Clubs are not just her thing so when Yeoh Siew Hoon got an invite to dine at one of Singapore's institutions, she hesitated – but just for a second. Here's what she discovered. Left my yummy dessert sampler set – before, of course.
You can put it down to colonial hangover or reverse snobbery or just plain rebellion – but I have never been big on clubs.
You know, those institutions where people pay a lot of money to be with people like themselves
Personally, I have tended to see them as stuffy, elitist, traditional, regimented and full of rules that should have gone the way of the dodo bird.
I remember having lunch at the Hong Kong Club once with a senior airline executive. When the conversation got interesting, I whipped out my notebook only to have my wrist slapped by my host. "No business here," he said.
Perhaps it's my own sense of inadequacy or insecurity – a psychiatrist could probably tell me; perhaps when I was very young, I was thrown out of the Penang Club and that incident traumatized me so much that I now suffer from "clubophobia" – but there's something about the whole idea of clubs that just make me uncomfortable.
So last week, when I got an invitation to have lunch at The Churchill Room at the Tanglin Club, the oldest club in Singapore (built in the 1800s, I believe), I hesitated – and then I accepted.
I accepted for a couple of reasons – one, to prove to myself I am not such a snob and that I should be open to changing my perceptions on things and two, I was curious to see how this institution had adapted to the changing world that is Singapore today.
I mean, I can see why places like the Tanglin Club were needed in the old days. The colonial rulers needed a place to call their own, to keep them apart from the natives. But why do the natives now want a place to keep other natives out?
But it seems they do and the Tanglin Club is just one of many clubs in Singapore today that cater to many interests and nationalities. The American Club, British, Dutch, Swiss, Cricket, Polo … everyone wants a place to call their own and hang out with their own.
And so, the clubs they are a-changing. They've all had to evolve with the times. They all have to compete for members and they all have to entice members to spend as much time and money as they can on their premises.
The Tanglin Club, for instance, is in the middle of a major redevelopment. A new wing is being built across the road from the original building that will contain sports facilities and a sports bar. New restaurants and bars are planned as well within the original premises which are being dragged into the current century.
But some things don't change. I walked into the billiard room and the Indian gentleman manning the tables smiled at me and said, "You can play here if you want. We are one of the few clubs in Singapore that allow ladies."
I felt like thumping him with the cue stick but resisted because I knew he meant well and he had said it with such pride that I really didn't want to burst his bubble. He looked like he had worked at the club for a long, long time.
The Churchill Room was exactly the same as I recall it from the last time I dined here nearly 20 years ago. I felt I was in a time warp. The high ceilings, the décor, the chandeliers were like a page steeped in history.
But modern hospitality practices are being embraced here. They now run regular food promotions. The day I was there, I had a taste of New Zealand food prepared by one of the country's best chefs, Rex Morgan.
Rex looks like a guy I'd trust my food with. He's big and jolly and obviously loves what he does.
I had citrus dressed scallops and prawns with tartar – it melted in my mouth. I then had sumac seasoned lamb loin on smoked eggplant, with crisp onion, capers and citrus rind jus – I finished every morsel. To finish off, Rex prepared for me a dessert ‘tapas' – I felt like Winston Churchill after that sampler set of five creations. The passionfruit with "gula melaka" was divine, sweet yet tarty.
Modern, fresh cuisine when what I had expected was roast beef and potatoes.
As I ate my meal, I couldn't help thinking though how long clubs such as these can hold out in a world that's changing as fast as ours is. These days, a lot of people in Singapore live in condominiums that have swimming pool and sports facilities. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars out there for people to choose from. Why would people want to eat in the same place and bar over and over again?
I guess there will always be those who like the familiar, the tried and tested. But they must be becoming fewer and further between.
Plus, the opening of casinos in Singapore is definitely going to hurt clubs where it hurts. Most clubs now earn the bulk of revenues from their jackpot rooms. With the two casinos opening in Marina Bay and Sentosa, how can clubs compete?
Then there's the staffing issue. Marina Bay Sands is for sure going to hoover staff away from the top hotels that will then have to look somewhere else for staff …
As I was sipping my coffee, I felt my mobile phone vibrate. Thank goodness I had put it on silent. The club is a no mobile phone zone and I'd have been kicked out again if it had rang out loud.
Then who knows when would be the next time I step foot into a club again …The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.
Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".
She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.
Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460
Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at Travel's Busiest Junction