Photo: Imperial Treasure Cantonese Cuisine
Dim sum has always been comfort food in Singapore, owing to many early Cantonese migrants bringing these wonderful little dishes to our little island. Through the decades, Singapore’s dim sum culture has also evolved include dishes from other styles like Shanghainese, Szechuan, as well as unique local modifications like multi-flavoured har gao (prawn dumplings).
Many restaurants in Singapore only serve dim sum in the morning till mid-afternoon, before switching to a different dinner menu. This is traditionally a meal that is for the early birds, though these days are some establishments that serve dim sum throughout the day. We round up 23 of the top dim sum dishes in Singapore, and offer suggestions on what you should order alongside.
For a dim sum buffet selection with premium ingredients
Walk through the oriental wooden doorway into this restaurant that has been designed to mimic a Chinese courtyard. Like its surroundings, Cherry Garden’s weekend dim sum buffet ($79.55 per person) selection is mostly traditional, with a few new touches like the escargot puff pastry ($5.80). What Cherry Garden excels in is using fresh and premium ingredients to make the standard dim sum even more outstanding. The glazed kurobuta char siew pau (three for $5.80) is probably the best char siew pau we’ve had, ever. We hear the waitilist for this restaurant can go up to a few weeks – best book now.
BOOK A TABLE HERE | Cherry Garden | Address: 6 Raffles Boulevard, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Level 5 | Dim sum serving hours: Sat & Sun 11am-1pm, 1.30pm-3.30pm
For vast dim sum buffet with premium offerings
The Hai Tien Lo dim sum brunch buffet ($79.50 per person) comes with one premium Buddha Jumps Over the Wall soup, as well as one braised abalone per person. The vast menu also sees Teochew- and Thai-influenced dishes offered in the dim sum brunch. The quick-fried Hokkaido scallops is freshly sweet, while the double-boiled chicken soup is full of flavour yet light to the sip. Although no longer on the 37th floor, this grand and lavish dining hall still holds many elements that will remind diners of a Chinese emperor's palace.
Hai Tien Lo | Address: 7 Raffles Boulevard, Pan Pacific Hotel, Level 3 | Tel: 68268240 | Dim sum serving hours: Sat & Sun 11.30am-2pm
For best overall dim sum selection
Helmed by chef Chung Lap Fai, Hua Ting is an excellent choice for mid- to high-range dim sum. We were impressed by almost every dish: the baked mango with chicken tart ($4.50) and double-boiled Cantonese soups are our favourites. The liu sha bao (salted yolk custard buns, $4.20) is thick, creamy with a hint of salty graininess and smooth skin. Even the special-of-the-day vegetarian dim sum (made with mushrooms and Chinese wine, $4.20) was good, given that we don’t usually order vegetarian dishes. A couple of tips: this Cantonese restaurant is typically packed, so make reservations at least two days ahead. Ask for its homemade XO chilli sauce to go with your dim sum as well, you won’t regret it.
Hua Ting Restaurant | Address: 442 Orchard Rd, Level 2 Orchard Hotel | Tel: 67396666 | Dim sum serving hours: Mon-Fri 11.30am-2.30pm, Sat & Sun 11am-2.30pm
For exceptional Cantonese dining experience
Concentrating mainly on authenticity, Imperial Treasure serves wonderfully crafted dim sum prepared by their Hong Kong chefs. The quality is consistent at this branch, as it is at the many branches of Imperial Treasure (like at Nan Bei or La Mian Xiao Long Bao), but Imperial treasure Cantonese Cuisine has the best selection. The dim sum dishes with fresh prawn are crunchy and delicious, like the prawn cheong fun ($5.50) and siew mai ($4.80), while the banana roll with bean paste ($3.60) is a dessert you don't come across often in Singapore.
Imperial Treasure Cantonese Cuisine | Address: 1 Kim Seng Promenade, #02-05A/6, Great World City | Tel: 67322232 | Dim sum serving hours: Daily 10.30am-3pm
For dim sum buffet with the tai tais
The second most expensive dim sum buffet on our list, Man Fu Yuan’s dim sum brunch is available daily at $103 per person. Decorated with butterfly lamps and peony flowers, this restaurant exudes a nostalgic yet classy atmosphere. The dim sum served is handcrafted and premium; try the mango prawn roll with wasabi (three for $5) which has perfectly fried skin, and the juicy dumpling with foie gras (three for $5). We love the latter’s combination of East and West ingredients.
Man Fu Yuan | Address: 80 Middle Rd, Intercontinental Hotel (2nd floor) | Tel: 68251062 | Dim sum serving hours: Daily 11.45am-2.30pm
For modern dim sum
The first Peach Garden opened in Novena Gardens in 2002 as a place for up to 140 diners in search of good Cantonese cuisine to gather. Since then, they have opened seven more outlets in Singapore. The modern style dim sum at Peach Garden is made with a mix of Asian methods including the Thai style. The fried liu sha bao ($3.90), roast pork cubes ($12) and XO chilli carrot cake ($10) are must-tries and perfect when washed down with a tall glass of Coca-Cola. Though Peach Garden also offers a very affordable high tea dim sum buffet at $24.35 per person on weekends and public holidays (from 3pm to 5pm). Service is attentive and conscientious, making it an apt choice of restaurant for business and family dinners. Note: the dim sum buffet has been temporarily stopped for the Chinese New Year 2014 period, and will resume on the first weekend of March.
BOOK A TABLE HERE | Peach Garden | Address: Level 3, Miramar Hotel, 401 Havelock Road and five other locations | Dim sum opening hours: Sat, Sun & public holidays 11am-2.30pm; High tea dim sum buffet Sat, Sun & public holidays 3-5pm
For excellent dim sum in upscale settings
Royal China has a reputation of serving excellent dim sum in an upscale hotel setting while still being quite reasonably priced. We've heard them to suffer from inconsistent standards from time to time (that's not what we encountered), but the superbly thick liu sha bao sweetened with mango in its custard ($4.80) is excellent. The XO chilli is recommended too, as is the aromatic crispy duck ($28). Make advanced booking as this place is popular and gets booked up. Each seating tends to be quite short – a total of 1hr 15 mins on average.
Royal China at Raffles | Address: 1 Beach Rd, #03-09, Raffles Hotel Arcade | Tel: 63383363 | Dim sum serving hours: Mon-Sat noon-3pm, Sun and public holidays 11am-3pm
For affordable all-night dim sum
This is one of Singapore’s oldest and most successful roadside dim sum places, and one of few that open all night, six days a week. Although Swee Choon has raised prices, the dim sum is still very affordable. The Swee Choon mee suah kueh (vermicelli cake, $2) is a rare dim sum find in Singapore – vermicelli packed together into a cake and pan-browned on the outside to a crisp. Other notable dishes to order: fluffy char siew bao (three for $1.80) and the fiery chao shou (big wonton-like dumplings topped with sesame paste and chilli oil, four for $3.50). Take note of the appetizer and napkin charges.
Swee Choon | Address: 191 Jalan Besar | Tel: 62257788 | Dim sum serving hours: Wed-Mon 6pm-6am
For all-day Michelin-starred dim sum dining
It does not merely have some of the best char siew buns in our world, Tim Ho Wan is also the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant you will find on this planet. Four branches after (Singapore is the first country outside of Hong Kong to have Tim Ho Wan branches), the queues are still way too long – the Plaza Singapura branch has a record waiting time of up to two hours. Still, many queue up for their baked bun with barbecue pork (three for $4.50), cheong fun with pig’s liver (vermicelli rolls, $5.50) and ma lai gao (steamed egg cake, $3.80). You’re better off going to the Toa Payoh outlet at odd hours like 3pm if you want to skip the queuing. Other branches include those at Westgate Mall and Bedok Mall. The quality across the branches is the same, for the most part.
Tim Ho Wan| Address: 450 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh #02-02, ERA Centre, and three other locations | Tel: 62512000 | Dim sum serving hours: Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 9am-10pm
For a traditional and modern Cantonese dim sum hideaway
Tucked in the crevices of Sunshine Plaza is this once-very-affordable dim sum kitchen; it raised prices after its Hong Kong-style 'little hearts' began to get popular. The folk at Victor’s Kitchen compensate for this by giving larger-sized dim sum, like in the wet XO sauce carrot cake ($4.50) and siew mai ($4.50). Our favourite dishes are the Chinese rose wine char siew bao ($4.50) which has fluffy skin, and the har gow that comes plump with full prawns. This restaurant gets packed like sardines during lunch and dinner, so come during off-peak hours.
Victor's Kitchen | Address: 91 Bencoolen Street, Sunshine Plaza, #01-21 | Tel: 98382851 | Dim sum serving hours: Tue-Sun: 10.30am-8pm
For more than just affordable 24-hour dim sum
Wen Dao Shi, or 126 Wan Dou Sek in Cantonese, is a place we’ve been visiting for years. The dishes are all really affordable, with one of the largest range of fried dim sum we’ve seen. The 1980s Hong Kong stall lookalike clearly has more than one draw, The prawn cheong fun ($3.80) has – in comparison to most dim sum restaurants – smaller rolls and a thicker sauce, while the pork belly buns ($3.50) are miniature version with thinner skin and pork belly fats within. A tip: although not dim sum, their Thai-style crab bee hoon is amazing and flavourful, and at only $15. Possibly the best value-for-money crab bee hoon in Singapore.
Wen Dao Shi | Address: 126 Sims Avenue | Tel: 67464757 | Dim sum serving hours: Open 24 hours.
For the best (and most expensive) dim sum buffet
Clearly, price equates quality, and Yan Ting has, in our opinion, the best dim sum brunch in Singapore. For $114.70 per person, you get an a la carte brunch buffet that includes dishes like black truffle siew mai, XL xiao long bao, lobster steamed with hua diao wine (all superb). Other Cantonese dishes like 'drunken' chicken are also available. Opt for the morning seating – it's less crowded, so you're be able to admire the elegant, modern interiors of this second-floor St Regis restaurant. Plus the dishes won’t run out as fast.
Yan Ting | Address: 29 Tanglin Rd, St.Regis Hotel (Level 1U) | Tel: 65066887 | Dim sum serving hours: Sat & Sun: 10.30am-12.30pm, 1-3pm
For fuss-free heartland dim sum
Yi Dian Xin is no doubt, the epitome of no frills, fuss-free and cheap hawker dim sum. Located along the popular midnight supper spot of Upper Serangoon, it is easy to miss this little corner shop with massive crowds for Teochew mui (porridge). Things can get a bit messy on a Sunday afternoon as its reputation starts to spread; owner-chef Foong was a former Tung Lok chef. Try the signature liu sha bao ($3) and Yi Dian Xin prawn dumpling ($3) which are extremely worth their price for the quality.
Yi Dian Xin Hong Kong Dim Sum | Address: 1012 Upper Serangoon Road | Tel: 91685587 | Dim sum serving hours: 7am-6pm; closed every alternate Tuesday
Blogger Seth Lui runs his own blog. This story has been edited and adapted from his 'Best dim sums in Singapore History: The Ultimate Guide' post.