One year today!

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Happy Singapore anniversary to us! Can you believe its been exactly a year since we first touched down at Changi Airport, ready to start our big Asian adventure?! Time has really flown.

Having said that, it does feel like a long time ago since we arrived at Changi in the pouring rain, anxiously peering through our taxi windows at the place we had to learn to call home. Fast-forward 12 months and I now feel like I know Changi airport like the back of my hand. Those tree-lined boulevards are familiar to me (I even know the names of most of them – PIE, ECP, CTE…). This Little Red Dot does now indeed feel like home to me. I know my way around the island fairly well, I know how I take my teh at the canteen at work, I’ve sampled chicken rice, got drunk in new bars with new friends and created a little space of our own in our apartment. I’ve also started working again, which has been a huge part of my finally feeling settled in.

This last year has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for me. There were certainly days when I was so homesick it was like an ache; all I wanted to do was crawl under the duvet (with the AC on, of course!) and hide. I missed my friends and family terribly. Then I had days where everything would all come together – a beautiful view, the right song on my iPod, the kindness of someone I’d never met before. I went out and met new friends, tried new foods and explored new places. I started to understand the charm of this little place.

There are so many people who have helped me along my journey to feeling ‘settled’ – I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, friends (both old and new) and Will, of course! To all of you, I say thank you, I wouldn’t be here and feeling content without you.

The End of the Job Hunt!

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I am very pleased to report, that after several long months of searching and lots of dead-ends, that I have finally got a job! Hooray! I’m just getting into my third week now and it’s going really well so far. I’m working as a Project Manager for a company that produces a music education magazine and is also hosting a 4-day, 1200 delegate conference and trade show next October. So I am a busy bee! We’re only a small team at the moment but likely to be growing in the not too distant future.

I have to say, although I enjoyed my time not working and like to think I made the most of exploring both Singapore and the region, it is wonderful to be back in a professional environment. I’m asked for my opinions and ideas and I feel like I am exercising my brain properly, after it being a bit fat and lazy for a while. It’s great to have a new set of challenges to grapple with. Plus, having an EP (Employment Pass) means I can finally do things like have my own bank account, so I am feeling more like an individual again, rather than just being Will’s ‘trailing spouse’.

There were times when I thought I’d never find work. I found myself envying friends back home in the UK but also here, even though quite often they’d complain about their jobs to me. I suppose the grass is always greener! I was worried that the longer I was out here without work, the harder it would become to find something. It was already starting to get to the stage where recruiters would tip their head to one side and go ‘oh, so you still haven’t found anything?’. I went through a lot of disappointments – getting close to something but then it falling through at the last-minute, for a whole variety of reasons.

I would never say to anyone coming out here without work that finding a job here is straightforward. I am sure it can be much easier than I had it, especially if you are in law, finance or accounting. I found the most effective route was to shamelessly use my networks! I found that people in Singapore are quite happy to help out in that respect, as they know often you have left your entire professional network behind when you relocate. That seemed to be the best way of getting interviews, rather than applying cold through one of the many job portals. I’d also recommend familiarising yourself with the MoM website, especially their information on the different types of Work Passes available to foreigners. Some of these have quite strict requirements about qualifications and salary levels (if you have any specific questions do feel free to pop me an email – I’d be more than happy to help).  Most of all I would say, don’t give up! It can be tough and frustrating but if you put the effort in, it will pay off eventually.

I am sure that the day will come when I miss having the freedom to do what I like during the day, but for now, I am over the moon to be gainfully employed once more!

Now Playing: Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)

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Sorry for the quiet couple of weeks folks. I’ve been pretty hectic with my NEW JOB! (More on that soon I promise!). Today I’ve been exploring some new music on Spotify and came across this gorgeous track by Emmy The Great, who friends of mine adore and talk about but who I’d never really listened to. Anyway, enjoy and happy weekends all!

A Royal Visit at the Kranji War Memorial

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This week, the Lion City has played host to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka William and Catherine. They are touring South East Asia to make the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. After visiting Singapore, they will go onto Malaysia, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. It was a bit of a whistle-stop tour of Singapore, which saw the Royal couple visit the Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, the Rolls Royce plant in Seletar, and a HDB block in Queenstown.

Yesterday morning, they completed their tour by paying a visit to the Kranji War Memorial, which is in the north of the island. The memorial is dedicated to the service men and women who died defending Singapore and Malaysia against invasion from the Japanese forces in World War II. Kranji is the final resting place for 4,458 service personnel. You can read more about the memorial here.

The Duke and Duchess arrived to the sound of the Gurkha contingent pipers, before laying a wreath on the memorial, which contains over 24,000 names of Commonwealth casualties.

Gurkha contingent pipers

The wreath laid by the Royal couple

They then spent some time speaking with some of the war veterans and members of the armed services who are based in Singapore. It was almost impossible to even see them at this point, due to the sudden crush of the crowds, all brandishing smart phones and telescopic lenses! I know that in the UK there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Royals, who have been riding high on a wave of national pride and patriotism ever since William and Catherine got married. I was surprised by the level of support and affection by all of those who were there yesterday. Many of the Singaporean’s I got chatting to knew more about the Royal family than I could possibly! Many of them also knew exactly who designed all of Kate’s outfits and what shoes she was wearing!

After a minute’s silence, whilst The Last Post was played, the couple then walked through the graves, paying special attention to those of Z Special Unit, who Prince William had asked specifically to see.

The Duke and Duchess walk through the graves

What was lovely to see was how comfortable they are in each other’s company. They just chatted naturally as they walked quietly around the memorial.

After walking through the graves, it was time for the couple of depart the Memorial, and head off to make preparations for the next leg of their trip, in Malaysia. I spent a little bit of time walking around the memorial myself. It’s a really beautiful and peaceful spot, on a sun-soaked hill, overlooking the city.

Kranji War Memorial

The view from the memorial

After William and Catherine left, the crowds then mobbed anyone who was in uniform. There were two young men who were attached to the Rifles, who had tons of young ladies queuing up to have their photos taken with them. They seemed a little bit bemused by the attention!

The two Rifles who got mobbed!

I really enjoyed my visit to Kranji War Memorial. It was obviously great to do a little bit of celebrity spotting, and see William and Catherine in the flesh, but it was also a beautiful spot in Singapore, which was great for some quiet reflection. I’d definitely recommend a trip up there if you are looking for some quiet and space to think.

The nicest set of photos I’ve found are on the Asia One website here

Now Playing: Zorbing

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Will recently signed up for Spotify unlimited so we can have new music at our fingertips all the time. It’s been a pretty noisy couple of weeks in our house as a result! One of the more chilled out songs that we both really like has been this track by Stornoway. They are a great little band from Oxford, and I like their chilled but upbeat sound. I particularly like the trumpet on this track.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘zorbing’ involves rolling down a hill in a bit inflatable sphere (see here for more) – sounds like fun!

A trip home: London 2012

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Unless you’ve been literally living under a rock the past month, it won’t have escaped your attention that my fabulous home city of London just played host to the 2012 Olympic games. Having been excited about it since it was announced 7 years ago that London would be the host city, there was no way Will & I would be missing out on being part of it. After a  bit of drama actually getting our hot little hands on our tickets (combination of moving abroad and the fact that Locog would not let us change our delivery address months in advance of delivery), we managed to pick them up from the post office when we popped back in June.

We were still in Singapore for the opening ceremony but we managed to watch quite a few events before we left, such as seeing Bradley Wiggins win gold in the road race time trial. There was something magical about seeing a British athlete winning gold, cycling through areas that I’d grown up in, around Hampton Court and Bushy Park. It actually got me a little choked up and definitely pining for the UK.

Before long though, we were back in London and, despite having landed at 5am, were heading up to Wembley arena to watch Mexico play Senegal in the football. We met up with our friends Adrian & Camilla, who also had tickets to the same game.

Inside Wembley Stadium

Will it be a goal?!

Our stylish tickets

After watching Mexico beat Senegal in a surprisingly action-packed match, we headed down to Hyde Park to experience one of the free to enter Fan Zones. The Fan Zones were spread over London and allowed people to come together to watch the different events. Well, we picked a great evening to go down! It was the evening that saw Mo Farah win the 10,000 metres, as well as Jessica Ennis scoop gold in the heptathlon, finally proving to all her critics that she was indeed worth all the hype. The atmosphere in Hyde Park was incredible – the crowd roaring and cheering, the tension watching Mo Farah creep up to the front of the pack, the sudden rush of adrenaline when we realised he was going to win – amazing!

The next few days passed in a blur of seeing friends and family, and soaking up everything London and the UK has to offer. It was so wonderful to be back on familiar territory. Will managed to go to Hyde Park with his sister, to watch some of the triathlon (she competes in triathlons herself), but I was up in Yorkshire seeing my Granny!

Thursday saw our next dose of Olympic excitement, with a visit to the Olympic Park over in Stratford. We took one of the high-speed Javelin trains from St Pancras to Stratford which was great fun. Luckily the sun had come out, so the whole park was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Welcome!

Anish Kapoor’s striking ‘Orbit’ tower

I really loved the Olympic Park. It’s vast with the aquatics centre, velodrome and the main athletics stadium. The landscaping was really pretty, with lots of green spaces filled with wild flowers. There was something really ‘British’ about the whole place. We had a good wander around, as we’d arrived super early to soak up some atmosphere. This included eating a traditional British curry (!) down by the riverside, as well as enjoying some English cider in the sunshine. We met some terrific people, who we just got chatting to, who were incredibly friendly – they even bought us drinks … this NEVER usually happens in London! I think one of the things I loved most about the Olympics was how happy and friendly everyone was. The volunteers did a superb job of being really cheery but hugely helpful, and all of the members of public that we met were so excited and happy to be a part of it. It was like all the cynicism and British whining had been sucked away! The patriotism blew me away as well – there was barely a single person who wasn’t wearing some kind of team GB t-shirt or who didn’t have a Union Jack transfer stuck to their cheek!

Union Jack trainers!

Will gets his paws on some Team GB merchandise

Before too long, the sun had started to lower in the sky and it was time for us to head into the Olympic stadium for some athletics action! We got really lucky with the session we went to, as we got to see Usain Bolt compete, and take gold, in the 200m final. We also saw some of the closing events in the decathlon – javelin and 1500m. We also got to see a World Record be broken by David Rudisha of Kenya, in the men’s 800m.

The stadium was full of noise the whole time we were there – everyone was cheering on all the athletes, regardless of what country they were representing. During the track events, there was a ‘wall of noise’ that followed them around the stadium. I can’t imagine what it felt like competing there, but I got some serious goosebumps at times! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud of where I come from. Can you imagine what I would’ve been like if we’d won a gold that evening?!

Inside the Olympic stadium

That’s Usain Bolt in lane 7!

Jamaica take gold, silver, and bronze in the 200m

The Olympic flame

Being a part of London 2012 was one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moments for me. Congratulations to all the athletes who competed, in particular to Team GB of course! Best medal haul yet!

I’ve never felt so proud to be British, and a Londoner, and I really want to say thank you to everyone who made it a reality – you did an incredible job and these memories will stay with me forever.

Policemen and kids doing the ‘Bolt’

Thank you London

You can see more photos from London 2012 over on my Flickr set by clicking here

24 hours in London & a Tuscan wedding

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Back at the end of June we took a trip back home, and then to Italy to see our gorgeous friend’s Tony and Jacquie get married. I had been looking forward to this trip so much – I was going back to England! Only for 24 hours but still… better than nothing.

After touching down at Heathrow at 5am (ouch) we were suddenly sitting in a taxi going down the M4, towards Will’s parent’s house. All around me was the beautiful English dawn, fields either side of the motorway, and SHEEP (how long has it been since I saw a sheep?!). I just couldn’t help the tears that sprang to my eyes – all of this was so beautifully familiar – it was totally overwhelming. I found myself with such an ache in my stomach as I realised just how much I had missed my green and pleasant land. We spent the next 24 hours in the company of family – talking, laughing, catching up on news. We also went to visit the money pit flat, which actually was starting to look like it could be a home again, rather than just a pit of money with damp, crumbling walls.

I can’t tell you how much of a delight it was to see my Mum – to sit and eat lunch in one of Brixton’s gorgeous little eateries, and chat away like no time at all had passed. We then went back to Will’s parent’s place to sit and talk some more. Then my little brother arrived! I will embarrass him now but I have missed him very much indeed. We sat and ate proper English sausages, gorgeous English strawberries and drank cider. It was probably the most blissful afternoon I had spent in a long time. But all too soon it was time for them to leave, and for us to go to bed. My familiarity tank (thanks KJ!) had a much-needed emergency top-up.

The next morning left no time for wistfulness – we were straight back to Heathrow, this time to fly off to Rome. After security we went to find our friends Phil and Sat. Boy can those two give good hugs! It was so great to be back with people you’ve known for years – chatting and bantering away like we’d been away for no time at all. Phil used to live in Australia so he totally gets the expat weird thing which I love. After a short but bumpy flight we landed in Rome. I had forgotten how much I love Italy – the last time I was here was when Will took me for my birthday after I’d finished my finals, so some time ago.

We were in Rome just for a day – time spend eating and wandering around the city, before bumping into more of our friends by the Trevi Foundation (so strange to just be walking in a foreign city and then spot familiar faces).

Will & Phil enjoying a cold beverage in Rome

Trevi Fountain

That evening saw us meeting up with the bridal party, and enjoying some delicious Italian food, before watching Italy make it to the final of Euro 2012! This was followed up by much singing and dancing in some of Rome’s bars.

The next morning, a bit sleep deprived and hungover, we took the train down towards Pienza, where the wedding was going to be held. We were staying in a little agroturismo nearby to the wedding venue. It was a great option for our large group, as we all had our own rooms with en suite, and many of the units had kitchen/living rooms as well.

What a view!

That evening we went out into Pienza town, which is really picturesque. It kind of clings to the side of a hill, meaning you get the most spectacular views from the town wall. There are lots of twisty little paved streets, and apparently a great cheese shop (although I didn’t make it there myself). It was great just hanging out with friends, enjoying the view and a glass of perfectly chilled white wine.

View from Pienza

The next morning we headed over to La Bandita (the wedding venue) early, as Will was doing a reading and they needed him for a run through. I had a great afternoon getting ready with the bride and bridesmaids.

The wedding itself was gorgeous. La Bandita is set up on a hillside, with a big infinity pool – you can see more photos on their website here. They had set up the aisle outside, with a beautiful covered area next to the house where we ate dinner. We had a fantastic time, listening to all the readings and seeing our friend’s pledge to be with each other forever. There were definitely tears (I always cry at weddings!). I will leave you with some photos.

The bride and groom

Will & I all scrubbed up

A date to remember

Makansutra Food Safari

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Hello folks. I have decided to take a little break from work on job applications to write a long overdue blog post! I am still job hunting but I have a couple of opportunities on the go which, fingers crossed, may lead to my being gainfully employed again. I will keep you posted…

Anyway, back to the important stuff – the Makansutra Food Safari. Thanks to my pals over at notatourist I got invited to go along on their latest food safari with KF Seetoh. I was lucky enough to meet KF Seetoh back in December last year when I went on a cooking masterclass, but this time, it was all about discovering local food. I really enjoy a lot of Asian food, but sometimes I can get a little bit overwhelmed by all the choice on offer at hawker centres, and also not really knowing what some things are, so I was really looking forward to having my eyes opened and trying some unusual things. I invited along my friend Anna, who will try anything once!

Our first stop was the Lucky Valley Food Court, up near the East Coast road. We tried the Muah Chee, which are tiny rice flour dumpling cooked in palm oil and then rolled in different types of chopped nuts. The stand is tiny, tucked away and looks like nothing on first appearance. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! The owner here takes pride in that each dumpling is hand pulled. He starts with a bowl of dough and then uses a ‘plucking’ motion to create the dumplings. We tried the peanut and black sesame versions.

Peanut

Black Sesame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dumplings were delicious and moreish. They were warm, sweet, nutty and crunchy. Each mouthful is bite-sized, meaning that it is really easy to eat lots in a short space of time. While we were there, we also got to sample some Cheng Tng. I’d never heard of this before, but its a light refreshing soup, made with a list of ingredients as long as my arm! All of the ingredients are said to have cooling qualities, and it is served cold. The soup is sweet with rock sugar, and then ginko nuts, wintermelon, sago balls, longons, persimmons and sweet potato is added. There were other ingredients but I can’t remember them all! I enjoyed the soup – it was something really different and unusual. It is odd to a Western palate to have a cold, sweet soup, but it was  very refreshing, and Anna & I agreed that it did a great job of cooling us down, on a muggy evening.

Sweet, cooling Cheng Tng

You can try both of these dishes at Bedok Avenue 3, Block 69

After enjoying some sweet treats, we headed off towards Geylang, to visit Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant. This restaurant is dedicated to serving authentic Peranakan cuisine, and has been doing so since 1953. First up, we tried some otak otak, which is a kind of fish cake, which is made by mixing fish paste with things like garlic, chillies, lemongrass and coconut milk. It is then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until its cooked. It was soft, fishy and spicy – a great starter – although I would’ve liked it with something fresh and crunchy to add a little contrasting texture.

Otak otak

After that, we tried a really special dish – Ayam Buah Keluak. This is a chicken dish that is served with the Buah Keluak nut. This nut is actually poisonous and needs to be soaked at least overnight before being served. It has a black shell and to make the dish, the nut is soaked for 24 hours, then cracked open. The contents is then mixed with minced chicken and spices, before being stuffed back into the nut shell. It is then cooked with the chicken in a stew. The nut has a very distinctive earthy flavour – KF Seetoh described it as tasting like eating mud! It’s definitely earthy, but I actually found it very tasty and I’d like to try it again.

Ayam Buah Keluak

You can try both these dishes at Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant, 38-40 Joo Chiat Place. 

Our final stop was the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. I’d not ever been up to East Coast park for food before, except to eat chilli crab at the Jumbo’s up there with Will’s sister. I had no idea there were so many eateries to be found there. When KF Seetoh had said we would be eating chilli crab, I think we all rolled our eyes slightly. Despite being one of Singapore’s famous dishes, I’ve not been overwhelmed with chilli crab. I enjoy it, but I don’t think I’d eat it all the time as I find the sauce a bit sweet and lacking in kick. Boy, was I about to be proved wrong.

We went to another innocuous looking stall – Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe. We tried the chilli crab and … OMG. The sauce was full of chilli! It was super spicy and even two Singaporean guys that ended up on our table said it was spicy for them! The sauce tasted completely different to any chilli crab I had tried before. Apparently this is because they are one of the few places that still make their sauce from scratch, and don’t buy it bottled. I know understand why chilli crab has such a legendary reputation – the sweet crab with that super punchy sauce gives a massive taste explosion in the mouth.

Chilli crab, with actual chilli!

You can try this yummy chilli crab at Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe, 1220 East Coast Parkway, Stall 6, East Coast Lagoon Food Village

Before trying this dish, I’d never really understood the Singaporean thing of travelling all the way across the island to enjoy what they think is the ‘best’, but I have to say I’d definitely make the journey out east to try this again.Whilst we were eating our dinner, Anna & I made a new friend of the granddaughter of the stall owner. A budding photographer from the looks of this shot!

The next David Bailey and Anna

Thanks to notatourist and SingTel for the kind invitation, and for the lovely Anna accompanying me and sharing some of her photos. She has actually just launched her own styling company, Polished Presence, complete with its own gorgeous blog which you can check out here.

Beerfest 2012

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First of all – an apology. I went to Beerfest way back on the 9th June, but then due to my camera having suffered at the hands of a foam finger, requiring a brand new lens, I am only posting this now. Anyway, back to Beerfest.

Beerfest Asia is now in its 4th year, and is held at the Marina Promenade (near the Singapore Flyer), which is also part of the F1 track. It plays host to a huge variety of beers, but also includes ciders, wines and spirits. So there really is something for everyone. But of course, the main event is definitely the beer. There were 350 different beers from around the world on offer! Although we couldn’t possibly sample all of them (I think that would have involved an ambulance if we’d even tried) we certainly had a lot of fun trying out lots of the ones that were on offer.

View of the Singapore Flyer

I was lucky enough to receive a pair of VIP tickets, and we had also won a pair of complimentary tickets at a pub quiz a couple of weeks previous, so it meant a few of us were able to go along and get beer sampling! Being a VIP meant we had our own dedicated bar, free-flow of beer, and a VIP goody bag to take home.

VIP Beerfest cup

We tried a whole host of different beers that were on offer. I opted to try some of the fruit beers that were available, having enjoyed some in London in the past. I found the strawberry beer a bit too sweet for my liking, but there was a grapefruit beer that I loved – not too sweet or too sharp, just nice and refreshing. We also tried a couple of different types of Pilsner and the Kirin beer.

We then settled in to enjoy the Beerfest atmosphere – it was probably one of the most raucous evenings I’ve had in Singapore! Everybody seemed to be in a good mood and we really enjoyed the live music that was going on. It was great to be with friends, drink good beer, and let it rip on the dancefloor!

Check out the hair!

We then had even more hilarity as the competitions started on stage. My friend Mark won the competition for doing the loudest and longest ‘Beerfeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssttttttttttttt’ (Go Mark – woohoo!) and Nav managed to win ‘Hairiest Chest’, which I think he clinched by doing some topless Bollywood dancing! I won’t shame them by putting photos up…instead, here’s me in my Fruli hard-hat!

Fruli hard hat

Watch out! Camera killers!

I think without a doubt, our evening at Beerfest was one of the best evenings I’ve had in Singapore. If you get the chance to go next year, I would thoroughly recommend it as it really is a good night out, and I’m sure if you are more of beer connoisseur than I am you will appreciate all the choice on offer.

The Beerfest 2012 gang

Thanks to notatourist and SingTel for the invitation and our VIP passes. 

Lunching at Five and Dime

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My little beloved ‘point and shoot’ camera has suffered a little mishap at Beerfest (there was a flying Jaegermeister foam hand involved – I shall say no more) so it has been recuperating at the camera hospital (aka the Sony service centre). So, I thought I would take this opportunity to post some things that I’ve been capturing with my iPhone recently.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Fiona and I decided to make the most of a free lunchtime and pay a visit to Five and Dime. Five and Dime is a cute, quirky little spot tucked away on River Valley Road. It’s only been open since the start of the year, but has already gathered a big following amongst Singapore foodies for its laid back vibe, friendly staff and good food.

Lunch at Five and Dime

We both ordered the Eggs Benedict, as it was a bit of a wet and windy day outside and we were in the mood for something comforting. The lunch menu comprises a varied selection of dishes, including other breakfasts, fish and chips, burgers and pasta. The Eggs Benedict came served on brioche toast, with some pan-fried potatoes and fruit salad served on the side. For someone who can’t turn down eggs benny when I see it on a menu, it was nice to have one that at least gave the impression of being healthy (yes, I am well aware Hollandaise is basically just melted butter…).

Our Eggs Benedict

This is quite a heart dish, with the potatoes and the toast, but it was a satisfying if slightly indulgent lunch. It was nice to finish on the freshness of the fruit salad. After our eggs, we ordered lattes to wash everything down. They came out small but perfectly formed, and I loved the coffee art!

Love the coffee art

Five and Dime is a great spot for lunch, and I think it would be fantastic for brunch as well. It’s not a big place so if you were a large group you might struggle. It is also open for dinner and I can imagine that it would be a lovely spot for a laid-back evening. Don’t go expecting culinary fireworks but you certainly will get decent, well-cooked food, served with a smile.

Inside – there are lots of quirky details that I loved

You can find Five and Dime at 297 River Valley Road, 238338. For reservations call (+65) 9236 5002 or check out their website.