Sat, Oct 19, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The new Raffles: A look inside one of the world’s most iconic hotels

An extensive renovation brings Singapore’s iconic 132-year-old Raffles Hotel into the 21st century


A tree-lined veranda in Raffles Hotel seems a world away from the bustling city.

Photo courtesy of Raffles Singapore

It’s clear a visit to Singapore’s Raffles Hotel is going to be special when your car pulls into the circular driveway. The crunch of gravel gives the place an air of Downton Abbey, but the hotel’s famed Sikh doormen, in their white turbans and ornate uniforms, are an instant reminder that you’re firmly in ex-colonial territory.

Before you’ve uttered a single word, the hotel knows more about you than you might think. To personalize guests’ experiences, their profiles start to be reviewed about two weeks ahead of arrival, according to Grace Kiong, the hotel’s head butler. This attention to detail ensures that when a visitor arrives, their personal butler — every suite gets one — is one step ahead when it comes to anticipating their possible needs.

After alighting from your car, it’s just a few paces to the red carpet, where staff open the door and a wave of serene elegance washes over you. The lobby itself is a beautiful location for an afternoon tea, with parlor seating, a crystal chandelier and stairs leading to higher floors in the back.

Raffles, which hosted a grand reopening festival yesterday following an extensive renovation that brought the icon into the 21st century, has hosted everyone from Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, to Elizabeth Taylor and King Edward VIII (the monarch who abdicated the British throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson). From humble beginnings in 1887, it now houses a variety of restaurants, bars and numerous upscale shops, in addition to its luxury suites.


“For me the very special grace of Raffles is that it offers such intimacy and such a sense of quiet and of privacy,” Pico Iyer, the American essayist and novelist who recently completed a stint as the hotel’s writer-in-residence, said via e-mail.

“The verandas outside each room, the books placed inside each room, the green lawns near almost every room and the quiet spaces on the second and third floors overlooking the lobby all invite one to take a break, to read, or sip a drink, or make sketches, or write letters, or keep a diary.”

The best thing about working at Raffles?

“My colleagues are like family to me,” shares senior doorman Narajan Singh, who has been with the hotel for 28 years. Even though it’s situated in the center of a busy city, he says, “you will always be able to have a quiet moment to yourself, sitting at one of the benches around the hotel’s courtyard or gardens.”

The hotel often welcomes guests whose parents and even grandparents have previously stayed there.

“I can’t stress enough how special the Raffles Hotel is to people,” head butler Kiong says.

The ultimate emblem of the hotel’s place in history is the Singapore Sling. Bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the cocktail here in 1915. Guests willing to brave the lines of tourists can enjoy one at the famous Long Bar. And if you’ve had a Singapore Sling elsewhere and didn’t like it, it’s still worth trying this one — it’s far better than most iterations. If you really love the fruity concoction, the hotel even offers a masterclass in how to make them.


For dining, one in-house option is La Dame de Pic, the Singapore outpost for Anne-Sophie Pic, a gifted and delightful French chef who has 10 restaurants and seven Michelin Stars under her belt. The tasting menus don’t disappoint. Pic’s signature berlingots — pasta with French cheese fondue filling — explode with flavor. The wagyu beef is spectacular, and the tomato and fish dishes are lovely on the eye as well as the tongue. The cheese cart is worth saving room for. Be prepared for a hefty price tag, especially if you opt for the wine pairing, but the menu is equal to the cost.

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