In a manner of eating

Tuck in ... high tea at Axis at the Mandarin Oriental.
Tuck in ... high tea at Axis at the Mandarin Oriental. 

More fried carrot cake, ma'am? Kristie Kellahan enjoys opulent afternoon spreads in a city that takes its high tea seriously.

IN SINGAPORE, where eating is a grand passion, a national pastime and a round-the-clock amusement, the tradition of high tea reigns supreme. Invented by the Duchess of Bedford in the late 18th century as a snack to tide her over until dinnertime, it has been adopted with fervour by Singaporeans.

Combining their love of delicious food with a genteel British tradition still revered in these post-colonial times, it is an occasion to frock up, meet with friends, celebrate birthdays and hen's days or have a taste of a luxe hotel.

You'll find afternoon refreshments all over Singapore, with the most sumptuous buffets and elegant tiered stands in the city's finest five-star hotels. Here are six of the best.

Raffles Hotel

Ask most people where to go for afternoon tea in Singapore and they'll say Raffles. That's partly because the expansive buffet of East-West delicacies is very tasty; it's also due to the hotel's reputation and history. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling wrote lovingly of the hotel, the Singapore Sling was invented there and a wild tiger once sought cover under the billiards table. I mean, really.

While it seems assured most foodies will enjoy the buffet treats - from traditional Singaporean dishes such as fried carrot cake and roti, as well as more sweets than a patisserie - and the heritage building is a delight, when I look at the experience through unsentimental eyes, is it the best afternoon tea in Singapore? I think it faces stiff competition.

Afternoon tea served daily 3.30-5.30pm, from $S55 ($42). The Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore. +65 6337 1886, raffles.com.

Mandarin Oriental

Mandarin Oriental is known for its elegance and high-end Asian design aesthetics. The international hotel group is also expert at blending East-West decorative and dining touches throughout its properties.

At the renowned Singapore hotel, a traditional English afternoon tea is served each day in Axis, a contemporary bar and lounge on the fourth floor overlooking Marina Bay. The selection of assorted sandwiches, scones, cakes, tarts and pastries served on a three-tiered stand leans heavily on the sweet side of the palate.

While the passionfruit cheesecake and chocolate caramel tart deserve special applause, I found myself craving more savoury items. The service is indeed faultless and the mostly female staff look smashing and sleek in their all-black satin ensembles.

For me the overall ambience at Axis was lacking some of the sweeping grandness I expected from a Mandarin Oriental hotel.

High tea served daily 3-5pm, from $S34. Axis, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Raffles Avenue, Marina Square, Singapore. +65 6338 0066, mandarinoriental.com/singapore.

Swissotel the Stamford

If the floor-to-ceiling views of Singapore from the 70th-storey Equinox Restaurant don't wow you, the feast of treats spread tantalisingly on buffet tables surely will. And what a feast it is - crispy, flaky roti prata served with curry dipping sauce, smoked turkey finger sandwiches, steamed dumplings, zesty mango salad, quiches, satay and must-have-more curry puffs. On to the sweet stations and it's a choice of scones with clotted cream, fruit tarts, trifles, the chocolatiest cake, dainty pastries and home-made ice-creams.

Perhaps it's a good thing for all that the buffet is open for just 1½ hours. Not only should you skip lunch in preparation, I would be surprised if you fit in dinner.

Weekends are consistently booked out - a call on the day to request a table was met with the politest rejection, "Madam, I must regretfully inform we are fully committed today." Luckily for me they had space available the next day. Be sure to reserve your table in advance to avoid disappointment.

High tea buffet served daily 3.30-5pm, from $S43. Equinox Restaurant at Swissotel the Stamford, 2 Stamford Road, Singapore. +65 6837 3322, swissotel.com.

The Regent

The buffet offerings at this oasis of calm are more akin to a Roman feast than a sedate afternoon snack. The menu changes regularly, which makes for some nice surprises. On the day we visited, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was met with universal acclaim (a British member of our party went back four times for more).

The fried chicken, satay, sushi, samosas and little pancakes with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and caviar competed for our attention. As a pianist tickled the ivories we moved on to the fresh scones, tarts and gelato, leaving all thought of the outside world behind.

High tea buffet served noon-5pm Mon-Fri, 1.30-5.30pm Sat-Sun, from $S44. The Tea Lounge at the Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Road, Singapore. +65 6733 8888, regenthotels.com.

Fullerton Bay Hotel

Afternoon tea in Singapore isn't just about food; it's an elegant event. Freshly coiffed ladies of leisure and expat wives arrive toting Louis Vuitton handbags of indeterminate authenticity as we take our seats at The Landing Point.

The women are ready to settle in for four hours of fine food and gossip at the fancy-pants Fullerton Bay Hotel, one of the newest hotels in Singapore, opened last July. As staff deliver three-tiered stands to tables, it's clear this is a quality establishment. Lobster coronets sit daintily beside duck rillettes and brie with quince paste. Sweet-treat favourites - lemon tart, a salted chocolate flan, creme brulee - are served with local flavours such as the Indo-Malay kueh lapis, a multi-hued cake.

It might be utterly gluttonous to admit this but our favourite part of all? You can ask for the tiered stand to be refilled.

Daily afternoon tea served 2-6pm, from $S38. The Landing Point at Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay, Singapore. +65 6333 8388, fullertonbayhotel.com.

Marina Bay Sands

If your body clock is jet-lagged and has you craving afternoon tea at 10 in the morning, consider SweetSpot at Marina Bay Sands, the new mega-resort combining accommodation, shopping, dining and gaming. This European-style espresso bar does barista coffee very well and is the place for smooth, hot chocolate and quality teas.

The a la carte service is a good option for indulgent types for whom a buffet spells trouble. There's mille feuille, the strawberry tart, the delectable range of pralines - the list goes on.

Open daily 7am-10pm. SweetSpot at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore. +65 6688 8868, www.marinabay sands.com.

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