In the old days, yum cha (Cantonese for ‘drinking tea’) was a simple affair of family and friends whiling away a weekend afternoon over dim sum and sips of Chinese tea. Today, yum cha remains a leisurely affair but with a much more sophisticated edge.
While har gau (prawn dumplings), siew mai (pork dumplings), char siew buns and egg tarts are perennial yum cha favourites, many eateries also boast innovative lip-smacking signature creations. A few restaurants even offer à la carte dim sum buffets paired with premium bubbly or a special blend of tea. The variety does not stop at there — dim sum buffets often come with a dizzying array of soups, mains, noodles, rice and desserts too.
We zoom in on the best places to satiate your dim sum cravings.
Dim sum with a twist
Restaurant atmosphere: With its dark wood decor and intimate Oriental courtyard ambience, Cherry Garden is probably one of the loveliest places to have dim sum. The main dining hall of this modern yet traditional space overlooking the Marina Bay buildings can accommodate only about 70 people, making it really cosy.
What to eat: The steamed dumplings here come with a twist: one is stuffed with prawn and enoki mushrooms and clad in a spinach-tinged skin; the ginger and sesame drunken chicken dumplings are steeped in Chinese rice wine with crunchy shreds of black fungus. Traditionalists can go for the xiao long bao, whose incredibly fine skin hides a burst broth and meat. Cherry Garden also does a flawless honey-glazed kurobuta char siew and silky-skin braised soy chicken. For dessert, we recommend the cream of avocado with walnut ice cream, which is surprisingly light, and the gooey and sticky steamed red bean sponge that will grow on you.
Prices: $48 per person (no alcohol); $118 (with Champagne)
Cherry Garden | Address: Level 5, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Raffles Avenue | Tel: 6885 3538 | Weekend dim sum brunch: 11am–12:30pm; 1.30pm–3pm
Hua Ting Restaurant
Where tai tais and scallops reign
Restaurant atmosphere: Nestled in a quiet end of Orchard Road, Hua Ting never fails to disappoint. Its guests are a mixture of business associates, families and tai tais, and the service is especially efficient and patient.
What to eat: The siew mai with scallops is quite possibly the best in Singapore; the shellfish meat lend an umami-like savory sweetness to the siew mai, and the prawns inside are fresh and the skin around them soft, without being sticky. The cheong fun (rice roll) with char siew comprise ribbon-like slivers of rice flour, wrapped around roasted pieces of meat - a sinful yet comforting delight. Save space for the fish noodle soup - the noodles are actually made of fish, and so have an al dente texture similar to that of fishcakes.
Price: $88 per person with Champagne
Hua Ting | Address: Orchard Hotel, 442 Orchard Road | Tel: 6739 6666 | Weekend dim sum brunch: Sat–Sun 11:30am–2:30pm, 6:30–10.30pm
Colonial without being too formal
Restaurant atmosphere: Simple and sophisticated, this Chinese restaurant in a modern colonial setting is lovely for fine dining without being too formal.
What to eat: Reservations are a must for their insanely popular weekend dim sum à la carte buffet. With 22 dim sum items and a list of appetisers, mains and desserts, there’s a lot to choose from. Some signature dim sum bites to zero in on are the steamed siew mai topped with abalone, the pork-and-chives-stuffed guo tie dumplings and the kid-friendly deep-fried cheese dumplings. Jade’s chefs have also come up with a ‘black’ steamed squid and coriander dumpling for innovation, but our top fave remains the oven-baked egg tart, which is the best we’ve tried. The tiny tart comes hot-off-the oven with a lovely biscuit crust encasing a dollop of custard with a hint of ginger. Beautiful! And there’s the Fullerton Hotel’s exclusively blended Fullerton Express Tea to pair with the food — a soothingly light floral brew that helps to balance the flavours and cut through the grease.
Prices: $36 per person
Jade | Address: Fullerton Hotel, 1 Fullerton Square | Tel: 6877 8188 | Weekend dim sum brunch: 11:30am–1:15pm; 1:45–3:30pm
Elegant traditional, fresh dim sum
Restaurant atmosphere: Perched at the 35th storey of the Mandarin Orchard, this restaurant has a stunning view and also supposedly boasts goodfeng shui. The elegant decor belies a laidback ambience, making this a great place for an unhurried dim sum brunch.
What to eat: Chef Sunny Leong pairs time-tested cooking methods with the freshest ingredients. The result is a huge spread of 80 types of dim sum. We like the fish maw dumplings with century egg and XO sauce; and the braised goose web with shitake mushrooms also gets a thumbs-up. The fluffy, steamed pork buns really live up to their name, and the siew mai with mushrooms don’t disappoint either. We like the desserts, with the lemon jelly and aloe vera in calamansi juice complementing the main meal perfectly.
Price: $48 per person
Mandarin Court | Address: Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, 333 Orchard Road | Tel: 6831 6262 | Weekend dim sum brunch: Sat–Sun 11am–12:30pm, 1–3pm
Casual and cute à la carte
Restaurant atmosphere: Delightfully Oriental with a mix of modern and traditional décor, this is an open, brightly-lit restaurant where you can dine casually.
What to eat: One of the few Chinese restaurants to serve an à la carte dim sum buffet on weekdays and a dim sum brunch on weekends that includes a buffet line of roast meats, seasonal greens, noodles and rice, plus desserts. Peony Jade is also known for its handcrafted animal-shaped dim sum, which look almost too cute to eat. A must-order are the steamed custard buns, which ooze custard with every bite. The steamed meat dumplings in hot and sour sauce are another treat, but the wok-fried carrot cake is a little greasy.
Prices: $25 per person on weekdays; $32 on weekends and public holidays
Peony Jade | Address: Keppel Club, 10 Bukit Chermin Road | Tel: 6276 9138 | Dim sum lunch/brunch: Daily 11am–2:15pm
Stacked Dim Sum Bar
Red House offshoot adds modern twist
Restaurant atmosphere: Less posh than its counterparts above, Stacked is the place to go if you want dim sum with a modern twist. Located in Robertson Quay, it draws a young, working crowd. They share a kitchen with Red House Seafood Restaurant, ensuring that the seafood they use is always fresh. Weekends are family friendly, with movie screenings, games and free popcorn.
What to eat: Dim sum pairs surprisingly well with alcohol, and we especially like the sweet, light North Taiwan lychee beer with the chilli crab pau. The mildly spicy salted egg squid is also a winner; the fresh, chewy fried pieces of squid, coated in salted egg batter, is literally to die for. You can’t go wrong with their scallop pesto dumplings: made of dried scallops, fresh pesto and mayo, they are very, very tasty. Traditionalists will appreciate the har gow and siew mai, which both come with generous servings of fresh prawns.
Price: $23.80 per person
Stacked Dim Sum Bar | Address: #01-13 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay | Tel: 6735 7666 | Weekend dim sum brunch: starts at 10:30am
Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant
Chi-chi atmosphere, fresh dim sum
Restaurant atmosphere: Wan Hao is the perfect for a chi-chi meal. Bear in mind their strict dress code: shirt and trousers are must for men; and no shorts are allowed, even on weekends.
What to eat: The char siew sou (barbequed pork in pastry) was very good, with a fluffy, crumbly and slightly sweet pastry shell. Siew mai and har gow are crucial to any dim sum meal, and here both are freshly made and decent. Other dishes such as the spare ribs with spicy pepper and salt, and the glutinous rice and crystal dumplings are not bad either. The star of the show was the custard bun. Its thick, sweet-savoury and warm taste is just mouthwatering.
Price: $36 per person
Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant | Address: 3/F Marriott Hotel, 320 Orchard Road | Tel: 6831 4615 | Dim sum lunch: Two seatings daily 11am–1pm, 1:30–3pm
CRITIC’S PICK Yan Ting
Free flow dim sum with good vegetarian selection
Restaurant atmosphere: Elegant and spacious, the Cantonese restaurant at St Regis is definitely upper crust. With their fine china, beautiful antiques and smartly upholstered furniture, dim sum brunch here is a classy affair
What to eat: Besides the free flow of dim sum, appetisers, congee, seafood, meats, vegetables, rice and noodles, and desserts, each guest is also served lobster (choose from three styles) and soup, of which we suggest the comfortingly thick and smooth braised fish maw broth with conpoy (dried scallop). The dim sum selection comprises about 17 items with a few delectable vegetarian creations, such as the steamed ‘chrysanthemum’ dumpling with mixed vegetables and spinach and shimeiji mushroom bean curd roulette. For something sweet, go for the crystal water chestnut cake, a sticky snack packed with crunchy water chestnuts served chilled or pan-seared (we highly recommend the latter). Leave room for the many other winning dishes, such as crispy roasted pork (order ahead as it runs out fast), slow-cooked pork belly with man tou, braised homemade spinach tofu and stir-fried beef tenderloin.
Prices: $98 per person (no alcohol); $138 (with sparkling wine); $148 (with champagne)
Yang Ting | Address: Level 1/U St Regis, 29 Tanglin Road | Tel: 6506 6888 | Dim sum lunch: Mon–Fri 11:30am–3pm; Sat–Sun noon- 3pm
Yum Cha Restaurant
Chinatown eatery with pushcarts
Restaurant atmosphere: Everything about this long-standing shophouse eatery, from the interior to the food, is unpretentious. Old school marble-topped tables and wooden chairs will make you feel at home.
What to eat: The à la carte dim sum high tea buffet is very well priced, and, hence, one of the most popular in town. The dim sum menu is also the longest, with over 60 items including desserts. The classics, such as har kau, siew mai and yam puffs, are done well, and the century egg and lean meat congee is done the way we like it — smooth yet not too thick. They also have some unique offerings such as siew mai with spinach, deep-fried prawn and mango sesame fritters and pan-fried pork pancake. The crispy red bean with banana pancake is a must-try from the dessert tray — it oozes smooth red bean paste, which goes so well with the cooked bananas.
Price: $21.80 per person
Yum Cha | Address: #02-01, 20 Trengganu Street | Tel: 6372 1717 | Dim sum high tea: Daily 3–6pm