The Med at Orchard Central, Almost Ready For Business

At the beginning of November my wife and I went to Orchard Road to look at the Christmas decorations.  While we were there we walked through Orchard Central.  A lot of the good decorations are inside the malls after all!  While we were exploring, we noticed that the very bottom level of Orchard Central was still closed off.  It was still under construction.  The decor looked fascinating though, so I took some pictures. (Scroll to the bottom of that post to see them).

Well, it turns out that as of this past weekend (at least) it’s open for people to go down and look around.  There’s still nothing open down there, but it was neat to see what they’ve already done with the place.  In keeping with the rest of the mall’s appearance, the decor and style that’s gone into the basement level is impressive.
The whole floor will be called “The Med” and it’s going to be a Mediterranean style eating area.  So, I’m assuming there’ll be a lot of Italian food.  I’m hoping it won’t be that bland though.  I’m hoping they’ll be bold and have restaurants serving Greek, Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes, among others.  Just going by the way looks, I have a feeling the prices will be a bit steep.  Let’s hope it’s worth it!  I’m looking forward to trying the restaurants out once they’re open.
Speaking of the class of people the area will cater to, I laughed when I saw the sign down there showing the concept picture of the finished area.  It was packed with Caucasian people.  Do they think no locals will eat or shop there?  Is it only to cater to tourists?  Here’s an image of the part of the sign I’m talking about:
And a few photos of the area:
Even the bathrooms are well-appointed.
These last three photos are of a mural painted on the wall directly across from the escalators.  It’ll be the first thing you see when you enter the level, assuming you don’t use the stairs that go directly to it from street level.  I was really impressed with it.  The colors are very vivid and attractive.  It’s not a sticker or a poster either.  It was actually painted on.
Hopefully in about a month or so the restaurants will open their doors to customers, but for now it’s still worth it just to go down and have a look at the level of work and attention to detail that’s been put into creating a Mediterranean atmosphere in subterranean Singapore.

Trattoria Italian Restaurant at 313 @ Somerset

A few months ago I was complaining that I hadn’t been able to find decent pizza in Singapore, but I think that quest has finally ended.

You may be thinking that Singapore has Pizza Hut, but that doesn’t do it for me.  Even in the US I think Pizza Hut is gross.  The stuff is just too oily.  You shouldn’t be able to see grease dripping from your slice of pizza when you pick it up.  I prefer pizza that’s lighter, where you can taste the flavors of the toppings, not just the grease.

So, I’ve been sampling around, trying to find good pizza.

We did try Pizza Hut once when I first got here but, besides the fact that it’s Pizza Hut, the servings are small compared to how much they charge.  It feels like a rip off for poor quality food.  Also, they have a lot of bizarre (to me anyway) topping combinations, but last I checked (which was quite a while ago so don’t hang me) they were missing some of the traditional ones that I enjoy.  They also didn’t have plain pepperoni.  They had chicken pepperoni (I think it was), but not the real pepperoni.

Canadian pizza isn’t too bad.  It’s like the Domino’s of Singapore.  It’ll do in a pinch!  Still, it wasn’t quite up to par.

We also tried pizza in the New York New York restaurant.  I was hoping that a restaurant named after a city that has incredible pizza would live up to its name, but I was disappointed.  It was incredibly oily and very bland.  The sauce was spread so thin it might as well have not been there at all.  I didn’t even finish it.

New York New York Restaurant’s Pizza

In the US, I’d gotten spoiled on great pizza from pizzerias in New York City.  Notably, Mariella’s.  That stuff is just good!  Good enough that it draws celebrities sometimes.  Plus it’s a good price.  For about 3 bucks, depending on what you order, you get a slice of pizza that’s so big you almost have to hold it with two hands.  Here’s a photo:

Mariella’s Pizza in New York City

When I wasn’t in New York City I would go for thin crust pizzas from Papa John’s.  Depending on what toppings you order, they are really good and the cheese, garlic butter, and marinara dipping cups you can get along with your pizza are great.

Sunday my wife and I were checking out 313 @ Somerset, the new mall on Orchard Road.  On the ground level just across from the escalator that leads down into the MRT station is a restaurant called Trattoria.  It’s very nice looking.  The decor is very well done and the menu looked good, so before heading home we stopped by to give it a try.

Getting seated was a bit confusing.  The staff is obviously new.  When we first walked in I asked the first person I saw if we have to go to the counter to order.  He directed us to a register.  When I got there the cashier asked me for my receipt.  I told him we hadn’t ordered yet and we were then directed to a table.

Complimentary appetizer at Trattoria

After that, the confusion didn’t end.  We ordered a pizza and two raspberry Italian sodas.  While waiting on our order, another server came by and dropped off a plate with a complimentary appetizer.  It was good and it reminded me of Italian restaurants in the US.  In the US you’re typically served a loaf of fresh bread and a type of butter while waiting for your meal.  Sometimes it’s plain butter, sometimes cinnamon, honey, or even garlic.  It depends on where you go.  What we were served was a bit different but still a pleasant surprise.  After we finished it a third server took the plate and a few minutes later a fourth server dropped off another plate of the appetizers.  I think they didn’t realize we’d already been served an appetizer.  I’m not complaining that I got something free, just noting that the servers were a bit unorganized.

Raspberry Italian Soda, before stirring

Shortly after that one raspberry Italian soda showed up at our table along with a receipt marked with one pizza and one soda.  I had to get up and tell a server that we’d ordered two, not one.  It took about 10 minutes for the second soda to be prepared, despite the fact that only four tables in the restaurant were in use.  The soda showed up at the same time as our pizza, but we never got our receipt back which made the check-out process a bit more annoying later.

Trattoria’s Pepperoni Pizza

The pizza more than made up for the questionable service.  The crust was thin and crispy along the edges, which is just how I like it.  A regular crust pizza gets you full on bread and you can’t enjoy as much of the sauce or toppings!  The sauce on this pizza is what stood out the most.  It tasted really fresh. It wasn’t sweet and they didn’t overdo the seasoning.  Typically I hate an aftertaste, but all the way home on the MRT I savored the lingering taste of that pizza sauce.  The pepperoni on the pizza tasted a lot like what I’m used to in the US as well.  The pizza was light, with a balanced amount of toppings and was a great overall dish.  I could’ve eaten the whole thing by myself and still craved for more.

I can’t really hold the shaky service against Trattoria.  It’s a brand new restaurant and the servers looked inexperienced.  They weren’t even serving everything on the menu yet.  Also, it was about 10:30 PM.  The end of the day is always kind of rough in a restaurant.  I’m sure that aspect of the Trattoria dining experience will improve over time.

That aside, the pizza was excellent.  The raspberry Italian soda tasted great!  I’m curious as to how their other dishes taste, but I’ll probably just go back again for more pizza.  Thanks for satisfying my craving, Trattoria!  See you soon!

Oh and by the way, the Vespa on display is a really nice touch!

Orchard Central Looks A Lot Better Than I Remember

On Sunday night, as part of our tour along Orchard, my wife and I looked through Orchard Central.  The lighted escalators on the end closer to Dhoby Ghaut Interchange kind drew us in.  It had been quite a while since we’d gone in there.  I visited it once right after it opened and my wife and I visited it together shortly after that.  At the time I wasn’t too impressed, but I thought it might just be because the place had recently opened.  It was more or less deserted of both people and stores.  Most of the facades were still covered with ‘Coming Soon’ banners.  In fact, it didn’t even have Wireless@SG set up inside at the time.

This time was a whole other story.  The place was full of people.  Almost ever retail space was open and ready for, if not doing, business.  The best part of it all though was the look and feel of the mall.  I’ve often said that there isn’t much, if anything, the US can learn from Singapore.  Call it national pride.  Call it arrogance.  That’s just how I feel.  However, one way I was wrong is in how Singapore is designing its new malls.  I’ve often said before that Singapore does shopping right.  The shopping experience has been refined into something close to an art form, especially when it comes to design and architecture.  You only have to look at Ion, Orchard Central, and to some degree Vivocity to know that.  More so with Orchard Central, since it draws the customer in and keeps them interested in staying, not through false sales or huge bins of promotions, but through a classy, well presented, fun to explore mall.  And, as you walk through the mall you are of course presented with stores that you will wander into if the items for sale suit your taste.  Malls in the US are bland by comparison and are a chore to go to, rather than an enjoyable experience.

Orchard Central seems like it was designed more for tourism than for actual sales.  The place practically screams “Explore me!”  The front of the building has escalators that cling to the face, so that as you go from the ground floor up to the top you have a clear view of the city around you.  The view is stunning, to say the least, especially once you get yourself up onto the roof.  The last time I went to Orchard Central, the top floors were still closed off.  I managed to get some good shots of the city at the time, but it was nothing compared with the view I saw this time.  To get onto the roof via the outside of the building you have to take a stairwell just down from where the last escalator leaves you.  You can also reach the roof through the escalators and elevators inside.

The roof on Orchard Central wasn’t done as plainly and blandly as the roof on Tampines 1.  I couldn’t see it too well because it was dark and poorly lit, but it has flagstones as paving for the majority of it, which makes for uneven footing but a more enjoyable experience.  There are also small pools of water, vines, and a few lights mixed in.  The railing around the edge is a glass wall with a metal frame that doesn’t inhibit the view of the surrounding area.  You can see a LOT from up there, and the people down on the street seem very small.  I haven’t been that high up in a building in a long time.  It made me miss New York City.

On our way back down through the building we noticed that different areas seem to have different themes.  Various architectural tricks were used like having a ramped area with stores that are offset from the normal floor level to draw attention to them.  There is also a giant wall inside that you can climb.  I noted it last time but this time it seems functional, if unused.

I think we wandered through Orchard Central for more than an hour without seeing everything.  We eventually had to head back down so we could get back to viewing the lights on Orchard Road.  As we were heading down though we noticed that there are basement levels and took a quick detour to check them out.  The first basement is pretty bland.  It’s probably the most boring part of the mall.  The stores are small and didn’t seem too interesting.  There is a Mos Burger down there though, and another place right next to it.  I think it was a Subway but I can’t remember for sure.  The second basement level was really cool though.  We couldn’t actually get down to it yet because it was still under construction but we were able to lean over the rail and peer around a bit.  It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun!  The floor was done in tiled designs, there were false, old fashioned building fronts, wooden frames for stalls, and the whole thing seemed to be designed to resemble an outdoor town that you might have seen in old Mexico.  If you’ve ever passed by the front of Orchard and noticed the flower pots and wondered why they don’t match the interior, this is why.  They’ll match the second basement level.

I’m looking forward to going back to Orchard Central again, just to window shop and hang out.  I want to see the view from the roof during the day.  I also want to take some more time to look through the stores and find the good cafes and sitting areas.  I hear the restaurant up towards the top called The Loft has some good food and a good view.  Oh, and speaking of restaurants, the roof will sport some restaurants eventually too, but for now they’re under construction.

Orchard Central Mall in Singapore

Saturday evening my wife and I were wandering down Orchard Road.  We didn’t have any real goal in mind.  We just wanted to be out of the house for a while and take in the sights.  Orchard Road is usually pretty interesting.  I’ve seen everything from centurions to acrobats to musicians there.

While walking down the road we saw a building that we didn’t recognize.  It looked like a recently renovated, recently opened shopping center.  We decided to check it out.  Sure enough, it was a new mall called Orchard Central.  As we passed through the doors we were handed a brochure.  We were also handed a fairly basic looking map that proved to be rather useless later.

Rather than make our way upstairs inside the building, we used the long escalators that were mounted to the front face of the building.  It was a really neat experience.  Two of the escalators we went up traversed at least four floors nonstop.  Also, there was a plexi-glass shield beside the escalator that came about as high as my head and not much else so we got a great view as we went up.  Adding to the atmosphere there are several observation decks outside the building.  The escalator leading to the roof area was closed.  I suppose it’s not finished yet but I’m interested to go back when it is, if just for the view.

Here are two shots I took from the highest observation deck I could get to:

A view of Orchard Road from a deck at Orchard Central Mall
A view of Orchard Road from a deck at Orchard Central Mall
A view of Orchard Road from a deck at Orchard Central Mall
A view of Orchard Road from a deck at Orchard Central Mall

After reaching the top and taking in the view for a while we moved inside.  The interior of the mall is not at all what I expected.  First off, most of it is still closed and under construction.  I would even say that there are more closed than open stores there.  That’s not a bad thing, I suppose, but it just seems odd.  The second thing that was weird about the mall is that the interior didn’t look like a mall.  My wife was the first to point it out and after she mentioned it, it was pretty obvious to me too.  It looks like the building used to be an office building and the interior was renovated to turn it into mall space.  The hallways were just too oddly placed for it to have been intentional.

Inside Orchard Central Mall
Inside Orchard Central Mall

The other thing we discovered about the mall is that it’s incredibly hard to get around in.  That’s why I mentioned that the map we got at the front door on the 1st floor was practically useless.  If you start from the top down it’s like trying to work your way through a maze full of dead ends and trick passages.  There are places were it feels like there should be a way through and there’s  just a blank wall.  There are other spots where you would think there’s a way to the stairwell, but in front of you is a huge open area that looks 3 floors down.  Oh, or a fake rock climbing wall that spans four stories and causes you to have to backtrack.  We could have taken the elevators all the way down to the first floor, but that wouldn’t have been much fun.  Instead, we went around, by trial and error, until we got tired.  Then we found an elevator and took them to another floor that had escalators, which we then took down to the first floor.  Sounds complicated right?

Besides its crazy interior, there wasn’t much interesting about the mall.  It had a pretty standard selection of stores when we went through it.  There were a few names I didn’t recognize, but they were on all of the shuttered, still under construction stores.  When we go back to get a look off the roof, hopefully they’ll be open too.

A final thought:  I wish there were a First Person Shooter with a stage modeled after this mall’s floorplan.  I mean, look at it.  It even looks like something from an FPS:

Empty area of Orchard Central Mall
Empty area of Orchard Central Mall