It's all happening on Amoy Street – again. Long before land reclamation in Singapore began, this was the site of a busy port at which hundreds of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Arab immigrants landed and then stayed. So many people arrived from Amoy (now called Xiamen), a city in the south-eastern province of Fujian, that the name stuck. The street's shophouses were developed in the 1830s under Sir Stamford Raffles' masterplan for the city, and it filled with mosques, temples, schools, apothecaries and opium dens.
Two centuries later, this half-kilometre of one-way street in Chinatown retains some of the city's most important architectural heritage. And it's still a place where Singapore's obsessively food-focused citizens gather to eat, drink and gossip.
The key players in the street's new enterprises are a diverse and worldly bunch, with more than a few Australians among them. And while the area's food options cover everything from mod-Korean to deli sandwiches, there's also a growing admiration for home-grown eating traditions.
For the time-poor, curious and hungry traveller, Amoy Street and the lanes radiating from it offer the best taste of the island nation's culinary past, present and future.
While the concept of "creative fine dining that crosses cultural boundaries" sounds high-minded, the experience of eating at Nouri is a relaxed one. Guests are welcomed into a Japanese-accented space that blurs the lines between kitchen and dining room. Ivan Brehm, a one-time head of The Fat Duck's test kitchen, keeps his cooking precise but approachable in a globetrotting menu ranging from Japanese-style cured mackerel to a polished take on acarajé, Brazil's famous bean fritters. Tasting menus range from five to seven courses, and a lunchtime teishoku (set-course meal) is ideal for the time-poor.
72 Amoy St, +65 6221 4148, nouri.com.sg
Hawker food: Amoy Street Food Centre
Breakfast and lunch are the peak hours at this bustling two-storey food court serving off-duty taxi drivers and office workers from the surrounding high-rises. Benchmark versions of local dishes are well worth queuing for, whether it's the comforting meals-for-one at Li Xing Nasi Lemak (#02-81; the first number refers to the floor, the second to the stall number) or the textbook curry puffs at J2 Crispy Famous Curry Puff (#01-21). The court has a few more unconventional hawkers, too. Among them is Chop Chop Biryani & Meats (#02-101), a vendor serving Indian biryani rice with salted egg chicken, roast pork and other Chinese favourites, and A Noodle Story (#01-39) a "Singapore-style ramen" stall from chefs Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham (formerly of Tetsuya Wakuda's casino fine-diner Waku Ghin) that attracts queues day and night.
7 Maxwell Rd (main entrance via Telok Ayer St)
Wine bar: Le Quinze Vins
Singapore isn't known for wine, at least not the affordable and interesting kind, but a handful of wine bars are working to change that. Chief among them is Le Quinze Vins. Its all-French cellar features superstars from Burgundy, the Loire and Bandol, plus natural winemaking pioneers such as Ganevat, Labet and Lapierre – wines are imported direct from their source to minimise prices. Manager Romain Michaud is a cheerful constant during service and his super-sized croque-monsieur made with 18-month-old Comté is made for wine snacking.
29 Boon Tat St, +65 6222 8266
In a city that loves its roast pork and duck, this "full metal smokehouse" is in a barbecue category of its own. Overseeing a dining room best described as designer man-shed, Nebraska-born Andrew Baldus coaxes maximum flavour from protein. The dinner menu includes brisket, pork ribs, smoked chicken and a sausage special – a meaty andouille specimen last time we checked – which all spend time in the restaurant's two Southern Pride smokers. Whiskey and beer, naturally, are on hand.
167-169 Telok Ayer St, +65 6221 2262, meatsmith.com.sg
The Noma-esque trinity of time, place and taste has influenced countless chefs around the world. What if bartenders adopted a similar approach? Gun drink-slinger Vijay Mudaliar considered the question, and this sparsely furnished cocktail bar, with exposed bricks and exposed rafters, is his answer. Native's list is filled with original thinking and drinking. Thai rum, Sichuan pepper-perfumed gin, sparkling sake and small-batch liquors from around Asia form the backbone of a list in which cocktails might come garnished with salmon roe, black vinegar or ants.
52A Amoy St, +65 8869 6520, tribenative.com
Local favourite: Ocean Curry Fish Head
It's hard to miss this popular corner coffee shop, with its prominent blue awning and lunchtime queue. While office workers flock here for affordable, home-style Chinese buffet fare – known locally as zi char – the à la carte menu is the real star. The restaurant's namesake is worthy of top billing; a meaty snapper head simmered in a bright, turmeric-spiked broth is the epitome of Singaporean comfort food. Cockles stir-fried in sambal are another local favourite, as is the rich otak-otak, a spiced fish paste wrapped and cooked in banana leaf.
181 Telok Ayer St, +65 6324 9226, oceancurryfishhead.com.sg
Australian talent: Cheek by Jowl
With characteristically punchy flavours and smart-casual spirit, modern Australian cooking has found an appreciative audience in Singapore. Among the success stories is Cheek By Jowl, a cosy dining room with sightlines to an open kitchen run by Tetsuya's and Yellow alumnus, Rishi Naleendra. Dainty pastry cigars filled with chicken liver parfait and raw beef crowned with charred Brussel sprouts and shaved horseradish are typical of Naleendra's composed, Instagram-friendly handiwork. Charming but relaxed service under restaurant manager Manuela Toniolo, Naleendra's wife, is another draw, as is the list of predominantly lo-fi wines.
21 Boon Tat St, +65 6221 1911, cheekbyjowl.com.sg
Bar: Employees Only
From the white-jacketed bartenders to a secret entrance behind a neon sign advertising psychic readings, this high-energy cocktail bar has much in common with the New York original. To a soundtrack of '80s rock anthems and disco-soul (including the occasional appearance of Starship), bartenders keep the party going with textbook Vespers, Manhattans accented with Grand Marnier, and top-shelf Prohibition-inspired cocktails. Not all the pleasures are boozy: the menu lists modern American steakhouse classics, and guests are farewelled with a complimentary chicken-soup nightcap at closing time.
112 Amoy St, +65 6221 7357, employeesonlysg.com
Singapore Airlines operates 137 direct flights a week between Singapore and six Australian cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.