“DISNEYLAND,” someone snorted when I mentioned I was off to Singapore and staying at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. And yes, this incredible property with its three massive hotel towers containing 2,561 rooms and suites over 55 floors, plus a 120,000 square metres of expo and convention centre that can accommodate up to 45,000 delegates at one time, close to 75,000 square metres of luxury shopping space including designer boutiques and celebrity restaurants at every turn, the world’s largest atrium casino, an art-science museum and two large theatres, well, it does feel a little like a large amusement park for big spenders and I reckon even Walt would be impressed. The pinnacle of the property is the magnificent Sands SkyPark, a 1.2-hectare tropical oasis that holds over 150 trees, is large enough to park four-and-a-half A380 jumbo jets and gives hotel guests some of the most spectacular views of Singapore from its 150m infinity swimming pool (the world’s largest outdoor pool at that height). However the highlight of this magnificent property lies in its people.

I’m an old hospo girl from way back and I’ve always been a sucker for a good hotel operation that can give so many a chance to gain valuable knowledge and skills and an excellent start along the road to an exciting career.

At the very heart of any large hotel is the lobby restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At Marina Bay Sands this restaurant is Rise, set in an elegant open space filled with natural light and overlooking a garden where over 50 types of fresh herbs are grown to be used throughout an ever-changing, all-day buffet spread that is quite something to behold.

A carving station, a grill station and European, American and Asian sections – with the Asian section alone including Chinese, Indian, Malay, Japanese and Singaporean cuisines – are all served up under the watchful eye of the executive director of culinary chef Brian Patrick Cleere, who also oversees all 50 individual kitchens across the property and wrangles a 600-strong culinary team.

The amount of food on display is overwhelming, and as I wonder about food miles and sources I’m told that important conversations around food waste and sustainability are definitely taking place. Ingredients at Rise are sourced from responsible farmers locally and internationally and all of the seafood that is used has been certified by international organisations the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). It dawns on me that food choice and source in Singapore is very different from what we take for granted in New Zealand. Imagine having to import 80% of the food on your dinner table?

You will have your work cut out for you trying to choose between more than 80 dining choices at the Marina Bay Sands. Here’s a little look inside a few of them to help point you in the right direction.

Adrift by David Myers

We all know it’s rare to find a celebritybranded restaurant with the celebrity chef actually working inside the kitchen, but there he was. David Myers personally delivered my Kampachi sashimi dressed with grapefruit and soft tofu crème (the sashimi, not David) and was overseeing a hectic lunch service at his California izakaya restaurant located in the lobby of the hotel in tower 2. After lunch we grabbed a Negroni at the bar and settled in for some fun. (I’ve realised that that if I tell a chef that the article needs a good photograph of us having a drink together, I am almost certain to get a free Negroni. )

David Myers is the passion-fuelled, smart and energetic force behind the brand David Myers Gypsy Chef. It’s a bit of a weird brand name, I think to myself, and avoid eye contact, remembering my run in with the evil-eye of a gypsy in Malaga. But as he talks me through his five restaurant offerings in Tokyo, three in Dubai and one in Hong Kong and his approach to life as a global citizen, I get it. David is truly a wandering, well-fed soul. Based in Los Angeles, but more often than not on the road, he has trained under some beauties – Charlie Trotter, Gerard Boyer and Daniel Boulud – and he draws upon the flavours and ingredients discovered in his travels to create an exclusive collection of dining and drinking experiences. The space at Adrift is expansive, a collection of carefully curated areas to produce a specific mood and feel in every corner, all elegant, and oozing California casual.

David seems to be a master of the art of fusing fresh bold flavours and yes, it is OK to use the ‘F’ word. Fusion is back, has been for years in the case of Adrift, combining the freshest Asian ingredients with a taste of California. A journey through shared plates the likes of uni (kina) crab slaw with fish crisps and jalapeño, beef tartare with koji crème, nashi pear and pine nuts, persimmon and endive with sweet chilli and hibiscus vinegar, whole roasted fish with jerk spice and burnt lime, spiced cucumber kimchi and kojiglazed lamb with pickled mushrooms and chimichurri. The robata gets a good thrashing and the slow grill over hot coals produces intense flavours in steaks from Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, California, Arkansas, and the Saga and Kagoshima Prefectures of Japan all served with Asian BBQ condiments. Oh, and I had a 70% chocolate tart with fig-leaf ice cream that almost took me to another state of existence. Almost…

Spago by Wolfgang Puck

I wasn’t that excited about dining at the critically acclaimed Spago by Wolfgang Puck, perhaps it was the fear of 80s food and haute cuisine pizza topped with smoked salmon, although I did love the big hair (mine not Wolfgang’s).

Turns out Spago is superb. The original was opened in 1982, on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Fast forward to the Marina Bay Sands version located within the Sands SkyPark at the very top of tower 2. With its majestic views, global accents and a fine dining feel, I’m reminded that Wolfgang deserves much recognition for putting Californian cuisine on the map all those years ago. You also have to admire his ability to evolve the traditional, which was unheard of at the time.

You also have to admire his knack of making his restaurants a magnet for the rich and famous – undoubtedly this notch on his CV is highly valued by the powers that be at Marina Bay Sands. So much so that they have put their Singapore dollars behind two Wolfgangbranded concepts: Spago and Cut.

Executive chef Greg Bess put in his culinary miles at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Pasadena, California before joining the original Spago in Beverly Hills. He has gained a deep connection to local cuisine during his time in Singapore and this shines on the current Spago menu. Greg suggests a signature Wolfgang cocktail to start that involves gin, shiso umeshu, peach bitters and champers. It’s called Rough Love and, oh boy, it’s a keeper. I’ve already ordered my shiso umeshu (plum wine) so I can attempt to reconstruct it at home.

Along with the signature cocktail comes the signature starter, big eye tuna tartare cones with chilli aioli, shaved bonito, scallions and masago. The hand-made agnolotti is another dish that never comes off the menu; mine were filled with porcini and topped with Australian black truffles. The brioche-stuffed Australian quail with caramelised pears, braised Swiss chard and pistachio gremolata was spectacularly plated and seemed a perfect match for the sophisticated room. It was also a joy to eat.

A note about that tuna. I wondered why a dish by Wolfgang, which is promoted across his restaurants worldwide, uses big eye tuna which, while far less iconic than the Atlantic blue fin, is nevertheless under huge fishing pressure. I’m told that sustainability at Spago Singapore is a progressive journey and that vendors are pushed to supply Pacific linecaught fish. I’m also told that they are actively seeking alternative sources that perform close to the big eye species.

It wasn’t until after lunch that I stumbled across the ultra-cool Spago terrace bar with its plump cushions, cabanas and low tables offering views of the famous infinity pool. Here chef Bess serves up crazily good bar bites, my particular favourite the laksa spring rolls. So very Singapore, so very good, lah! With the World’s 50 Best restaurant awards having been held at the hotel the night before, from my perch at the ritzy bar I had Neil Perry to the left, Heston to the right and Eric Rippert and entourage circling the deck. They all looked like they needed a good read so I managed to offload a number of Cuisine Good Food Guides while going back in for a little more of that dangerously delicious Rough Love. Job done…

Big eye tuna tartare cones with chilli aioli, shaved bonito, scallions and masago from Spago

Cut by Wolfgang Puck
Michelin Guide 2018 1 star

So here I am in another restaurant by Wolfgang and suitably impressed by the super-smart contemporary feel of the space and the depth of the menu. Spago’s Greg Bess is soon to take on more responsibility and take the reins at Cut but at the time of my visit it is chef Joshua Brown (soon to be director of operations) who is driving the food. Joshua joined Spago in Beverly Hills as a line cook in 2001 and quickly rose through the ranks to become part of the opening team at Cut Beverly Hills before moving to Singapore in 2010 to lead the kitchens of Cut at Marina Bay Sands. It’s heartening to see talented chefs such as Bess and Brown being recognised by their group and promoted from within. Cut caters to true steak connoisseurs by featuring the prestigious Kobe beef from the Hyogo Prefecture, Hokkaido snow beef from Japan, Snake River Farms Wagyu and Angus, USDA prime Illinois corn-fed, 300-day grain-fed Australian Angus from Rangers Valley and rare beef from heritage breeds such as the Red Poll and Longhorn. Guests can also enjoy a wide array of signature entrées such as panroasted Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon. Yes the steak is the hero at Cut, but I could have easily just gone with the delicious sides and died a happy woman. From the hot gruyère gougère, to the sirloin tartare with herb aioli, to the caramelised sweetcorn with sweet Cipollini onions. You should not be left at the table alone with a bowl of that corn. It is just cruel. The artisan cocktails are legendary. Thank God there is also plenty of Rough Love to go around…

JustIN by Justin Quek

Singapore’s pioneer celebrity chef Justin Quek proudly delivers a Singaporean gourmet experience and can usually be found hands-on at either his French/Asian fine-dining restaurant Chinoiserie, located on the galleria level of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, or his super-casual all-day diner JustIN on the waterfront. I opted for JustIN and I’m so glad that I did. Think lobster Hokkien noodles, New Zealand lamb-leg satay and Kampot whitepepper crab all served with a spectacular view of Spectra, the light-and-water show that draws endless crowds every evening to the bay. Actually, to be honest I didn’t need Spectra, that was the one part that was a little too Disneyland for me, but it is refreshing, within this massive property with its focus on global cuisines, to find a quintessential Singaporean food experience. Justin tells me his success is due to his ability to redefine Singaporean cuisine by taking a more subtle style with his cooking. Using premium ingredients, he believes that less is more when it comes to the use of chilli, allowing the flavours of the produce to speak out and be recognised. I was worried that I’d miss the reassuring lick of heat but discovered just as much comfort in his more gentle approach to the spicy, fishy sambals, layered with sour herbs, and citrus and without the wallop that comes from a dollop of chilli paste stirred into a broth. Get ready for a series of Zi Char classics reinvented by Justin’s clever, sophisticated touch.

Don’t miss our guide to the best Singaporean, by Singapore in 12 Dishes.