Choosing a restaurant for a special occasion can be stressful. Where do you take your spouse on your wedding anniversary? What is a good restaurant for a birthday celebration? Here are 10 occasions and the restaurants to book for them.
Where: Corner House, 1 Cluny Road, Nassim Gate, EJH Corner House, Singapore Botanic Gardens, tel: 6469-1000, open: noon to 3pm, 6.30 to 11pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 11.30am to 3pm for brunch, 6.30 to 11pm (Sunday), closed on Monday
Why: This 70-seat restaurant has been one of the best ones that have opened in the last couple of years. It is located in the former home of botanist E.J.H. Corner, within the lushness of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
That alone makes it an intimate spot for a romantic dinner, but there are two verandahs in the house and the smaller one, called the Whispering Corner, is particularly good for those wanting to impress their dates. It seats up to five people, split among a table for two and one for three.
But if money is no object, it can be booked for two, with a minimum spend of $988. Diners can also ask to be seated at the Whispering Corner depending on availability - just ask when booking.
If pulling out all the stops, diners can ask in advance to have celebratory cakes prepared, special table decoration, floral bouquets and takeaway petit fours in specially designed tins.
Even without these frills, the multi-course Discovery Menu ($248 a person) at Corner House is a treat.
Amid the tranquillity of the gardens, chef Jason Tan, 33, presents what he calls gastro- botanica cuisine, where vegetables do not play a supporting role.
Take Jason's Botanica, a leaf- shaped plate with an artful selection of more than 30 seasonal vegetables and fruit. These include confit of mandarin and grapefruit, burnt leeks, heirloom carrots, steamed corn, red and yellow endive and yellow pepper coulis.
The Discovery Menu name is apt. The fun part about this dish is exploring the different tastes and textures of the ingredients.
Cevennes Onions features one ingredient explored four ways: baked, hollowed out and filled with onion puree, a sous vide egg, onion confit and chopped black truffles; an onion tart made with a thin filo pastry; lightly salted and dehydrated into an onion chip; and onion tea, an infusion of caramelised onion with Earl Grey YinZhen tea served in a teapot, to be poured over an emulsion of onion confit and cream in a tea cup.
The chef also does wonders with seafood, in dishes such as Surf & Turf Rice. Maine lobster and caramelised Iberico pork jowl topped with seasonal black truffle and nori sit on riso pasta with puffed soba and onsen-style egg.
One of my favourite things here is the LiuShaBao macarons, which looks at the dim-sum staple in a new way. Instead of filling steamed buns with salted egg custard, the chef sandwiches it between airy macarons.
These come at the end and, by then, the ambience and the food would have worked their magic, and you can float off in the moonlight.
Where: Saveur Art, 04-11 Ion Orchard, tel: 6634-1141, open: noon to 3pm (lunch), 6 to 9.30pm (dinner), daily
Why: Maybe you met at a party or were among a group of friends out on the town. The first attraction deepened into something more and you are now ready to go on the First Date.
These two words can be so loaded. What will you talk about? Beyond finding each other cute, are you interested in the same things? There will be jitters no matter what, so have dinner at a friendly, inexpensive restaurant that serves great food.
Saveur Art ticks all the right boxes. It is located at Ion Orchard - easily accessible by public transport. The place has an upmarket feel but is not stuffy, and the lights are not too bright.
It is intimate enough that you can talk without shouting, but not more cosy than you are ready for. Best of all, the food is good, so even if you don't click, the two of you can focus on what's on the plate.
For starters, you cannot go wrong with Egg Confit ($10), a sous vide egg sitting on ever-so-smooth potato mousseline and topped with brown butter, chopped chunks of roasted macadamia nuts and potato crisps.
Good main courses to order include Mackerel A La Plancha ($22), with a melange of tomatoes and grilled vegetables, or go for the Angus Bavette ($28), Grilled Pork Belly ($26) and Crispy Duck Leg Confit ($20).
For dessert, Tropical ($10) has bursts of tart and sweet and is loaded with texture. There is also an Artisanal Cheese Platter ($20) for those without a sweet tooth.
Dinner for two, without drinks, is likely to be less than $100, so there is no need to worry about wallet meltdown. With all this good mood food, there might well be a second date.
Where: Shinji by Kanesaka, 02-20 Raffles Hotel Arcade, tel: 6338-6131, open: noon to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm, closed on Sunday
Why: I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a wedding anniversary than by having excellent sushi.
If money is no object, fly to Tokyo. Otherwise, go to Shinji by Kanesaka at the Raffles, famous Japanese sushi chef Shinji Kanesaka's Singapore outpost.
There are 17 seats at the main sushi counter and a smaller room which seats eight.
If privacy is what you want, there are two rooms which can seat up to eight people each. The minimum spend for a couple in the private room is $250 at lunch and $450 at dinner a person.
But the fun part of any sushi meal, for me at least, is interacting with the sushi chefs.
If you can, sit at chef Koichiro Oshino's section. His deft, elegant movements are a pleasure to watch, as you savour piece after exquisite piece of sushi.
If you tell them this is a special event such as a birthday or anniversary, the usually serious chefs will give you a funny surprise. Just be sure to have your camera ready.
What makes Shinji worth going to is the consistency. Most restaurants in Singapore have not nailed this, but I have never had a bad meal there.
Prices are transparent too. At lunch, sushi sets range from $75 for nine pieces to $180 for 15. These come with soup and dessert. Or splash out on the Omakase Special ($250), which includes appetiser, assorted sashimi, assorted cooked dishes, nigiri and maki sushi, soup and Japanese fruit.
At dinner, omakase meals range from $220 to $450 a person.
Be prepared to pay more if you request special dishes. One of my favourites is a cholesterol bomb of a dish: rice mixed with uni and topped with chopped up otoro (fatty tuna) and ikura (salmon roe). It costs $50 for a small serving.
But hey, you have stuck together all these years. You deserve a slap-up meal. Kanpai.
Where: CUT by Wolfgang Puck, B1-71 Galleria Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, tel: 6688-8517, open: 6 to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 6 to 11pm (Friday and Saturday)
Why: Well, Ms or Mr Big Shot, you've made it. They've given you an office with a view, keys to the executive loo and you are ready to take on the world.
But, first, celebrate at CUT by Wolfgang Puck at Marina Bay Sands. This 138-seat modern American steakhouse has an exciting buzz about it. It is not for stuffed shirts, what with the chic decor and thumping music.
Its staff have the sort of polish you do not often see in Singapore restaurants.
For more privacy, there is a private dining room that can seat 40 people. Private events require a minimum spend of $7,500 on week- days and $10,000 on weekends.
Even if you cannot gather 39 friends for the celebratory meal - you didn't get to where you are by being warm and fuzzy, I'm guessing - a meal in the main dining room will not disappoint.
Steaks are grilled over hard wood and charcoal before being finished in a fiendishly hot oven.
Good choices include the 990g porterhouse ($185), which serves two, and the USDA Prime corn-fed Angus ribeye, which weighs 395g, is aged for 21 days and costs $99.
There are countless permutations of mustard and many sauces to go with the steaks. But a true captain of industry will need starters and side dishes too.
Bone Marrow Flan ($28) with mushroom marmalade and parsley salad is a good way to start the meal and, to go with the steak, there can only be Creamed Spinach ($18), with a perfect fried egg on top.
Some guests will be difficult and not want steak. The menu has options for them. The Maine Lobster with black truffle sabayon ($150 for a 1kg lobster, $200 for a 1.5kg one) is an excellent choice.
Wine is great with the meal, of course, but the bar knocks out some of the best cocktails in town. Go on, have a couple. My favourites are Forbidden Kiss ($26), made with Hendrick's gin, fresh raspberries, rose elixir and lemon juice; and Umami Cocktail ($26), with Hendrick's gin, shiso leaf, cucumber and umeboshi plums.
Where: Osteria Art, 01-01, 55 Market Street, tel: 6877-6933, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 11pm (Monday to Friday), 6pm to midnight (Saturday), closed on Sunday
Why: This 80-seat restaurant is an anomaly in Singapore. The decor is sleek and smart and the overall feel is luxurious. Service is polished but also warm. Then you look at the menu and do a double take. Can the prices be real?
A meal here will not prompt the bean counters at the company to question the bill when you submit it to them for claims. A Power Lunch costs but $32 a person. It is a substantial three-course meal.
I expect the servings to be petite but they are good-sized.
On the day I go, the starters are Leek & Potato Soup or Beef Tartare With Pachino Tomato Salad. The beef is chopped roughly, which I like because every forkful has bite. It is not overly seasoned too, so the sweetness of the meat is apparent.
My choice of Rigatoni With Beef Ragout for main course is comfort food served in a deep bowl.
I would pick the Red Snapper With Herb Crust or the Lamb T-Bone chops with mashed potato at a real business lunch, because that pasta makes me wish I am at home on the couch, watching TV and digging into the bowl. It is so very moreish and the pasta is perfectly al dente, not something you can take for granted in Italian restaurants here.
Even dessert is not a throwaway course. The wobbliest pannacotta, flecked with vanilla seeds, is surrounded by raspberry coulis, diced mango and little meringues. It is a light, bright dessert to round of a meal of serious business talk.
A bracing cup of coffee keeps the post-lunch coma at bay so you can focus on work.
The restaurant is exactly what you want for a business lunch. With tables spaced well apart, you can talk strategy without other people overhearing.
There is energy in the room, feeding off its location in the heart of the Central Business District.
Where: Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant, B1-13 Forum The Shopping Mall, tel: 6732-6628, open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily
Well, this is a no brainer: excellent food, no corkage.
To celebrate this milestone birthday, go to Jade Palace, a restaurant that wine aficionados and foodies flock to regularly. The 180-seat restaurant recently underwent renovations and now looks a lot less shabby and is more comfortable.
There are six private rooms which seat eight to 12 people each. Some rooms open up to form a larger private room which seats up to 40.
The wine list is very fine but diners are welcome to bring their own bottles. The servers can be trusted to take good care of your wine.
The deep-fried frog's legs with crisp slices of old ginger ($48) are excellent - meaty legs, fried expertly, have no trace of grease. Steamed bamboo clams ($13 each) are worth ordering too.
All of these are on the menu.
However, since this is a special birthday, when calling to make a reservation, pre-order some special dishes. Give the restaurant at least two weeks' notice.
My favourite is Shun Tak Yu Wat Lou Meen ($15 a person), a simple dish of springy noodles topped with strips of raw wolf herring. It is dressed with shallot oil and an umami-loaded soya-based sauce.
For sheer decadence, order roast suckling pig stuffed with glutinous rice ($240). It is festive and perfect for a milestone birthday.
Most Chinese restaurants will give you peach-shaped buns stuffed with lotus paste if you tell them it is a birthday meal. At Jade Palace, pre- order a whole malai gou ($30), a steamed cake with a beautiful dome.
Having made it to the half- century mark, you deserve it.
Where: Samy's Curry Restaurant, 25 Dempsey Road, tel: 6472-2080, open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm, closed on Tuesday
Wny: What do you want friends from out of town to experience in Singapore?
I suppose tourist sites such as the Merlion Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay and the museums are de rigueur. So, too, are visits to a wet market, where many Singaporeans still do their food shopping, and meals at hawker centres, where the best street food vendors offer their wares.
Another place to take them to is Samy's Curry Restaurant, which started in the 1950s. The 300-seater has had a few updates, with more comfortable chairs and smaller tables rather than the long communal ones of yore. There is even a 50-seat air-conditioned area.
Some things have not changed, however. The food is still served on banana leaves and this is something Mr V. Maheyndran, 55, is determined to stick to. He has communicated this to his children, Ms Nagajyothi Mahendran, 31, and Mr M. Veerasamy, 27, who now run the business, on no uncertain terms.
A briyani set, with rice, two vegetables, gravy and pappadums is $3.60 and diners choose the meats they want.
One must-order dish is fishhead curry (from $21). This is Singapore in a claypot because it was thought up here, although there is a Bengali dish of fish head cooked together with rice.
The Singapore version came about because a savvy South Indian chef wanted his food to appeal to more people and chose fish head, which is prized among the Chinese.
Today, there are Indian, Chinese, Malay and Peranakan versions of the dish.
The one at Samy's is particularly good, with fresh, meaty heads cooked in a piquant gravy.
Also good are Mysore Mutton ($10) and bone-in fried chicken ($5.20 a piece). Wash it all down with Masala tea ($2.50) before taking a stroll through the Botanic Gardens nearby.
MEET THE PARENTS
Where: Cassia, 1 The Knolls, Capella Singapore, tel: 6591-5045, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm
Why: Whether you and your beloved are meeting each other's parents for the first time or you are gathering to hammer out wedding details, book a table at Cassia, a Cantonese restaurant at the Capella Singapore.
The elegant interior by architect Andre Fu is stylish, serene and instantly calming. Well-spaced tables make it easy to have a serious conversation and you can size everybody up properly too.
The restaurant seats 94 indoors and 12 on the terrace. There is a private room which seats up to 12 and with an area for mingling before the meal. The minimum spend for the room is $1,000 for lunch and $1,500 for dinner.
Any nerves or jitters will instantly be soothed by the food. Haute Cantonese best describes it. There are modern touches, many of the dishes come in individual portions and almost everything is exquisite.
Steamed Chilean Sea Bass With Crispy Fermented Bean Crumbs And Vegetables ($18 a person) is one of the signatures, as is the Wok- fried Australian M9 Mayura Wagyu With Black Pepper ($32 a person).
There is dim sum at lunch, with star offerings such as Porridge With Fish Maw, Century Egg And Wild Mushrooms ($8.80 a person) and Steamed Barbecued US Kurobuta Pork Bun With Black Truffle ($4.80 for two).
Sentosa seems a long way to go for a meal. However, first impressions count and if you want to make a good one, get away from the bustle of the main land and settle into the plush comfort of Cassia.
Where: The Naked Finn, Block 39 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks, tel: 6694-0807, open: noon to 3pm (Monday to Saturday), 6 to 10pm (Monday to Thursday), 6 to 10.30pm (Friday and Saturday), closed on Sunday
Why: You have managed to get a babysitter or the parents or in-laws have agreed to watch the kids. Now, to find a place to wind down, chill out and have a good meal.
My recommendation is The Naked Finn, tucked away in quiet Gillman Barracks, far from the madding crowd. The 60-seat restaurant looks stunning at night. One wall is covered with plants and the place is good for a quiet dinner.
Order the set for two ($138), which comes with five seafood dishes, including wild-caught baby Indian squid cooked on a cast-iron griddle, wild-caught New Zealand littleneck clams flambeed in white wine and Giant Pacific sea scallop lightly grilled.
To go with the perfectly cooked seafood are two chilled side dishes: kang kong, the crunchy vegetables tossed in calamansi lime juice and fried shallot oil; and vermicelli with piquant flavours.
Some diners might consider the food here plain, but the less done to fresh seafood, the better.
The specials are worth ordering, so if you see slipper lobsters ($10 for 100g), which are flash-fried in olive oil and served with salted egg yolk dip and a dip of salt, pepper and five spice powder, order them. Or go for Pacific cupped oysters from New Zealand ($42 for six) with rice vinegar, chilli and garlic, and topped with finger lime and chives.
After a chilled-out evening, it is time to return to family life.
Where: The Boiler Louisiana Seafood & Beer, 01-06, 18 Howard Road, tel: 6635-1285, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Friday), 5 to 10.30pm (Saturday and Sunday), closed for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. For groups of 15 or more, book at least three days in advance.
Why: This 120-seat restaurant is buzzing every night and that energy is great for big groups of diners. It has two tables that can seat groups of 26.
Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty at this restaurant.
It specialises in seafood boils, where mussels ($4.50 for 100g), clams ($4 for 100g), prawns ($7.50 for 100g), Dungeness or Brown crabs (market price) and Boston Lobsters ($75 each) are cooked in bags and then set on the paper- lined tables. Diners dig in with their hands.
The Works, a sauce with three levels of spiciness, is a good catch-all for seafood. But if dining in a big group, there is a chance to sample all the four sauces: The Works, Garlic Butter, Peppa' Butter and Sauce Of The Month.
I like the Garlic Butter with prawns or clams because most spicy sauces tend to overwhelm the flavour of the seafood. Dungeness Crabs are great with Peppa' Butter.
Order corn ($1.50) to be cooked with the seafood. And buns ($1.50 for two) or buttered rice ($2) to sop up the sauces. For those who need obligatory fibre, there is coleslaw ($4.90).
Aside from the usual bibs and gloves, the restaurant will also supply little plastic baggies for mobile phones, so the most dedicated Instagrammer can still take photos with sauce-covered fingers.
This article was first published on August 2, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.