Bring The Past To Life
Being British myself, I have a soft spot for the remaining colonial houses dotted around Singapore. Knowing that there are things from home which have been here for so long helps me feel like I too have a piece in Singapore's history, something that I love.
Built by the British until the Second World War, most of these houses and buildings are now either empty or people's homes, however some have been created into public buildings that we all can visit. Each has their own unique history, and each are waiting for you to come and discover them!
Follow me on my list of 10 of the best surviving colonial buildings, from art galleries to seafood restaurants, you’ll never look at history in the same way again.
1. Beaulieu House - Western and Chinese Seafood
As far as entrances go, Beaulieu House wins all the prizes. Not only does the Edwardian architecture from way back in 1910 wow you as soon as you lay eyes on it, the House looks over the sea and it has its own jetty less than 100m away, the perfect spot to get those #OOTD pics. The jetty was built by the British in the 1940’s, but finished by the Japanese during their occupation.
Beaulieu House was built in 1910 as a seaside retreat, but when the former Singapore Naval Base was built in the 1920s to defend their interests in the Pacific, the house was taken over by the Colonial Government.
There’s also a little area of sand down by the water. It's not exactly the Maldives but it feels so secret and hidden away, the perfect place to admire a place filled with so much history.
Beaulieu House is now a seafood restaurant, which if taking a look at how full it was means anything, is still thriving today. It’s such a beautiful building and would be a shame to see it wasting away, so I love how this is not the case for Beaulieu House.
It's a bit tricky to get here by public transport as it’s all the way in Sembawang, and if you get a cab or drive then you have to park up and then walk through the park. However with sea views, a beautiful park and an even more beautiful house waiting for you, it will be the shortest walk of your life.
Address: 117 Beaulieu Rd, 759837
Contact: 6257 9234
Opening hours: 11am to 2:30pm, 6 to 11pm
2. Chopsuey Cafe - Chinese comfort food with a Western twist
A die hard PS Cafe fan, I was surprised that I had never heard of its little sister, Chopsuey Cafe. It’s hidden away in a tiny corner of Dempsey, which trying to find when you have the sense of direction of a three year old is a little tricky, but for normal people should be fine. It’s best described as an East meets West restaurant, and the venue is stunning.
As well as being a hotspot for food lovers, Dempsey Hill itself also has a huge military history. It was occupied by soldiers in 1867 and after the Japanese occupation in WW2, the barracks were used to hold POWs.
These days, its dark past is long gone, and in its place are hundreds of restaurants in some truly beautiful architecture.
Chopsuey is not Dempsey's typical army barrack, it’s a true black-and-white style colonial house with a modern twist. Dine looking out of enormous windows and enjoy the sky high ceilings in a place which couldn’t be richer with colonial history.
Address: Block 10 Dempsey Rd, #01-23, 247700
Contact: 9224 6611
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 11:30am-12am, Sat-Sun: 10:30am-12am
3. Corner House - Gastro-Botanica
While checking out Burkill House, I somehow managed to walk straight past this beautiful house-turned-restaurant. I’m not just being OTT here, I LITERALLY walked straight past it without even realising it was there. How I did this is a mystery, but I’m so glad that I noticed it eventually.
It’s near impossible to get a photo of the outside due to it looking as if it’s a part of the Botanic Gardens, but that was one of my favourite things about it. It was home to assistant director of the Botanic Gardens, E J H Corner, who helped create the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as well as helping to protect the possessions of the National Museum and Library during the Japanese Occupation. Sounds like an all round pretty cool guy.
No longer a home, you can now dine amongst nature or just come in and enjoy a drink in its reading corner. Expect your food to be as beautiful as the gardens surrounding you, and dine surrounded by pictures of E J H Corner and paintings of the plants found in the gardens.
The interior is decorated tastefully and I can’t imagine choosing to eat anywhere else when coming to the Botanic Gardens. Where better than in the house of the man who helped to create it?
Address: 1 Cluny Road, E J H Corner House, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Nassim Gate Entrance, 259569
Opening hours: Tuesdays - Saturdays 12 to 3pm, 6:30 to 11pm. Sunday 11:30 to3pm, 6:30 to 11pm
4. The Coastal Settlement Cafe - casual local and western cuisine
Colonial house searching is tiring work, and it just so happened that lunch fell when I was at The Coastal Settlement. I’m a vegan, so eating out can be pretty tricky but TCS was super helpful, taking butter out of the dish that I ordered and replacing the sweetness with a kind of jam. It was a million times better than what I was expecting and I’m always super appreciative of places that accommodate to my tricky needs.
Near the Changi Air Base, it’s definitely not the most spectacular looking colonial building in the area. From the outside it simply looks like a building swamped in retro bits-and-bobs. But wait until you step inside, and you'll feel as if you’ve been transported to a swanky diner in the city.
It’s still got that retro vibe, but the beautifully over the top bar and the original shutters covering the ceiling make it completely unique and a brilliant place to spend your lunch time.
The food is known for its massive servings, and the service, atmosphere and price were also close to perfect. Don’t be fooled by its outside or be put off by how ulu it is, although TCS is much more about the interior and the food itself than the fact that it’s a colonial building, it’s an authentic place that has that feel that can only be a result of years passing by.
Address: 200 Netheravon Road, 508529
Contact: 6475 0200
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30am to 11pm.
5. Blue Bali - Indonesian food combined with a multicultural palette
I’ve been to Blue Bali before, not even realising that it was a colonial house. Talk about walking around with your eyes shut. I adore eating here, it’s authentically Indonesian and the staff are amazing. They also brew their own beer, just to make it even cooler. Sadly when I came to visit it was shut until dinner, so make sure you look online to see when they’re open!
The main seating area is outside, and with it being so close to the Botanic Gardens, the buzz and the feel of the jungle helps even more with the feeling of being on holiday. You’ll easily forget that you’re in Singapore in a building built by the British,and not actually in Bali.
It’s a whole lot easier to drive here, but if you’re living that MRT life then it’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the Botanic Gardens station, which is still a whole lot shorter than the trip to the real Bali.
This is a place you really have to visit to experience properly, photos will never do it justice and if a fussy eater like me loves it then I’m sure that all normal people will adore it. Easily the cheapest Bali experience that I’ve ever had, and a perfect mix of cultures.
Address: One D Cluny Road (behind NUS Bukit Timah Campus, opposite Law Faculty Eu Tong Sen Building), 259600
Contact: 6733 0185
Opening hours: Closed on Mondays & Lunch. Brunch: Sat, Sun & Public Holidays, 11am to 3pm. Dinner: Tues to Sun, 5pm to 10pm
6. Alkaff Mansion - Italian fine dining
(Update, June 2017: Alkaff Mansion is now permanently closed)
Built in 1918 as a weekend retreat for the illustrious Yemeni Alkaff family of spice traders. The Alkaffs ancestors arrived in Singapore from Yemen in 1852, and Alkaff Mansion was not only their family home, but also the venue for luxurious high society parties in the 1930’s - imagine Great Gatsby, Singapore style.
For an unknown reason, the mansion was abandoned after WW2, and went into a state of disrepair. With a large outdoor terrace, fountains, and a gorgeous interior, Alkaff is thought of as one of the most magnificent colonial houses still standing in Singapore.
Now a romantic Italian Ristorante, their menu is as extensive as it is delicious. Along with an a-la-carte menu, they also have 3 course set lunches as well as a Saturday Italian brunch. Not to mention the six other menus they have…
Relive the buildings party days in the bar on the top floor, or win world's best boyfriend/girlfriend prize for treating your partner to an uber romantic meal. When the food looks this good and the venue is that spectacular, how could this not be an amazing meal out?
Note: Alkaff Mansion is now only open for private events
Address: 10 Telok Blangah Green, Singapore 109178
Contact: 6510 3068
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30am to 3pm, 6 to11pm.
7. Riders Cafe - classic Western favourites
If you love horses but like me don’t even know the first thing about riding them, then Riders Cafe will be heaven. Found at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, expect to see some beautiful horses and to dine overlooking their stables and the club itself. Don’t think it’ll just smell like horse either, as the Cafe is fresh and airy with even the open balcony smelling clean and animal free, not a drop of horse poop in sight.
As soon as you step inside you see the walls filled with pictures of previous riders and members of the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, creating the feeling of stepping right into someone’s home and looking over their family's history. There’s no air con, but the fans scattered all across the room will keep you cool, and going by the reviews you’ll be more interested in the amazing food being delivered to your tables.
It’s simple but effective, keeping the charm of a colonial house whilst seeming completely timeless. You’ll feel a million miles away from city life, just chill and admire the horses wandering by, imagining the number of people throughout history who have done the exact same.
Although quiet when I went, it was early in the day and it’s recommended that you book a table if you fancy brunch/lunch, as it’s very popular and can be absolutely packed. You’ll feel taken back in time to somewhere in 20th Century England, so book a table, enjoy your brunch, and watch over the riding club surrounding you.
Address: 51 Fairways Drive, Singapore 286965
Contact: 6466 9819
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday 8am to 9pm. Friday to Saturday 8am to 10pm. Sunday 8am to 9pm.
8. Tamarind Hill - traditional and contemporary Siamese cuisine
Walking distance from Labrador Park MRT Station, it’s hard to describe Tamarind Hill as anything other than stunning. It’s on top of a hill, surprise surprise, with its own garden and an interior which is light and airy, working the Colonial style in a way which is effortlessly classy. Now a Thai restaurant, it’s got rave reviews and is often rented out for parties and weddings.
The inside is beautiful, but the outside dining and the small garden out the back with chairs and tables are the perfect way to take in the quietness of your surroundings. If you’re super quiet you can even hear the sea, and who doesn’t love the sea?
It’s believed that the Villa was built at the end of the 19th Century to house members of the Malay Regiment who helped to defend Singapore against the Japanese. It’s beautifully simple and has kept the authenticity of its amazing architecture. Oh, and if you ever get over how beautiful the place is, I hear that the food is also to die for.
Address: 30 Labrador Villa Road, Labrador Nature Reserve
Contact: 6278 6364
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm
9. Masons @ Gillman Barracks - French food with a Singaporean influence
Art is boring right? WRONG. Gillman Barracks is jam packed full of some of the coolest modern art that I’ve seen in a very long time. Maybe it’s because I’m becoming a proper grown up now, but I even found the super abstract art interesting.
For all you instagrammers out there, this is heaven. There are heaps of different spots where you can get your new shots, and then go and get some further artistic inspiration from the works of local artists surrounding you.
The Barracks are a former military camp set up in 1936 due to the expansion of the British in Singapore. After the war, it was taken over by the SAF as the British withdrew. Nowadays, it’s full of public museums and commercial galleries, as well as often holding major art events. War and peace at its best.
Being artsy and stuff is tiring work, and sometimes the super hipster cafes in the barracks just won’t do. Luckily for us, Masons can be found in the Barracks, a no-nonsense restaurant serving some seriously impressive looking food.
They’re open during lunch as well as dinner, and to make sure you don’t miss out on a spot at this colonial gem it’s best to book a table. From chicken wings to gourmet pasta, you’ll most definitely full and fit for more exploring and self discovery.
It’s amazing to see how a place once used for war is now being used for something which couldn’t be more strikingly different, and how it proves that these amazing buildings don’t just have to be locked up and hidden.
More free art galleries and beautiful restaurants please!
Address: No. 8 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108936
Contact: 6694 2216
Opening hours: Everyday from 12 noon to 11pm. Except till 10pm on Sundays.
10. Capella Hotels - dine in 5 star luxury
Capella is a 5 star hotel on Sentosa, and not only is it gorgeous today as a place to go and relax in absolute luxury, it also played a key role in the past for the British Army. Built way back in 1880, it was built to accommodate the Coastal Defence Command.
Don’t think it was just work work work here - along with Christmas and New Year parties, there were also band performances, farewell parties and a whole lot dancing, not to mention the legend of buried treasure.
It was said that in the last few days before the British surrendered in 1942, the officers buried their Regimental silver in the lawn. Some was recovered in Malaysia in the 50’s, but the rest is still missing. However desperate you may be, please try to resist digging up the lawn of an extremely fancy hotel.
Not only is a super-duper place of your dreams hotel, it also has three different restaurants open to non-guests too.
It’s not all cakes and mouth-watering desserts, with Mediterranean luxury to Cuban style bar treats, whatever you’re fancying there’ll be something for you. What will remain constant throughout however, will be the spectacular building that you’re dining in and the modern design that works with it so perfectly. Amazing date night spot alert!
I would strongly suggest that you make a reservation, because even if you are the luckiest person in the world it’s highly unlikely that an empty table will be waiting for you when you arrive. The website is full of information on all the restaurants, along with online menus and links to book a reservation, so go and have a look!
Address: Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, Sentosa Island, 098297
Contact: 6377 8888
Get ready for a whole lot of history
Colonial houses; so not dull or boring. Sure they may not be be new and sparkly like Ion or Sentosa, but there’s no way that they can just be forgotten about.
Who needs to go to museums or art galleries to experience a bit of culture, especially when some of Singapore’s oldest buildings are open and serving delicious food on all four corners of the island. From cafes in the North to decadent dining on Sentosa, it’s the perfect example of how not everything old needs to be demolished or rebuilt, using what you have and embracing Singapore’s history is both possible and also pretty awesome.