Singapore’s grande dame reopened in August 2019 after an overhaul led by New York-based Alexandra Champalimaud of Champalimaud Design , who also custom designed an array of furniture, decor and lighting. No small feat, considering the Raffles – which debuted in 1887 – was last refreshed in 1991, and its designation as a national monument meant government approval was needed for every step of the renovation process.
The results are immediately evident as you enter the lobby, which feels even lighter and brighter than before, thanks to what Champalimaud calls a ‘focal point’ – an enormous chandelier topped with lotus flowers and dripping with 8,000 crystals, which draws the eye irresistibly upwards to the triple-storey ceiling and skylight. The marble floors were also restored to their former brightness, creating a feeling of airiness that’s further enhanced by the fresh coat of ivory ‘Raffles White’ paint.
The lobby’s vibe matches its new look: its formerly cool froideur has been jettisoned to create a more inviting space. Stiff, solitary armchairs have given way to pockets of seating where guests can enjoy an upgraded afternoon tea service – limited-edition Billecart-Salmon champagne bottled exclusively for the Raffles, along with Mariage Frères teas and gourmet tea sandwiches. The front desk has been replaced by in-suite check-ins.
Perhaps the biggest changes can be seen in the Raffles’ guestrooms, which have been sensitively restored to avoid alienating the hotel’s bastion of devoted regulars. Comprising nine suite categories, the 115 suites (up from 103) still retain a sense of time and place, albeit with several modern updates: bedside USB ports; smart, custom-made leather drinks trunks; and double-glazed windows and doors. New iPads allow guests to manage suite ambience, summon Raffles’ famed butlers or choose from the pillow menu (and at higher suite levels, a bed linen menu).
The hotel’s restaurants have also been revamped. Tiffin Room , serving northern Indian food since 1892, has been redressed with herringbone wood floors, striking glass and steel chandeliers and towering shelves displaying locally made tiffin carriers. The Raffles Grill – the site of numerous power lunches – is now La Dame de Pic , a blush-and-gold accented collaboration with chef Anne-Sophie Pic of France’s three-Michelin-starred Maison Pic. Expect highly imaginative creations, such as oscietra caviar with blackcurrant-infused cucumber consomme and Pic’s signature Berlingots – pasta parcels with chou cao, a local herb. Also new are Yi by Jereme Leung , showcasing the Singaporean and Masterchef China judge’s take on modern Chinese cuisine; the Mediterranean-inspired BBR by Alain Ducasse ; and steakhouse Butcher’s Block .
The book-lined Writers Bar , which pays tribute to notable past guests such as Pico Iyer and Somerset Maugham, is a cosy addition to the lobby and already pulling in younger tastemakers. At the historic Long Bar , even the hallowed Singapore Sling has been given a modern update, with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice replacing its signature grenadine syrup. Not to worry, though: you can still chuck a peanut shell or two onto the bar floor – the only place in Singapore where littering is encouraged.
The ‘modern colonial’ aesthetic at its most iconic
Long-time Raffles regulars and a new generation of stylish locals and travellers
Contemporary with a nod to the past – smart four-poster beds, Asian-styled dark wood writing desks and chairs, wicker-panelled cabinets and Carrara marble bathrooms with vintage-style chrome fittings
Take an anecdote-filled tour led by Leslie Danker, the hotel’s historian for more than 45 years; stargaze along the Walk of Fame, which features photographs of past guests such David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Charlie Chaplin and Queen Elizabeth II
There’s no better base from which to imagine Singapore through the ages, from when horse carriages rattled down the adjacent streets to the sleek incarnation that stands today