It's hard to believe the "grande dame" Raffles Singapore was ever a 10-room hotel set in an old bungalow. Opened in 1887, she's seen extensions, renovations and restorations, but none quite as dramatic as this one. On 1 August, Narajan Singh, Raffles' doorman of almost three decades, is standing by to welcome guests to the new Raffles.
New York studio Champalimaud Design is behind the fresh look, which spans new bars and restaurants, 115 revamped suites, a new 300-guest ballroom, luxe spa and shopping arcade. "Our mission was not just to restore the historic fabric of the building, but to restore the idea that Raffles is a social place," says Champalimaud managing director Ed Bakos. Declared a national monument in 1987, the hotel's last major renovation was completed in 1991. "The way that people thought about luxury hotels or luxury dining then was completely different to today," Bakos says.
Christian Westbeld, the hotel's general manager, is thrilled with the outcome. "This hotel is built on firm foundations," he says, "and it has been given the respect it deserves."
In the lobby, more than 30 layers of paint on the Victorian-era colonnades were painstakingly removed by hand. In the Tiffin Room and Writers Bar, both hotel highlights since the 1900s, herringbone timber floors have been brought back to add warmth. Gone are the heavy grey cast-iron gates partitioning the lobby. Instead, clever bevelled glass doors and a single mammoth chandelier catch the light from the central atrium.
But lots of people aren't here for the interiors, they're here to order Singapore Slings, snack on peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. And to that end, the Long Bar and its century-old cocktail recipe has had a shake-up, too. The recipe has been remixed with better ingredients, including bespoke bitters and an all-natural pomegranate-juice grenadine made by Australian bartending veteran Jason Crawley. GT is pleased to report it's still shaken to order, and not nearly as sweet as it once was. And there's still peanut shells on the floor.
The tripartite layout of the Raffles suites – parlour, bedroom and bathroom – has been retained, the old-school heavy drape partitions replaced by white shutters; the bathrooms now a glorious expanse of floor-to-ceiling Italian marble. Other mod-cons include double-glazed windows and motorised blockout shades.
The intimate 46-seat La Dame de Pic, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic, is a case study in how to retain colonial ambience and old-world glamour while fast-forwarding to the 21st century. Her restaurant replaces the Raffles Grill, and serves the likes of heirloom tomatoes and rhubarb in a gingery broth with sage ice-cream, and Pic's signature pasta, les berlingots, enlivened by a bright consommé made with chou cao, a local herb. A Mediterranean-inspired grill by chef Alain Ducasse is set to open in the historic Bar & Billiard Room in the next couple of months.
"It's beautiful to see how the new concepts inject new life without changing the character and personality of the hotel," says Westbeld. "It's refreshed, it's updated, but it's still Raffles."
Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Rd, Singapore, rafflessingapore.com