Singapore: 36 hours of surprises with Ben O’Donoghue and Tom Williams

Perth Now 15 Apr 14;

THEY’VE got no itinerary, just 36 hours to kill and an appetite for local cuisine mixed with a thirst for new experiences.

Welcome to Singapore with TV host Tom Williams and chef Ben O’Donoghue.

Tom Williams and Ben O’Donoghue at Pulau Ubin - where they discovered the Black Diamond mountain bike trail wasn’t really the easy option.

On their way home from a surf trip in the Maldives, the mates took a high-octane Singapore stopover, filming the Channel 7 special Tom & Ben’s Singapore Sling.

O’Donoghue tells Escape that the idea was to look outside the box and try to encourage other Aussies to make the most of their stopover time by revealing some of the less well-known attractions Singapore has to offer.

“I was really surprised at how easy it was to get around,” he says.

“You think of it as a concrete jungle, but there are places you can go to get out of the city.”

One such place was Pulau Ubin, home of the Ketam Mountain Bike Park. Hitting the Black Diamond trail - after being assured it was not the most difficult - was an eye-opener, says O’Donoghue. “It wasn’t easy at all!”

At Sentosa Island, the pair marvelled at the planet’s largest window to the ocean at the S.E.A. Aquarium, and Williams went diving with sharks at the Marine Life Park.

Back in the city centre, the Gardens by the Bay is a case of “botanical gardens on steroids” according to O’Donoghue, with its night-time light shows a highlight.

But as a chef, he acknowledges his main motivation during the visit was the food.

And he found delicious surprises at every corner.

“You can generally tell what good (at street stalls) - it’s always a good idea to jump on the longest queue,” he says.

O’Donoghue discovered a diverse, funky range of coffee shops, cafes and noodle bars, delicious rotis and curries in the Arab Quarter, and in Chinatown, a surprising beer emporium among the hawker stalls.

And he admits he’ll be drawing inspiration from the dishes he enjoyed at his own restaurant (Billy Kart Kitchen, at Annerley in Brisbane). Expect to see a fresh take on prawns cooked in salted duck eggs making an appearance soon.

But perhaps Williams and O’Donoghue most surprising Singapore discovery was this: You can surf in Singapore - on an “epic” wave, no less.

Sure, it’s not the ocean, but even O’Donoghue - a keen surfer and host of Surfing the Menu - admits being surprised by the Flowrider at Wave House Sentosa.

“It’s so much harder than it looks,” he says.

And his final words of advice to others with a stopover in the city?

“Engage with the locals. Taxi drivers are a great source of information - and if it’s food that you want, they have always got a hot tip for what to eat,” he says.

“It’s the Garden City, so get out and appreciate it.”