Global budget brand ibis hotel is now in Singapore at Bencoolen Street, with a unique restaurant called "It's All About TASTE" (or TASTE for short) touting tapas-style enjoyment of Singapore's iconic dishes.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Mr S. Iswaran, officiated at the launch today. The 538-room hotel costing S$145 million is the largest ibis outside Europe (and therefore, largest in Asia Pacific too). They also announced a second ibis for Singapore in the works, this time at Balestier Road near Novena (completion in 2011).
My curiosity had already been spiked earlier, as Keropokman sent me a link to their "Pay what you want" promotion campaign online (which ended last Saturday). He won a room for just S$8, but I wasn't so lucky. The site was so popular, it jammed - at least for me, it did.
Anyway, I got a tour of the place today. For a budget hotel, it's really nice. Room decor is simple but stylishly contemporary. Aside from bed type (twin or double), all rooms are exactly identical. No suites, no family room, but some rooms can interconnect, I heard. The large bay windows are soundproof - so you get a view of the busy street but none of the noise. Rooms come with free LAN and Wi-Fi connectivity, and LCD TVs showing cable channels.
Bathroom is compact and clean. We haven't had to resort to the space capsule type bathrooms in Japan, thankfully!
There are small touches that I like. The keycard, for example, has a smiling face instead of some dull graphic/text or generic hotel photo. Service is a big point. "Save on price, not on service" is one of their taglines. What's amazing is that they have this 15-minute promise to attend to (note: not necessarily fulfil) your requests, or the room/meal is free. Sounds good enough to me!
The restaurant TASTE is on the ground floor. It's cheery, modern and well-lit. This is where we had our media luncheon.
It was hosted by K.F. Seetoh, local makanguru who endorses the food here, and also helped to develop the recipes for the 20 Singapore dishes featured at TASTE, together with chef Casey Lai. In his trademark casual manner, Seetoh treated us to descriptions of the food, lovingly embellished with historical details.
So what's the deal with tapas-style eats? Well, TASTE is apparently also an acronym for "Taste's About Simply Trying Everything" - doesn't this line have K.F. Seetoh stamped all over it? Basically, there's so many tasty dishes in Singapore we should not miss out on. Tasting portions will allow us to sample more without over-satiating ourselves. So TASTE lets you choose between three to five dishes to create your own sampler platter.
I must say it scores well presentation-wise. My only grouse was that the food was cold - not sure if they serve it to diners this way - I shall have to come back to find out. Here, you have char kway teow, chili crab, and cuttlefish with kangkong. The chili crab is not bad - complex layers of flavour give it its own signature. One mantou (bun) was not enough to mop up the sauce. The char kway teow didn't really hit the spot. I like mine with a lot of fried pork lard bits. The cuttlefish is not a dish I eat, sorry.
Rojak, nasi lemak and char kway teow - these are photography samples, so I didn't try them.
I did get to try the bak kut teh. Tender meat on long ribs, yummy. The broth is more herbal than peppery, although light in colour like the Teochew style. Again, it's got its own unusual taste.
Chicken rice (front) and prata with curry (back). Photography samples.
Satay and BBQ sambal stingray. Again, for photography only. I want to come back for the stingray!
Briyani rice - stained a most unusual orange - was rather lacklustre, and missing the aromatic spices that this rice should have. But the fish fillet curry more than made up for it. It's oh-so-lemak! Rich, thick and delicious. The chef uses garoupa, no less.
Carrot cake or stir-fried radish cake. They got the most important thing right - the sambal chili sauce! My, if they bottled that, I'd buy it. It would go well with many things.
Wok-fried clams with sambal sauce (front) and more bak kut teh (back). These are photo samples, but I got to try some from the buffet. Nice seasoning for the clams, but the meat had almost shrunk to sheer nothingness.
There will be food 24/7, and at ibis, it's also geared to be value-for-money. Of course, some will debate whether it is, since you can walk out of the hotel and eat the same things (prepared hot on the spot) at a hawker centre for about the same price. But for a hotel, I'd say it's quite reasonable. Plus you get all these choices under one roof.
There's dessert too, but we didn't see any samples.
So there you have it. The Bencoolen area is well-known for budget accommodation and cheap eats, but the new ibis has certainly raised the bar and looks set to bring some tastefully stiff competition in the months ahead. Wonder what its neighbour across the street thinks.
The ibis has an opening special til end May - all rooms at S$148++ (about US$96++). Book online and it's even cheaper at S$138++. They can't tell what pricing will be like in future months, but they do have a lot of rooms to fill. I'm hoping for even better specials.
It's All About TASTE
170 Bencoolen Street