“Particularly in Singapore, where 90% of fresh produce is imported, having our own aquaponics farm is a win-win for everyone,” says Marcus Hanna, Sydneysider MD of the massive 2,030-room complex, designed by architect I.M. Pei, that pairs Fairmont Singapore with Swissôtel The Stamford.
The hotels are conjoined by an eight-floor terrace that holds the communal outdoor pool. Look over, from there, at what used to be, two floors below, a mere herb garden. Since October 2019 this has been replaced by a 450 square metre highly-productive farm set up with the help of a Thailand-based company led by a former French oil and gas executive, Regis Vincent. As well as farming tilapia and jade perch, greenery, including 84% of all the hotels’ salad leaves, are harvested, at least daily. “Diners really appreciate the pesticide-free taste, and colleagues similarly love having just-harvested bok choi, say, on buffets,” says Hanna.
Farm tours are available, on request, and I am yet again reminded how both hotels have always been at the forefront of thinking what guests might actually want. This is where, for instance, Singapore’s fascination with Italian cuisine started, with the 1987 opening of Prego – both hotels also open directly into one of Singapore’s signature shopping malls, Raffles city.
I was staying in the circular Stamford Crest, one of the 20 VIP-club rooms on the top floors of the 1,252-room Swissôtel. Somehow, the extremely experienced and jovial Guest Relations director, Eddy Tan, had found my arrival time and she was waiting as the hotel’s Mercedes S-Class pulled into the Stamford Road turning circle. We went in through what looked like a wall of glass doors. Inside, in the three-floor high marble-floored lobby, there was a long table for do-it-yourself check-in, and an alternative is the new smart-phone hyperlink check-in, developed inhouse here, that avoids having to download yet another app (“we are selling this innovation to other hotels,” Hanna tells me later).
Up at suite 6465, my mouth was open in amazement. This is a new concept, designed by Wilson, that allows spaces to be adapted for small meetings. My scarlet Smeg refrigerator, and matching Nespresso, for instance, would be equally at home were I hosting a gather of, say, 12 colleagues rather than leisurely enjoying an overnight leisure stay. I loved looking down at Singapore’s cricket pitch, far below.
As well as outdoor tennis, and the pool, the complex has a serious LifeFitness gym, complemented by a 65th floor mini-gym. I did manage a few minutes’ pre-prandial workout there, before dinner on the 70th floor in the Michelin-starred, and Krug-accoladed, JAAN by Kirk Westaway (a Devon boy whose favourite childhood dishes include cottage pie with mashed potato). His menu is #ReinventingBritish – Simple Yet Complex.
My dinner was not, admittedly, heavy on the aquaponics farm output – will do better next time. That night it was goose mousse, Cornish turbot with English peas, and Eton Mess, a mélange of strawberries, broken meringue and masses of whipped cream always served at the annual Eton v. Harrow cricket match. I went English on the bubbly, passing Krug in favour of Nyetimber sparkling, followed by Australian, Barossa Valley, Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2014.
Cleverly, you can gift food, or a stay, to a friend, or yourself. Buy a voucher, for the Willow Stream Spa, or dinner, or choose a monetary value: the hotel will deliver the gift-wrapped voucher, on check-in – or print it yourself, and email it over beforehand. This is being extended to near-supermarket facilities, with ordering online. Knowing how go-ahead this complex is, undoubtedly people will be buying aquaponics, a service combined with real-live service. In the morning, by the way, Eddy was there to see me off, and of course, the car was waiting. Innovation only works when paired with consistent service.