When I was ten years old I watched a short documentary about a hotel in the East that utterly grabbed my imagination.
Part of the programme highlighted a drink that had been invented on the premises and even though I had no idea about cocktails, I decided that one day I was going to drink a Singapore Sling in Raffles in Singapore.
It has only taken me 33 years to make that ten year girl’s dream come true.
With that performance, I suppose I’d betterenot get any wild ideas at 60, unless I can speed up the time to resolution.
While I was planning this trip, I told a friend about the idea and said I’d decided to extend it to afternoon tea.
“For what you’ll save on accommodation in Southeast Asia,” she said. “You could afford a couple of nights at Raffles.”
A quick Google search and a few calculations later, I realised she was right.
I also discovered that Raffles had been closed for a couple of years for renovations but reopened in August 2019… with a number of offers.
As well as a discount on accommodation for early bookings, there was the offer of a limousine from the airport… and that’s why I wasn’t using public transport last night.
My friend had also advised that you may be able to spot the staff’s sinking hearts as a scruffy backpacker turns up.
(I indeed spotted some of this when the cheap hotel I booked in Nanning turned out to be rather plush and, on my rather sweaty arrival at reception I wandered into a rather nice wedding. The hotel was cheap. It’s just that sometimes your money goes a lot further than you were expecting).
So bearing this advice in mind, I concluded, limousine arrival at Raffles would eliminate the risk of funny looks when I rocked up with my rucksack.
On landing at Changi, I was met by a hotel representative who summoned Haj with a very swish limousine, complete with a silver tray of cool towels for a refreshing face wipe after a long journey.
“There’s wifi in the car, if you need it, ma’am.”
I thanked him and said I’d rather look out of the window so Haj started pointing out the various sights such as the Gardens in the Bay, and even slowed so I could attempt to get a photograph of a skyscraper with a garden on the roof.
Having called ahead, when the car pulled up at the hotel, there appeared to be a cast of thousands waiting for me – one of the traditional Sikh doormen, a porter to carry my rucksack and not one but two butlers.
Check in was straightforward and Jean, one of the butlers told me that she had been excited to see that I am from Manchester.
She had spent just over a year studying there and while she loved her time there, her highlight, as a fan of Wordsworth’s poetry and particularly Daffodils, was visiting the Lake District and seeing his cottage.
The suite, yes a suite, and probably the same footprint as my house back in Manchester, was beautiful but the best part of it was… (even though yes, there was a complimentary Singapore Sling)…
…I haven’t seen a bath for almost six months.
You have no idea how excited I was.
Raffles was built 133 years ago. I suspect it was a 100th anniversary documentary I was watching 33 years ago.
I spent most of today exploring the hotel. Its history is displayed within the guest areas but also in the shopping arcades that were built around the central complex.
The only clue that it was originally a beach front hotel is in its address: 1 Beach Road.
Land reclamation and building work over the last century have eliminated any seaview that the hotel ever had and this beautiful building is dwarfed on almost all sides by skyscrapers.
It still retains the oasis in the city idea trumpeted in the original adverts, though not all of its features are original.
The cast iron fountain was created in Glasgow in the 1890s and shipped to Singapore, though not for the use of Raffles. When the hotel underwent its first restoration in 1989, the fountain was donated and placed in the Palm Court Garden.
With the outbreak of World War Two, the Raffles orchestra decided to play every night to keep up morale and in 1942, when the British surrendered to the Japanese, the staff of the hotel buried mist of the silverware, including a beef trolley in the Palm Court Gardens.
It was later restored and is in use today.
The Japanese changed the hotel’s name to the Light of the South and moved the entrance of the building to the East so that it faced the rising sun each morning.
The occupation lasted three years and seven months.
When it ended, the hotel was used as a transit centre for assisting the repatriation of refugees.
The most recent restoration has resulted in a beautiful hotel…
… though it has moved and transformed the Long Bar to more of a square bar and placed it outside the main building into the shopping arcades.
Might not be the original venue, but they still serve the Singapore Sling and the huge bags of monkey nuts are still on the bar for customers to throw the shells on the floor.
The guy sitting at the bar when I arrived had already made good headway through the bag.
Even though I had had the complimentary version the night before, the complete ambition of my ten year old self was to drink one in the Long Bar.
My only decision was whether I was going to choose the £90 vintage Singapore Sling or whether I would forego the 1950s spirits and stick with a £20 version.
As the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915, trivia fans, by Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, I’m not sure why the 1950s version was so special and I was not paying to find out.
Primarily a gin-based cocktail, it also contains pineapple juice, lime juice, curaçao and Bénédictine. Giving it the pretty pink hue are grenadine and cherry liqueur.
The £20 version was as delicious as the free version.
Following the turn of the century in colonial Singapore, Raffles was the gathering place for the community – and Long Bar was the watering hole.
It was common to see gentlemen nursing glasses of gin or whisky. Unfortunately for the ladies, etiquette dictated that they could not consume alcohol in public. So, for the sake of modesty, teas and fruit juices were their beverages of choice.
Ngiam brilliantly solved the problem with a cocktail that looked like a fruit juice.
Looking around the bar, aside from a couple of yards of ale being poured, everyone was having a Singapore Sling.
I’m not sure why they bother with a drinks menu.