The Scarlet Chinatown
Header: 24-HOUR ROOM SERVICE THE SCARLET CHINATOWN

A tucked-away parade of restored shop houses in the heart of Chinatown conceals a dark secret. Lurking within is The Scarlet, its name and sultry interior hinting at an insalubrious past. These days the hotel describes itself as "a gracious hostess", but 140 years ago this sleek boutique was a brothel that housed many of the Chinese women who were brought to Singapore to work as prostitutes. Inside, the past has been reworked in a positive fashion, with boudoir-style opulent crimson, black and gold decor, and suggestively named suites (though "swank" and "passion" feels as if they're overegging the pudding). The extravagant lobby sets the tone with a mirror-glossy black marble floor, illuminated by a jewel-bedecked chandelier. Swank is very masculine, with platinum hues, heavy silk curtains, tasselled cushions, quirky ceramics on the walls and a glossy black granite bathroom. Passion is more playful, with four-poster bed, flock lampshades and cerise décor. The small bedroom opens onto a balcony with a hot tub and daybed. "Splendour" features a wildly elaborate gold-framed mirror in the bathroom. Even the unnamed rooms are lavishly decorated, with suede bedheads, vast mirrors and sloped, beamed ceilings. The theme continues at Desire, the restaurant, where the chairs are trussed up with corsets. The Mediterranean menu features anything from cauliflower veloute to braised pig's cheeks and chocolate tart. More laid-back is the roof terrace bar and restaurant Breeze, with views across the city.

LOCATION

The Scarlet, 33 Erskine Road Chinatown, Singapore (00 65 6511 3333; www.thescarlethotel.com). The hotel occupies a row of 19th-century shuttered shophouses and an iconic art deco Sino-British storefront in up-and-coming Chinatown. The area has a village-like feel that contrasts with much of the city. Time from international airport: Changi is about a 30-minute taxi ride; the hotel is halfway between Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar MRT stations, both a 10-minute walk.

COMFORTABLE?

The hotel is within a conservation area so there were restrictions when converting the interior to its current purpose. To compensate for their diminutive size, rooms feature custom-made furniture. Despite being barely 18 months old, the hotel feels established, cosy and lived in; in most cases, there is plenty of natural light. The attention to detail is impressive too: from 200-thread count bedlinen to soft wool carpets. For guests who arrive before check in, or have to catch a late flight, there's a small spa area called Soda, with rooftop Jacuzzis and sun loungers. Freebies: a set of own-brand Flair toiletries. Keeping in touch: flat-screen TVs, DVD players, free broadband in the rooms and free Wi-Fi in the lobby.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms start at S$293 (£97), room only. I'm not paying that: Link (00 65 6622 8585; www.linkhotel.com.sg) is a brand new boutique hotel for budget-minded travellers near Outram Road in the Tiong Bahru housing estate. Individually designed rooms start at S$196 (£65), room only. SOPHIE LAM

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