the sense. Beautiful decor that will have you travelling back in time while stunning delicate French pastries created by master patissier chef Pang, delight your taste buds.
Every dish and dessert is made with care and an eye to keep the spirit of the restaurants’ namesake alive and it’s done flawlessly. Antoinette is a wonder to behold and an absolute must. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, an eye for style, an just an interest in history or all of the above, then you won’t want to miss out on a visit to Antoinette. You can find it on Penhas Road in the Kallang district.
Sadly although this stunning restaurant was on this list, according to the Michelin Guide, it closed it’s doors permanently on the 22nd of December 2018. It will be missed.
With so much to choose from in Singapore, it can be hard to stand out, but these places make the effort and go the extra mile to present you with something different. But what do you think? Is there a restaurant you think needs to be on this list? Do you have your own thoughts on the culinary landscape of Singapore? Let us know in the comments below.