Raffles Singapore hotel review: A star is reborn

Our rating

5 out of 5

THE PLACE

It's either the national monument that's a hotel or the hotel that's a national monument. Either way, the doors of the fabled 132-year-old Raffles Singapore have been flung open once again – courtesy, of course, of the hotel's signature, always-at-the-ready Sikh driveway commissionaires. Raffles is arguably south-east Asia's most coveted stay and it has been resplendently renewed – in all its white, teak-panelled glory – with a multimillion-dollar refurbishment that took 18 months to complete.

THE LOCATION

Where's the beach? It's a legitimate question given Raffles is on Beach Road in central Singapore. It was once a waterfront property but that original golden strip of sand is now a distant memory, thanks to Singapore's incessant reclamation and expansion. Today, the comparatively low-rise pile occupies a sizeable parcel of land in a city where space remains scant. It is encircled by a huddle of modern skyscrapers, withquaint, historic shophouses in the surrounding streets.

THE SPACE

The Middle-Eastern owners of Raffles – guided by Accor, the hotel's French management company – had to confront the challenge and responsibility of renovating a property that was declared a national treasure in 1987. It's hard to fault the outcome. The building's freshly whitewashed walls and matching marble are so dazzling in the unforgiving Singapore sun you almost have to pop on your Persols.

One of the most appealing features of the makeover – driven by a New York interior design firm – is the vaulted atrium drenched in natural light. It's flanked by restaurants and lounges, with a stunning contemporary chandelier as its centrepiece. The reception desks are discreetly tucked away at the rear, behind the main stairwells, robbing Raffles of some of the bustle of other grand hotels in south-east Asia.

THE ROOM

A number of apartment-style suites have been added above the renovated shopping-arcade section of the Raffles compound – probably with an eye towards revenue –  upping the room count to 115.

I've scored the Rudyard Kipling suite in the original main building. It's one of the dozen "personality suites" named in honour of famous former guests, including Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Taylor and Charlie Chaplin. Kipling, the 19th-century British poet and author, would surely feel right at home in this room, with its charming and cosy parlour space, sizeable bedroom with a king-size four-poster bed and a nearly-as-large bathroom with an indulgent free-standing tub.

There's also a table with chairs on the verandah directly outside the room, ready for you to get to work on your next verse or novel. Kipling, however, would probably be bamboozled by the 21st-century technology used in the room. Virtually all its functions – including airconditioning, lights and television – can be controlled from a bedside tablet.

THE FOOD

When Kipling stayed at Raffles he famously condemned the food, recommending that prospective guests dine elsewhere. It's unlikely that today's gastronomically minded guests would feel the same way, especially with the addition of La Dame de Pic, the hotel's elegant new eatery. It's the first restaurant in Asia for innovative French chef Anne-Sophie Pic, who is the recipient of no fewer than seven Michelin stars and one of the world's most accomplished female chefs. Pic will eventually share the limelight at Raffles with famed compatriot Alain Ducasse, who will open his first "Mediterranean sharing" concept restaurant here. The Ducasse diner will be located inside what was once the hotel's legendary Bar & Billiard Room. It was here, in 1902, that an escaped – and ultimately doomed – circus tiger famously hid under one of the billiard tables.

STEPPING OUT

When staying at Raffles, you may prefer to stay put. The hotel is a famous destination in its own right and, should your budget permit, there's plenty to keep you occupied for several days without stepping beyond the borders of the wondrously white and tropical-green urban paradise.

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It's a tad touristy, but the partaking of a Singapore Sling in the hotel's historic Long Bar, with its famous peanut-shell-scattered floor, is an essential Raffles interlude. Popular belief has it that the cocktail was invented in 1915 by a Raffles barman. As part of Raffles' rebirth, the cocktail's recipe has been updated to reflect the times, with less sugar and more alcohol. Even the cherry garnish on the celebrated cocktail – which now costs $S33 ($35) a pop – has had an upgrade from sickly artificial red to a more authentic, well, dark cherry colour. Allow some time, too, to wander along the nostalgia-laden upstairs corridor of the main hotel wing, which is lined with framed black-and-white photos of the famous guests who have stayed at Raffles over the years.

THE VERDICT

Even though your reviewer stayed during Raffles' soft-opening phase – prior to its official reopening earlier this month – there was enough evidence that the old dame's facelift has been an enormous, carefully conceived and well-executed exercise that will enchant those who can bear the hefty, five-star tariffs. Long (Bar) may Raffles reign.

ESSENTIALS

An entry-level studio suite costs from $S853 a night as part of a reopening special; includes breakfast and a one-way limousine transfer. See raffles.com/singapore

HIGHLIGHT

Being able to walk straight into Raffles as a staying guest – unchallenged by the assiduous Sikh doormen – is, as ever, a minor bucket-list-worthy moment.

LOWLIGHT

Legends don't come cheap and the reborn Raffles will be beyond the reach of most mere mortals. Then again, the occasional sinful splurge is why God invented plastic, right?

Anthony Dennis was a guest of Raffles Singapore and Singapore Airlines. See raffles.com/singapore; singaporeair.com