Jewel Changi Airport, ‘nerve and social centre’ for all food aficionados

The airport has 112 food and beverage outlets and many eager Singaporeans queued for hours to eat at some of the outlets when these first opened

Photo: Facebook screen grab from Wilson Ng

Following several months of anticipation, Jewel Changi Airport finally opened its doors on April 17 to the world’s curious, local and foreign tourists, bon vivants, selfie addicts, kids and ageing Singaporeans alike, and to all who want to see what Singapore’s newest attraction is like.

Surprisingly, the people who came in droves with wide-eyed anticipation didn’t come just for the Forest Valley, the Canopy Park, for the thousands of trees all over, and not even just for the crown jewel of the Jewel, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall called the HSBC Rain Vortex. The people also came for the 112 food and beverage outlets housed inside the Jewel.

They wanted to experience for themselves the different home-grown and international food companies that outshone each other, spinning off novel food concepts, and enriching the look and design of their shops.

After April 17, Changi Airport has ceased to become just a place where one catches flights and hang around for duty-free stuff. With its wave of eateries, it has definitely transformed itself into a “nerve and social center” for all food enthusiasts and gourmet adherents.

The man behind the Jewel

The man behind the airport, Moshe Safdie, CC, FAIA, is an Israeli-Canadian architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, and author. He is most identified with Habitat 67, which paved the way for his international career.

Moshe set out to design Jewel Changi Airport not just as a destination, but as an “uplifting and vibrant urban center.” Jewel, as it’s known, is a 1,460,660-square-foot (135,700-square-meter) glass toroidal building that encloses over 235,000 square feet (21,832 square meters) of landscaping, including a five-story garden (called Forest Valley), made up of more than 200 plant species, with walking trails.

Puncturing through the doughnut-shaped structure, slightly off-center, is the 131-foot-tall (40-meter-tall) Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall that falls seven stories from the roof’s oculus.

As to why Jewel was designed the way it is designed, Moshe believes that “Architecture should be rooted in the past, and yet be part of our time and forward looking.”

Coming in and lining up early

When A&W’s rival Shake Shack officially opened during Jewel’s opening, the first person to arrive at the airport came as early as 4:30am which means he waited for 6 hours since Jewel was slated to officially open at 10:30.

Justin Zheng, 37, took a half day from work just to be in the queue ahead of everyone else.” I’m a kiasu Singaporean. This is a new building and a new restaurant, and being first in line for this is a privilege that will never happen again,” Justin said to the media when asked why he got there so early.

Unlike Shake Shack, which opened for the first time at 10am, A&W had been open even during Jewel’s preview period. It was reported that customers queued an average of 3 hours for their food.

At approximately 11am on Wednesday, there were more than 50 people queuing at the fast food restaurant – A&W’s first in Singapore in more than a decade.

One eager customer who didn’t give her name, said she had been waiting since 7:45am because she thought A&W was going to be open 24 hours.

The queue outside Shake Shack had grown so long that it snaked around the atrium, split into four barricaded sections. Signs were posted along the queue informing more than 200 customers they could only purchase up to five burgers and flat-top dogs per order. ​​​​​​​

New York native Ted Toth, 52, joined the queue with his wife Nova, 53, at 10am. Mr. Toth, who is based in Singapore and owns an energy services company, said: “I go back to America four or five times every year and eat at Shake Shack at least twice during each visit. “I couldn’t be happier that it has opened in Singapore, and I’m sure I’m going to gain a lot of weight.”

One-stop-shop for home-grown and international food

Just a few of the more than one hundred gastronomic icons setting shop at the Jewel include:

Burger King with its signature flame-grilled burgers, hot and crispy Chicken TenderCrisp and irresistible sides such as Onion Rings.

Then there’s Commons with tis pizzas and food platters and its alfresco setting, huge tables and lounge chairs for those coming in groups.

With only two other outlets in Singapore, Earle Swensen, one of the most established American casual dining franchise is also at Jewel. It features a salad bar buffet covering more than 25 selections of greens also available as a la carte.

Not to be outdone is El Fuego by Collin’s serving contemporary European cuisine. Then there’s also Shang Social, a contemporary restaurant-bar-retail space, with Chinese cuisine served on high tables, a showcase kitchen, plush booth seats, an ice-cream stand and a chic, light-filled cocktail bar.

For the sweet-tooth, there is the popular swiss roll store Rich & Good Cake Shop ready to take on the millennial generation with its sleek gold-rimmed baby pink cake counter and LED screens showing flatlays of its cakes and the baking process.

Taiwanese bubble tea chain KOI is serving more than just frothy shaken tea beverages. In its open-concept sit-down space, KOI Signature Bar offers a  special tea brewing counter fitted with apparatus to concoct beverages made with high mountain tea leaves that are served with pastries.

Tonito, a casual Latin American joint by Michelin Plate Spanish restaurant OLA Cocina Del Mar’s chef Daniel Chavez, is easily one of the most colourful restaurants in Jewel with upholstered wall panels in warm hues of brown, red and grey, and bright yellow and red seats. The menu is equally eye-catching with its array of Latin American sandwiches, skewers and light bites.

So, if you’re hungry, just go to Changi! /TISG

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