Tell anyone that you have just returned from Singapore and the question on their lips is bound to be ‘Did you visit Raffles?’ They don’t have to dignify that name with any appendage: everyone knows that there is only one Raffles and that’s the hotel – Raffles Hotel!
One walks down Beach Road and there is only one thing missing. The beach. First opened in 1887 Raffles Hotel did indeed have a sea view but years of much-needed local land reclamation has left this iconic hotel around 500 metres from the sea.
It doesn’t need to have its name prominently displayed for one to notice Raffles. It’s gleaming, ornate, imposing and there is that very human and charming trademark – the Sikh doorman, who does command respect even from the hotel’s well-heeled guests.
The hotel was established by two Armenian brothers from Persia and it was remarkable, in those days, for accepting guests of all races. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, and at the end of the conflict the hotel was used as a transit camp for prisoners of war. In 1987 the Singapore government declared the hotel a National Monument.
Raffles has been around long enough to have legend embroidered into its very fabric. It’s reputedly where the last surviving wild tiger in Singapore was shot, under the billiard table. In fact the probable truth is that the tiger had escaped from a nearby circus and the poor unfortunate was dispatched under the building that housed the billiard table. That was back in 1902.
Another call to fame from this most iconic of Singapore institutions is a much less violent event. That’s the invention of the Singapore Sling. This cocktail was devised by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon between 1910 and 1915 and has remained a favourite ever since.
There are fifteen restaurants and bars at Raffles and all of them have their own personalities and histories. The latest is Raffles Courtyard and it provides an al fresco venue for casual Italian meals at a very reasonable price. Tourists will be surprised to learn that they can afford a meal at Raffles and enjoy at least some of what the hotel guests are offered.
The Courtyard is beautifully appointed and gleams with tropical, colonialesque style. Mediterranean cuisine doesn’t seem incongruous served here. One has the sense that this could be Cannes on a fine day, although the service is guaranteed to be better here. There is plenty that gives a nod to traditional Singapore, though. The tropical palms and exotic plants add their own Asian ambiance, but that ice cream vendor’s cart and the brick oven raise expectations of a very Italian bill of fare.
The Courtyard opened on 14th January 2013. The Italian specialities have been created by Deputy Executive Chef Nicola Canuti. He has a creditable culinary pedigree having been Executive Chef at Restaurant L’Albero in Moscow. I am betting he prefers the weather in Singapore. Before that he could be found as Executive Chef for Alain Ducasse Group at the Dorchester London and other locations.
Visitors can choose to have a light lunch and an hour or two’s quiet during the heat of the day, or a leisurely dinner in the evening when the Courtyard beckons those who want a memorable experience that won’t break the bank.
The menu offers light and leafy salads, freshly made pizzas from that aforementioned brick oven as well as classic pastas. The dishes are authentic, delicious and create a perfect marriage of European culinary heritage with that charming Raffles architecture. This isn’t fusion but rather comfortable companionship.
My favourites from this Italian extravaganza are many. The salads are well-balanced, the pasta sauces are rich and moreish, and the pizzas are as good as you will find anywhere (including Italy). It isn’t food to hurry but rather linger over with an amphora (yes, they serve wine in terracotta jugs) of good red wine. Do as the Italians do and people-watch, consider the day’s adventures, and perhaps sample another pizza.
The must-try dishes at The Courtyard are:
Carpaccio di Carne Con Rucola e Parmigiano (beef carpaccio served with rocket salad and Parmesan). Freshness is the key with this dish. The beef was tender, the leaves were peppery and the cheese gave that distinctive salty tang.
Vitello Tonnato (thin slices of loin of veal with a tuna sauce and capers). This might sound an unlikely combination of ingredients but they all work together marvellously in this classic preparation. The sweetness of the meat finds a counterpoint in the fish.
All the pizzas here are light, crisp and traditional. A simple Pizza Margherita would be delightful with perhaps a chilled prosecco but the signature pizza must surely be Pescatore made with fresh tomatoes, clams, shrimps, calamari with a sprinkling of vibrant green parsley. This is a pizza for adults with discerning palates and it’s a million miles away from anything you would have encountered at home …unless you hail from Italy.
Pasta will be high on many an Italian dinner wish-list and The Courtyard won’t disappoint. Linguini Con Pesto (linguini garnished with basil pesto) is a summery plateful and this deserves a rustic red wine alongside, but the star of the pasta selection must surely be Spaghetti Con Vongole Zucchini E Botarga (spaghetti with clams, courgette and botarga). Yes, I am suggesting seafood again because it is famously good here in Singapore. The sweet clams are marvellously complemented by the remarkable flavour of the cured fish roe. Just a little grating of this transforms any seafood dish.
Save some space for the frozen desserts. The menu is short but none the worse for that. These are artisanal ices that have remarkable flavour. The sorbets in particular are outstanding. Try Sorbetto Alla Fragola (strawberry sorbet) or Sorbetto Alla Pera (pear sorbet) for the refreshing taste of real fruit.
The Courtyard at Raffles Hotel has something deliciously Italian for every taste. All the dishes are reasonably priced so a meal at Raffles is accessible to everybody.
Raffles Courtyard is open daily from 12 noon to 10pm.
Gazebo Bar Cocktails: 11:00am to 10:30pm
For reservations, contact Dining Reservations at +65 6412 1816 or email email@example.com
1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Phone: +65 6337 1886
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018