1. Tiffin Room, Raffles Hotel
Tiffin Rnoroom has been a part of the Raffles Hotel’s heritage since 1892, when it was called the Raffles Tiffin Rooms and was located at Commercial Square (present day Raffles Place) before moving into the hotel’s premises. The restaurant has always served luxurious, North Indian fare and is today famous for its curry buffet.
The entire property has undergone a revamp and Tiffin Room today boasts reinstated wooden floorboards and features from the early 1900s based on research by Raffles’ heritage consultants. Tiffin Room reopened its revamped avatar in August 2019, with a menu that features a new North Indian buffet lineup, an Indian Thali Experience and a new a la carte menu. The luxurious old-world charm however, remains the same.
At Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673, tel: 6337 1886, Visit their website for more information.
Photo: Raffles Hotel Singapore
2. Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant
Several of us have childhood memories of being treated to a special meal at this restaurant atop the Prima Tower. It revolves to treat every diner to a 360 degree view of Singapore from Keppel Bay to Harbourfront, Sentosa and more. The old-school decor, vintage elevator and traditional dishes are still a top draw, and would be a great spot to dine with parents and grandparents.
Among its nostalgia-inducing dishes are the Shredded Scallops with Fish and White Egg, the Peking Duck and an advance-order-needed dessert called the Three Non-Stick which is a chewy, non-sticky paste-like concoction of 25 egg yolks, flour, sugar and the chefs’ deft wok skills.
At 201 Keppel Road, Singapore 099419, tel: 6272 8822/8988. Visit their website for more information.
3. Cafe Colbar
Cafe Colbar has been open since the 1950s, and has been serving colonial-style brunch plates way before brunch became the coolest meal of the day. It’s Kopitiam-like decor, ulu-Wessex Estate location and greasy-good menu are reasons why regulars are still flocking to the cosy spot.
It once served as a canteen for the British army, and even now serves up English fry-ups such as Bacon, Eggs, Chips and Beans ($13), Cheese Omelette and Chips ($11) and local nosh like the Fried Hor Fun in Gravy ($7). The decor, menu and vibe are clearly unchanged from a bygone era, and the throwback vibes are second-to-none.
At 9A Whitchurch Rd, Singapore 138839, tel: 6779 4859.
4. Muthu’s Curry
Muthu’s has been in existence since 1969, and is still a top spot for diners hankering for the iconic dish — Fish Head Curry. The South Indian style of cooking the whole head of ang go li (sea bream) fish in a spicy, tamarind-laced curry, is one that was invented by the founders of Muthu’s.
The recipe remains unchanged, even though its flagship Race Course Road outlet now boasts spiffier interiors and a more varied tourist-friendly menu. Its version of the Fish Head Curry uses market-fresh fish heads, a secret blend of aromatics and spices, tamarind pulp, coconut milk, tomatoes and okra. Excellent with a side of rice, and a dollop of childhood nostalgia. Priced at $22 per portion.
At 138 Race Course Road, Singapore 21859, tel: 6392 1722. Visit their website for more information.
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Photo: Muthu’s Curry
5. Capitol Milk Bar
Remember the Magnolia Snack Bar at Capitol Theatre? It was once the go-to spot for ice-cream, milkshakes and cakes for those watching a movie at Capitol Theatre, and many movie-goers have tons of fond and delicious memories of the old-school, family-friendly diner. The snack bar closed in the 1980s, but its modern-day avatar is the newly minted Capitol Milk Bar at The Capitol Kempinski’s Arcade.
Retro-styled furniture and decor will transport you to the 1960s and the Milk Bar’s menu is deliciously old-school with sundaes such as the The Capitol Milk Bar Banana Split ($15) of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream with caramelised bananas banana vanilla espuma, freeze dried banana and banana rum glaze. There are also milkshakes ($14) served in flavours such as Milo Dinosaur, Chendol and Nutella. There are also diner staples such as burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and curly or sweet potato fries.
At The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore, 15 Stamford Road, Singapore 178906, tel: 6368 8888. Visit their website for more information.
Photo: The Capitol Kempinksi Hotel, Singapore
6. The Ship
Ask anyone who was a kid in Singapore in the 70s, and they will tell you that a meal at The Ship was a great family treat. Open since 1977, this nautical-themed restaurant’s decor is designed to make one feel as though they’re dining on a ship’s deck. The Shaw Centre outlet was revamped in 2014, however the theme and menu remain rooted in nostalgia and regulars continue to head back for familiar favourites.
The Ship Steak ($36) which was a treat-yourself meal of brandy flambéed U.S Striploin served with black and white mushroom sauce and a baked potato, or the childhood favourite Chicken Maryland ($16.90) where chicken filets are fried southern style and served with bacon, fried banana and a corn fritter.
At 1 Scotts Rd, #03 – 16-18, Singapore 228208, tel: 6235 2235. Visit their website for more information.
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7. Guan Hoe Soon
This is Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant, and has been in a shophouse in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood since the 1950s. Guan Hoe Soon is still regarded as the first and obvious choice for classic Nyonya dishes. Before settling down to eat, you can browse the museum-like display of vintage tableware.
Must-orders here include the Peranakan-staple the Ayam Buah Keluak ($16.80) of chicken and minced pork cooked in a spicyrempah laced with the kernels of the keluak nuts. Other memorable dishes include the Babi Pongteh (a braised pork dish) and Nyonya Chap Chye (mixed vegetable stew). Flavours are old-school and familiar, and if you have to take your Peranakan grandma out to a restaurant, this is the one it should be.
At 40 Joo Chiat Pl, Singapore 427764, tel: 6344 2761. Visit their website for more information.
8. Spring Court
Proudly calling itself Singapore’s oldest Chinese restaurant, Spring Court has been in existence since 1929 and is still run by its founding family. It describes its cuisine as Singaporean-Chinese and must-orders include old-school dishes such as the Deep-fried Yam Ring, plump rolls of Popiah, Claypot Chilli Crab and the Chicken Stuffed with Minced Prawn.
Currently located in a four-storey Chinatown shophouse, the restaurant was at the former Great World Amusement Park when it first opened. The current decor is nostalgic elegance with old-framed photographs adorning the walls and staff who have been serving there for several years.
At 52-56 Upper Cross St, Singapore 058348, tel: 6449 5030. Visit their website for more information.
Photo: Spring Court/Facebook
9. Tong Ah Eating House
Once situated within Chinatown’s most iconic art deco, shophouse-style buildings, Tong Ah Eating House has relocated only a few doors down along Keong Saik Road, relinquishing its former digs to the uber-trendy Potato Head Folk. It has been around since 1939, serving up traditional Nanyang-style kopi and teh, and possibly the crispiest kaya toast to be found on the island.
The decor is basic at best, but regulars here flock for the old-school kaya toast sets, steamed bread and kopi with a dollop of butter. Prices for these begin at a humble $1.20. It has a back kitchen that dishes out a variety of tze char dishes too, noteworthy amongst which are the Coffee Pork Ribs ($10 onwards).
At 35 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089142, tel: 6223 5083. Visit their Facebook page for more information.
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10. Hua Yu Wee
One of Singapore’s original beachfront restaurants, this seafood spot still occupies the same Upper East Coast Road premises (a white, sprawling colonial-style bungalow) that it did when it opened in the 1920s. Old-timers who visit today reminisce about the days gone by when the beach was only a few metres away from the restaurant’s steps.
There’s no deliberately retro decor here, the furniture is classic functional and the decor (down to the wait staff’s uniforms) are all old-school. Seafood dishes are still the top orders here, and many regulars swear by its Chilli Crab (in a thick and unctuous gravy) and the Clam and Prawn He Fen ($16 onwards), which is crispy and soft hor fun in a thick and luscious seafood gravy.
At 462 Upper East Coast Rd, Singapore 466508, tel: 6442 9312.
11. Roland Restaurant
Roland Restaurant is the de facto home of the chilli crab (above). It’s said that Madam Cher Yam Tian, the mother of Roland Lim, the current owner-operator of the restaurant, created the dish after her husband asked her to cook up something creative with the crabs he had caught. The couple then, in 1956, started selling it at their modest eatery by the beach in East Coast.
Little did Madam Cher know that many decades later, her creation would eventually become one of the iconic – and some say, national – dishes of Singapore. When at Roland, try other dishes (main photo) created and popularised by her as well: deep-fried baby squid and you char kway (dough fritters) stuffed with squid paste.
89 Marine Parade Central, #06-750, Singapore 440089, tel: 6440 8205. Visit their website for more information.
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12. Red Star Restaurant
One of the few places in Singapore where one can partake in dim sum the traditional way – selecting the bite-size treats from push carts – Red Star was opened in 1974 by four local chefs who were collectively known as the culinary Heavenly Kings.
Besides a large variety of dim sum, this restaurant also serves up affordable, authentic Cantonese fare and a good dose of nostalgia with its charmingly aged decor and elderly servers.
At 54 Chin Swee Rd, #07-23, Singapore 160054, tel: 6532 5266. Visit their website for more information.
13. Islamic Restaurant
Briyani (spiced rice) is the calling card of this grand old dame (said to have been established in 1914), who boasts royalty as part of its long list of loyal customers.
The Indian-Muslim restaurant was started by chef M. Abdul Rahman and is now run by his grandson, who still serves up favourites such as chicken Mysore and roti Mariam. The must-try at this North Bridge Road mainstay, of course, is the biryani, which comes in chicken, mutton and fish versions.
At 745 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 198713, tel: 6298 7563.Visit their website for more information.
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14. Lai Wah
Famous for being the birthplace of yu sheng (raw fish salad), a must-have at Chinese New Year celebratory meals in Singapore, Lai Wah was opened in 1963 by Wong Kok Lum together with two of the four culinary Heavenly Kings.
Today, it is operated by the descendants of Wong, and besides yu sheng, other must-tries invented at the restaurant include the yam pot with shredded meat (above) and Mandarin stewed chicken.
At 44 Bendemeer Rd, #01-1436, Singapore 330044, tel: 6294 9922.Visit their website for more information.