'Like coming home': Pan Pacific London hotel's tastes of Singapore

A Singaporean classic - Nonya Lobster Laksa. The dishes in Straits Kitchen reflect our brands heritage, showcasing a melting pot of cuisines from Singapore's many cultures.
PHOTO: Instagram/panpacificlondon

It’s not every day you find chilli crab being dished up in a restaurant outside Singapore – much less a hotel restaurant. Halfway around the world, however, the Pan Pacific London, which opened its doors on Sept 1, serves an array of classic Singaporean dishes.

Housed in a glass, bronze and steel skyscraper in the British capital’s financial district, the 237-room hotel is the first European outpost of Singapore-based hospitality brand Pan Pacific Hotels Group. The hotel advertises its Asian roots in its decor, hospitality, bars and restaurants.

In the all-day restaurant Straits Kitchen, custom murals of Asian plants complement the menu’s Eastern flavours. Guests tuck into dishes such as mee siam (Malay rice vermicelli), tauhu telur (Indonesian tofu and egg salad), Hainanese chicken rice and the aforementioned chilli crab.

Even some of the more international dishes are given a subtle Asian treatment: for instance, the lamb navarin is marinated with Chinese five-spice powder, while the butter-aged Buccleuch beef is infused with lemongrass and curry leaf.

“When it comes to Asian cuisine, authenticity is so important,” says executive chef Lorraine Sinclair, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and cut her teeth in hotel kitchens across Asia, including the Lotte Hotel in Seoul and the Langham Hotels group properties in Hong Kong.

She has assembled a team of chefs from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and China to cook “how their grandparents and parents taught them”, says Sinclair. They use Asian ingredients such as Vietnamese coriander, kaffir lime and fish mint – grown on a farm in Norfolk, eastern England, to minimise the hotel’s carbon footprint.

Ginger Lily at the Pan Pacific London serves Asian-inspired drinks.
PHOTO: Pan Pacific London

“Because we’re keeping it so authentic, we’ve had guests say, ‘Oh my god, that just reminded me of what I had back in Singapore’,” says Sinclair. “That, to me, means they’ve enjoyed it.”

In the Orchid Lounge, the Kopitiam Afternoon Tea set – a Singaporean take on the quintessentially British afternoon tea – is the star of the show.

“When I was young, I would often buy snacks and enjoy them at the kopitiam [coffee shop], so that’s how the name came about,” explains Singapore-born executive pastry chef Cherish Finden.

Paying homage to the memory, she has put together a spread featuring treats such as pineapple tarts and curry puffs alongside creations such as an intriguing chocolate and seaweed biscuit infused with soy sauce and sesame oil.

“I really want to fly the Singapore flag high in England, and open people’s minds to what Asia is about,” says Finden, who moved to London to pursue her patisserie career 20 years ago. “Also, I actually worked at Pan Pacific Singapore when I was a junior chef, so joining Pan Pacific London feels like I’m coming back home.”

Also at the Pan Pacific London are cocktail bar Ginger Lily, where Asian-inspired drinks feature, such as the Green Mountain – a combination of Belvedere vodka, matcha tea, wasabi, lime, ginger and mint – and two private dining rooms, Newton and Katong, named after neighbourhoods in Singapore.

The Asian theme shines through in other aspects of the hotel, such as customer service.

“When we talk about Asian hospitality, it needs to be delivered from the heart,” says guest relations manager Li Xinchen. “It’s all about small actions – for example, we bow when we greet guests, and always have a big smile.

“Also, it’s our job to anticipate what our guests need 10 steps ahead, so they shouldn’t even need to ask,” says Li, who was born in Shenyang, northeast China, and previously worked at The London Edition and Shangri-La The Shard, London.

Treatments at the spa are rooted in Eastern traditions, while many of the Asian-inspired art on the walls has been given by sister Pan Pacific properties in Singapore and China.

While it remains to be seen how the British public will receive this taste of Singapore, members of the Singaporean community in London are positive.

“One might think that Singaporean food appeals only to Asians in London, but it actually has a very wide audience,” says Sandra Leong, who brought another beloved Singaporean brand, snack chain Old Chang Kee, to London in 2018.

Pan Pacific London guest relations manager Li Xinchen.
PHOTO: Li Xinchen
Singapore-born executive pastry chef Cherish Finden. “I really want to fly the Singapore flag high in England,” she says.
PHOTO: Cherish Finden

“Perhaps it’s because it is a confluence of Chinese, Malay, Indian and even Western flavours. Or perhaps it’s because many British people have a connection to Singapore, whether through its colonial heritage, their travels or through friends and family.

“However, Singapore is a small country, so its soft power is nowhere near that of, say, Japan or Korea,” Leong adds. “There is so much more awareness we can build around Singaporean food and culture, and the more players we have here in the UK, the better.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.