High Tea at Raffles: A Taste of Singapore
Raffles Hotel has a deserved reputation as the most elegant icon of colonial Singapore and since opening in 1887 has played host to some of the worlds most famous names, from Rudyard Kipling to David Bowie, Haile Selassie to Elizabeth Taylor and even Kermit the frog !
Unable to resist following in such diverse footsteps, I booked in for high tea to get a glimpse of what this grand hotel has to offer. Arriving in the midst of a tropical shower, I had a first taste of the high quality service as the liveried Sikh doormen ran out smiling with huge umbrellas calling cheerily “Welcome to Raffles !”
From the impressive white façade to the calm colonial interior ( think lots of white, dark wood and masses of tropical plants especially orchids ) you are immediately transported to another age.
On its centenary the government declared it a national monument and paid for a massive facelift. The restoration took years as original plans were located and specialist craftsmen brought in to restore the original fittings. It has now been refitted as it was in 1915.
It was reopened in 1991 and it is not only a working hotel with 103 suites but also has public areas encompassing a shopping arcade with over 40 shops, and 14 restaurants and bars.
After a short wait I was shown to the Tiffin Room (Tiffin is an Indian word meaning snack or light meal ) and entered into the rarefied world of high tea.
The décor is typically restrained with huge white pillars leading the eye to the high ceilings with their wooden fans and chandeliers. Tables are dressed in white linen with bone china and silver service, and I picked a seat with a view through the French windows to the courtyard garden.
While I settled in, white jacketed waiters brought 3 tiered cake stands full of crustless sandwiches ( choices included smoked salmon, cucumber, egg, tuna and turkey ) and a selection of mini pastries, cakes and tartlets.
Tea is served continuously and you have a choice of 12 varieties including Earl Grey, Royal Ceylon, Grand Darjeeling, mint and camomile. If preferred, there is also a choice of cappuccino, espresso, café latte, café macchiato, iced tea or water. Champagne is also available.
I bonded with my fellow diners when the scones ( plain, raisin or cheddar and onion ) were brought with the cream and jams. A debate had began over which to spread on first and as I live in Devon I was able to settle the matter without further confusion!
To add to the ambience, a harpist played classical music with occasional medleys of musical and film scores and it was to the strains of “Goldfinger” that I made my rounds of the next course, the hot buffet.
A selection of light Asian dishes ( mainly Chinese ) was on offer and from the dim sum station I chose some mini chicken char siew and teamed them with stir fried spinach, fried squid and soy sauce.
There were also fruit platters, hot desserts such as profiteroles and bread and butter pudding and duplicates of the mini cakes etc on the stands.
All the food was delicious, the only slight complaints I heard was that the scones and bread were a bit dry for some tastes but the overwhelming consensus from my table was that you are paying for the experience, the chance to indulge yourself at a top hotel in an atmosphere of lush elegance with excellent service. As one man said “ It is all so dreadfully civilised. “
When I was satisfied that I could not eat another morsel, I took the opportunity to soak up more of the colonial atmosphere and went for an explore.
I could have popped into The Long Bar which serves the famous Singapore Sling cocktail ( ingredients are gin, cherry brandy, Benedictine, Cointreau and pineapple and lime juices ) but I dislike the taste of gin so instead I browsed in the perfume and clothes shops and toured the white pillared balconies taking photos of the inner courtyards with their huge lush plants and fountains.
A piano tinkled somewhere in the background, the scent of the recent rainfall enhanced the tropical feel and the whole atmosphere was one of unhurried luxury where nothing is too much trouble.
Leaving such an oasis of calm was difficult but the whole experience had given me a taste of Singapore and I was keen to get out and see the rest of it!
Dress code is smart casual and men are required to wear collared shirts, long trousers and closed shoes
Reservations are highly recommended. High tea is served between 3 – 5.30 and I would suggest 3.30 or 4.00pm as the optimum arrival time.
Earlier than this could mean queuing, and any later will not give you the time to relax and enjoy this unique experience.
And just in case you didn’t know, it is cream first THEN jam!