singapore weekend

Global cities are well defined in economic terms. They dominate the trade and commerce of their home countries and beyond; they have global decision-making capabilities, and they are centres of distinction and innovation in education, entertainment and technology.

Global cities to me always had a more visceral definition: larger than life, they know they are different, more important, create a larger vortex. And crucially, they don’t care. They are too busy being a global city to think about it too much, and they certainly don’t care what you think. A visitor to a global city is not required or expected to fall in love with the place, to applaud its many merits and achievements. Citizens of global cities really just want visitors to walk at a decent pace, learn quickly what side of the escalator to stand on, spend their money and generally not get in the way.

As a result, of course, we all adore these places. Never mind that New Yorkers are brash and direct, that the rents are as sky-high as the buildings. Those most critical of US foreign policy or cultural domination will sigh at the mention of New York and declare it their favourite city on earth. Never mind that London is congested and chilly, or that the tube has no air-conditioning, or that Heathrow is a nightmare. Everybody wants to go and live in London in their gap year. It’s the buzz, you see.

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Some people equate Global Cities with something more: on top of the economists’ definitions, they also expect them to be multi-cultural melting pots, intersection points for all the races and cultures of the world. To me, this melting-pot criterion is not necessary: you don’t really get that in Tokyo or Hong Kong, and yet they are true Global Cities.

In the late 1990s some academics in Loughborough University, of all places, made a catalogue of Global Cities. In A++ place were London and New York, naturally. In close second at A+ level were Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, Singapore and Dubai.

According to my definition it’s almost right. Hong Kong may technically be part of China but it will always be, defiantly, just Hong Kong. Similarly, Shanghai’s colonial past sets it a little apart from the rest of China and it has its own unique feel and sub-culture. Beijing is inextricably linked with the rest of China, both culturally and economically, but its citizens remind me more of the people of New York than the people of Xi’an. Come and visit if you like, just keep out of the way.

Paris, is, of course, Paris. Enough said.

But Sydney? To me, Australia’s largest city is still far too self-conscious to be a genuine Global City. Yes, technically its economic and political influence is significant both in Australia and in Asia Pacific, so the Loughborough University definition stands. But it tries too hard to be liked, admired, acknowledged. It’s like the younger sibling of one of the cool kids in high school, hanging around with the big boys, trying to fit in. It’s Sandra Dee, or a young graduate with their first proper job, hiding their lack of self-confidence money and swagger, but little sophistication.

Also, to this Old-Worlder, it’s difficult to see such a young city as a real Global City. To me, Global Cities are simultaneously ancient and new, patched together, organically developed, hectic places where you can almost see the growth rings like those of an old tree.

The chaos is only barely under control; the plumbing and sanitation and road works and public transport survive each day somehow, and everybody heaves a sigh of relief. One unfortunate passenger under a tube train, one set of Manhattan traffic lights on the blink, one Star Ferry running late, and London/New York/Hong Kong teeters on the brink of rush-hour annihilation.

That to me is what a Global City feels like.

A weekend in Singapore, then, was an interesting scenario. This famous city state holds around 6 million citizens in an area about the same size as the Tasman Peninsula in Australia, half of County Dublin or the Isle of Man. There are skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, but those in the central business district are so tall that the “regular” buildings further out don’t seem to warrant the name.

I had few expectations except for tales of humidity, pristine streets and underground shopping malls built to shield Singaporeans from the heat above ground. I looked forward to the biggest observation wheel in the world and plenty of rooftop cocktail bars.

Did it feel like a true Global City? I don’t know. Again, the economic influence is undoubted, and the urban landscape is sensational. The shopping is fantastic, the street food legendary, the coffee alone worth the trip. A smattering of world-class iconic structures make the cityscape interesting: the enormous Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands, a warped surfboard resting on a wicket.

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But…. It was a little sterile. Of course, Singapore is renowned for its cleanliness and order, rules and regulations: no chewing gum, no littering, no durian fruit on the trains.

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The trains run on time, the people all stand on the correct side of the escalator, and they all walk on the left hand side of the pavement. The result is a little futuristic and surreal, if like me you come from an ancient and chaotic town like Dublin. The people were unfailingly polite, friendly, warm and helpful, which was lovely. Whilst it was an incredibly busy place, there was little of the barely-controlled frenzy you often feel in other huge cities. I liked it, mostly.

The vast warren of inter-connecting underground shopping malls was a real eye-opener. I’m not a bit claustrophobic, but I ended up feeling quite relieved each time we emerged chilled and blinking from that air-conditioned fluorescent netherworld into the tropical sunlight. At any given time, six million Singaporeans are hermetically sealed in vast steel-and-concrete tubes, either horizontally underground or vertically reaching for the sky. It can’t be right.

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The rooftop bars were a delight. No matter where you are in the centre of town, the views are sensational. From the understated sophistication of the seventh floor Lighthouse Bar at the Fullerton, to the de trop ostentation of Ku De Ta atop the Marina Bay Sands, we tried them all (or many of them, anyway).

The Lighthouse was just delightful. “You look beautiful!”, exclaimed the (female) manager to me as I emerged from the lift. I didn’t, but I accepted the compliment graciously. A perfectly made Bombay Sapphire and tonic was the way to enjoy the tacky but entertaining laser show across the water at the Marina Bay Sands. Time your visit for 8pm or 9.30pm (and 11pm on Saturdays) to watch the dancing lights in understated luxury.

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Ku De Ta is of course the place to see and be seen, and they keep away the hoi polloi with plenty of rules: men must wear closed-in shoes (women are good to go in strappy sandals). No shorts, singlets, slippers or tank tops. You’d better book ahead even for drinks (but the minimum spend is quoted as S$80 a head, and you don’t get a seat). The door staff on the ground floor will vet you even before you get to the lifts. The result was a spectacular view, no shelter if it rained, a disappointing drinks list, far too much ice and marmalade (you heard me) in my cocktail, very little space to take it all in and a quick decision to move on to the next bar.

The City Space bar on the 70th floor of the Stamford, on the other hand, may look north away from Marina Bay and That Building, but the atmosphere is relaxed, welcoming and much more grown-up. Karen the manager got to know us by name, scored us window seats every time and brought our “usual” cocktails to us with a smile.

The Lantern on the top of the modern Fullerton Bay is a great spot, not too high but perfectly placed to enjoy the unique Marina Bay skyline. It’s a bit after-worky in the early evening, but a great place to watch the sunset and get in the mood for the night ahead.

So is Singapore on my personal lists of Global Cities? No. Is it a good destination for a weekend break, a spot of shopping, a reason to sip a Singapore Sling by the pool, a chance to overdose on kopi peng (Singaporean iced coffee), an opportunity to dress up and bar-hop with the best of them? Absolutely.

See you next time, Singapore.

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ricky’s curried goat

>Try this for a good curried goat – thanks Ricky for the seasoning advice!

Ingredients for seasoning
3 kinds of chilli peppers (or whatever your taste is) – Ricky used scotch bonnets, bullet and home grown killer peppers
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
4 spring onions
1″ ginger root
thyme
coriander
whole black peppers
2 tbsp curry powder
west indian season-all powder
A little water

Method
Blend together and marinate the meat overnight. Best to use fresh goat on the bone, but if youare unadventurous or goat is unavailable, some cubed lamb works well too.

Dice one potato, and a carrot or two if you wish, and add to the mix. Add a little water and cook very slowly for as many hours as you can manage.

Serve with rice and black-eyed/pigeon/gunga peas.

Little Bay

>Little Bay, 171 Farringdon Road, London EC1

This little restaurant is a true find. Situated close to the Exmouth Market area, it offeres incredibly good value and excellent.

The décor is simple and the basement not to be recommended due to the loud echo effect, but if you are looking for beautifully prepared fresh ingredients with a good wine list to boot, this is the place for you.

I can recommend the chips which are cooked in duck fat in true south of France style.

There are branches in Battersea and Kildurn/Belsize Park too!

>3 Monkeys

>3 Monkeys
Herne Hill

Suzanne and I got a last-minute cheap deal to eat at this relatively new south London Indian restaurant, so we were looking forward to a posh Indian dinner on the cheap when we visited Three Monkeys.

This is one of a breed of modern Indian restaurants which are rapidly replacing every Mughal-arched, flock-wallpapered old place in the city (much to my relief). The place is split-level with a modern bar downstairs. Upstairs everything is light and bright, with some beautiful Indian art on the walls.

Being mid-week we were one of about four tables occupied so it did feel a bit quiet, added to which we were very chilly for the whole evening. The waitress was pleasant enough but on occasion a little slow to respond – no problem for us as we were gossiping madly but another time this would have wound me up.

As for the food, there are lots on the menu which were new to me. One of their specialities is Handi cuisine from the central plateau of India, slow cooked in an earthen pot. We stuck to fairly standard dishes, our man courses being one chicken and one lamb. Our first impression was that the quantity of meat in each dish was woefully small. This was partly made up by the quality of the meat and the delicate taste of the sauce. Added to which, the side dishes and rice we were served were beautiful.

Having said all that, we could not manage a dessert, settling for a coffee and a masala tea instead. However when the bill came it was almost £50 for two, and that was only included two glasses of wine. All in all, we felt that it was not good value for money – and this was on a special deal! I would not be tempted back here if I had to pay full price, and I could think of many more places service equally good food for less elsewhere in London.

All in all, a pleasant enough experience but not really worth the trip or the money.
www.3monkeysrestaurant.com

>covent garden part 2

>Box Bar, 32-34 Monmouth Garden, Covent Garden

This is a well-established gay haunt just off Seven Dials in the heart of Covent Garden. We visited mid-afternoon on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and the crowd was already spilled out on the pavement. The atmosphere outside was friendly, and the fashion was high.
I guess that the atmosphere inside would be cosier inside at night, but the bar staff were efficient and the choice of drinks was good. Only downfall was that the queue for the unisex toilets was quite lengthy, and it would have been a real pain in the ass except for that it was a fun crowd in the queue!
I am told that the fact that two blokes go into the loo at one time is more to do with recreational drugs than lifestyle, but whatever… I just don’t like waiting!

Dial Restaurant & Bar, 20 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden

This was a pretty cool restaurant just beside the Box Bar. We sat at a posh bar and drank cocktails – my new favourite is an espresso martini which is a regular martini mixed with one shot of espresso. Delish!
The crowd was well-dressed and cool, and the bar staff professional and knowledgable. Would love to come back again for an evening drink or even dinner in the restaurant next door. Good music too, and amazing toilets!!

Bunker, 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden

This is a micro-brewery with the brewing equipment prominently displayed. We spent a pleasant evening in here before, but on the Sunday night we visited it was kind of empty and they had stopped serving food. There was no atmosphere and the music was too loud. Or are we getting old?…

Cafe Pacifico, 5 Langley Street, Covent Garden

This long-established Mexican restaurant is lively and cheerful, and the food is good. Music is Mexican of course, but entertaining. The best part is the cocktails which are generous and yummy!!!

>covent garden part 1

>Sugar Reef, 42-44 Great Windmill Street, London W1V 7PA
The downstairs cocktail bar at Sugar Reef is popular amongst the after-owkr crowd for its happy hour until 7pm. With champagne cocktails at less than £4 and wine at £8 a bottle, it’s not a bad place to start the evening.
The upstairs restaurant looks modern and trendy, and their new “Dynamic Dining” policy is definitely worth looking into. The earlier in the week you eat, the cheaper your food! Mains start off at £6 on a Monday, rising to £12 on a Saturday.
Crowd was hard to measure as it was all after-work. Music was so low you couldn’t hear it and all the seats were taken by pre-booked parties. But for a couple of quick cocktails to start the evening off you could do worse. http://www.sugarreef.net/

Boulevard Brasserie, 40 Wellington Street, London WC2E 7BD
The brasserie’s downstairs wine bar is cosy if a little claustrophic with the low ceiling. Happy hour until 7.30pm offer half-price wines by the bottle – but beware – the prices are slightly inflated compared to the upstairs restaurant so you are really paying more than half-price.
Crowd was a bit odd. The blokes were congregated around the tiny bar and the girls were meeting in twos at the tables.
The upstairs restaurant was lively enough, and the food excellent. Nothing spectacular overall, but not a bad place to meet and have a chat.

Freuds Wine Bar, Basement, 198 Shaftesbury Avenue
This bar, café and gallery is hidden away in a tiny basement up the High Holborn end of Shaftesbury Avenue, is easily overlooked. Inside you will see minimalist décor – bare concrete walls displaying various artists’ work, and basic seating.
The crowd is studenty/arty. But the cocktail list is excellent and the measures big. The toilets are absymal and the music variable. Drop in here for good Mojitos and knowledgeable bar staff who know what a Long Beach Iced Tea is without asking.