The East’s answer to tapas, dim sum can be savoury or sweet, steamed or fried and may be served up in threes in bamboo steamers. Dumplings are often what spring to mind when you think of dim sum, but in fact there’s a huge variety. Dim sum literally means “touch the heart”. They were originally intended as a snack, as they were not substantial enough to touch the stomach – just the heart. Yum cha literally translates as “drink tea”, although the term is used to encompass the whole experience of eating dim sum (or tim sum) with traditional Chinese tea.
But enough about that – so where does one go for dim sum in Singapore? And once you’re there, what should you order? Read on and you’ll never look back (unless otherwise stated, the dim sum price is for three pieces).
For authentic Hong Kong-style dim sum…
Tim Ho Wan
68 Orchard Road, #01-29A Plaza Singapura Atrium Space 6383 2828
Dim sum served: Daily 10am to 10pm.
Reservations: Not taken.
The vibe: It’s very casual and kid-friendly, with little tables and stools to make the most of the small space. Busy waiters deliver plate after plate of food while others rapidly clear tables for waiting customers. Loud and hectic, at times it borders on chaotic as the queue of people snaking outside the door peer restlessly inside. Definitely not a place to linger.
The dim sum: The chef behind Hong Kong-based Tim Ho Wan received a Michelin star in 2009. This claim to fame propelled him to open another three outlets, plus this Singapore branch in April. All dim sum is made to order, in authentic Hong Kong style. The number one menu item is baked bun with barbecue pork, and one taste explains why: the exterior is crunchy and crumbly, the barbecue pork inside oozing a sweet-and-salty sauce. Other popular items that satisfied our expat taste buds were the steamed egg cake, prawn dumpling and vermicelli rolls.
Our top three: baked bun with barbecue pork ($4.50), beancurd skin roll with shrimp ($5.50), and garlic, mushroom and spinach dumpling ($3.80).
For a 1920s Shanghai-style bar…
6D Dempsey Road 6471 1711
Dim sum served: Saturday – Sunday, 11am to 4pm.
Reservations: Recommended if you want one of the cosy tables at the main bar, otherwise there’s alfresco seating and a private cellar for larger groups.
The vibe: Jiu Zhuang is tucked in behind CMPB, holding on to the last strip of the barracks before the jungle reigns. Stumbling upon the seductively lit, dark wood bar is an unexpected revelation – who knew Dempsey had this little gem hiding in the corner?
The dim sum: The surprises continue inside: dim sum, made daily by the in-housesifu (master), is served as bar snacks alongside exotic small bites like deep-fried fish skin ($8) and chilled jellyfish ($6).
Our top three: Jiu Zhuang xiao long bao infused with whisky ($10), guo tie with minced pork filling with foie gras ($12) and petit beef patties with Chinese buns ($12).
Tea: Forget tea. This is a premium pour bar, so there’s everything from spirits to Champagne, wine, Chinese wine and sake. Get in the spirit of the era and order the one and only beer on the menu – Tsingtao served traditional-style in porcelain bowls. Or go for the exquisitely clean-tasting sake Onnajoshu Junmai Daigino Premium with Gold Flakes ($70 for 300ml) and they’ll bring you a tray of assorted sake glasses to choose from.
Need to know: Brunch is now available on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm.
For PS Café-style chi-chi chic…
Block 10 Dempsey Road, #01- 23 9224 6611
Dim sum served: Monday to Friday, 11.30am to 4pm; weekends, 9.30am to 4pm. Steamed dim sum can be ordered as appetisers during dinner.
The vibe: The charming setting of this black-and-white ex-army barrackscomplete with alfresco balcony for that balmy tropical feeling couldn’t be less traditional. ChoPSuey’s cuisine follows suit; the Westernised Chinese fare makes it a great place for the uninitiated expat. Lunch on a weekday sees a practically full house, mostly “ladies who lunch”.
The dim sum: Served on silver trays for an elegant sense of occasion. Old favourites are re-jigged; there’s fusion dim sum like pumpkin and cod dumpling ($9), or try the grilled pork and roasted coconut salad ($16).
Our top three: Flakey char siew ($9) painted a pretty pink with beetroot juice, prawn toasties ($16) and sharing mains like rusty nails ($24) – grain-fed beef short ribs in orange sauce.
Tea: No such thing. Untraditional is the name of the game; it’s cocktails all the way. Try the stunning Tickled Pink ($19) with pickled pink ginger, or the Mandarin Margarita ($19).
For dressed-up dim sum…
29 Tanglin Road, The St. Regis Singapore 6506 6887
Dim sum served: Weekdays 12pm to 2.30pm; weekends 12pm to 3pm.
Reservations: Recommended, especially if you’re keen on securing a semi-private table along the wall. For brunch, definitely book ahead.
The vibe: Break out your pearls, ladies – this is dim sum for the distinguished. Trolley service? Of course not. Here, impeccably trained waiters present impeccably prepared dumplings to impeccably dressed clientele.
The dim sum: Classic Cantonese all the way, with old-school favourites executed with impressive precision. Here, the vegetable dumpling wouldn’t dare comingle its contents; rather, each veggie shines in its own discrete pocket. If you tend to shy away from dim sum due to suspect pork products and shoddily cleaned prawns, this is your place. The quality of the ingredients is kiss-your-fingertips good. Our top three: Steamed lobster dumpling with asparagus ($4 for one), oven-baked barbecue pork char siew ($6), steamed salted egg yolk bun ($5.80).
Tea: Speaking of pearls, inside each pot of Morning Blossom Pearl tea, a red carnation unfurls atop a bed of green tea leaves as they steep.
Need to know: For unlimited dim sum and Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve, book a table for the weekend Champagne brunch, available Saturday and Sunday for $158, or $98 without bubbly.
For classy yet well-priced…
Royal China at Raffles Hotel
328 North Bridge Road, #03-09 Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade 6338 3363
Dim sum served: 12pm to 3pm on weekdays; two lunchtime slots from 11.30am at weekends.
Reservations: A day in advance is fine.
The vibe: Think Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the film, as it’s always fun to wear an over-the-top dress to Raffles; and the jewellery store, because the stunning restaurant is lavishly decorated in robin egg blue – meets traditional dim sum, with a spot of violin music thrown in for good measure. But don’t be put off by the posh exterior – Royal China attracts a fun mix of clientele of all ages.
The dim sum: Traditional Cantonese dim sum with a Western twist gives Royal China an experimental edge, with a menu that features a massive fusion of ingredients from all over the place. If you tend, like me, to get boggled by huge menus, there are countless staff to help you choose well. I trusted manager Danny’s recommendations – traditional items such as freshly steamed prawns ($5.60 for four pieces), plus exciting combinations like scallop and yam dumplings ($5.60), which were a particular highlight.
Our top three: Steamed bun with salted egg and mango ($4.80), vegetable dumplings ($5.40) and barbecue pork puff ($4.80). Tea: Swap tea for an original Singapore Sling.
Need to know: The dim sum menu changes at least once a year to introduce creative new dishes.
For traditional trolley dim sum…
22 Scotts Road, Goodwood Park Hotel 6730 1704
Dim sum served: Monday to Saturday 11.30am to 2.30pm; Sunday 11am to 2.30pm.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends and public holidays.
The vibe: Oriental décor with a contemporary twist – wooden floors and elegant, high-back chairs lend a refined vibe, complete with warm lighting and soft music. Attentive service ensured our teacups were never empty for long and our plates were changed regularly.
The dim sum: Steamed dim sum dishes are done especially well at Min Jiang. The steamed xiao long bao ($7) stood up to the chopstick test – it didn’t break when lifted by its twirled tip and dipped in vinegar – and featured a flavourful, meaty broth. The carrot crystal prawn dumpling ($4.80), a soup-based variation of the usual crystal shrimp dumpling har kau ($4.80), deserves a mention too. The chicken claws in gui lin sauce ($4.20) – my all-time favourite dim sum dish – were some of the best I’ve ever tried in Singapore. As for the baked dim sum, the flaky baked barbecue pork pastry ($4.20) and melt-in-your-mouth mini egg tarts ($4.20) will have you craving more.
Our top three: Baked barbecue pork pastry ($4.20), deep-fried Sichuan onion pancakes ($7) and steamed xiao long bao ($7).
Tea: Had one dim sum too many? The ginseng oolong tea ($15) has a light, refreshing taste and aids digestion.
Need to know: Besides the à la carte dim sum lunch, Min Jiang also offers adim sum high tea buffet on weekends and public holidays from 3pm to 5.30pm ($32.80 per adult and $16.40 per child).
Tip: Looking for other trolley dim sum? Try Yum Cha (20 Trengganu Street) and Red Star (54 Chin Swee Road). Neither takes bookings, so expect to queue.
For traditional with contemporary touches
Hai Tien Lo…
Hai Tien Lo
7 Raffles Boulevard, Pan Pacific Hotel 6826 8338
Dim sum served: Selected dim sum during the week, and à la carte all-you-can-eat dim sum buffet on weekends; 11.30am to 2.30pm. Reservations: Advised for the weekend.
The vibe: Family-friendly and social. Diners are greeted by two Chairman Mao statuettes and enter a restaurant full of dark wood, red pillars and wooden dividers with Chinese motifs, alongside a stunning view of the hotel’s newly renovated modern atrium, lobby and bar.
The dim sum: Cantonese with a contemporary twist, Chef Lai Tong Ping’s signature dishes include lobster in lemon butter sauce and deep-fried spare ribs in Chef’s special sauce.
Our top three: Szechuan-style chicken with dried chilli and cashew nuts, quick-fried Hokkaido scallops with seasonal vegetables, and wok-fried sliced beef with onion and black pepper sauce (all part of the buffet).
Tea: White Royal Peony tea was a light and delicate white tea, with a hint of apricot and English rose ($6).
Need to know: The à la carte buffet is for a minimum of two diners; adults pay $68 and children $38.
For good old traditional…
5 Raffles Avenue, Marina Square, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Level 5 6885 3500
Dim sum served: 12pm to 2.30pm weekdays for à la carte; weekend brunch, 11am to 3.30pm (two sittings).
Reservations: Advisable, particularly at weekends.
The vibe: Whitewashed exposed brick walls, carpeted floor with some areas of slate, and dark timber beams with Asian carvings and brass hinges give the restaurant an Oriental feel. White linen placemats, brocade-covered menus and attentive staff add to the fine-dining experience, although the larger tables create a good buzz in the restaurant.
The dim sum: Mainly traditional Cantonese dim sum, with some more contemporary items such as baked abalone turnover with minced chicken and mushroom ($22, 1 piece) and steamed yin-yang seafood dumpling with spinach, black moss and egg white ($7).
Our top three: Steamed lobster and scallop dumplings with black truffle ($10, 1 piece), steamed Kurobuta char siew in fluffy bao ($6), steamed crabmeat dumplings with cordyceps flower ($7).
Tea: A wide selection of teas including jasmine, chrysanthemum, Longjing, Pu-er, Tie Guan Yin and Cherry Garden’s signature Emerald Tea.
Need to know: A dim sum buffet brunch is available at weekends for $68 per person. This includes free-flow dim sum and one soup, appetiser, main course and dessert. The buffet carries some items not available on the weekday à la carte dim sum menu.
For an upscale post-shopping stop…
2 Orchard Turn, #04-07 ION Orchard, 6509 9660
Dim sum served: Weekdays 11.30am to 3pm; weekends 11am to 4.30pm. Last orders at 2.30pm and 3.30pm respectively.
Reservations: Queues aren’t uncommon, especially at weekends, so call ahead to reserve a table.
The vibe: Part of the Paradise Group, Taste Paradise may be slap-bang in one of Singapore’s hippest shopping centres. But glide down the pathway toward its dining hall, past the carved image of a Chinese peony tree, and it’s all refined elegance; rows of gold slates on the ceiling, reminiscent of a dragon, up the cool factor.
The dim sum: My chopsticks made light work of the classic Cantonese dim sum. An extra special mention must go to the steamed custard buns – bite carefully as hot, sweet liquid comes spilling out of the dough; and the cheong-fun served with deep-fried eggplant and minced pork – the crispy pork on the inside and the smooth roll on the outside were a moreish combination.
Our top three: Steamed custard buns ($5.80), cheong-fun ($5.80), and steamed prawn and chive dumplings ($4.80). Tea: Sip on a selection of teas, from chrysanthemum and jasmine, to royal ginseng oolong and Pu Er. Design gurus should visit just to check out the long-stemmed silver teapot it’s poured from.
Need to know: Main-dining hall aside, there are private rooms of varying sizes dotted around the restaurant if you’re after a more intimate space.
For inventive dim sum with a view…
Szechuan Court & Kitchen
Level 3 at The Fairmont, 80 Bras Basah Road 6431 6156
Dim sum served: Daily from 12.00pm to 2.15pm
Reservations: If you’d like a window booth for views of the two durians (the Esplanade theatres) and the soaring Marina Bay Sands, then reserve one in advance.
The vibe: Bright and light-filled, with family-friendly private rooms. We saw a fair few diners with shopping bags from Robinsons, conveniently located nearby.
The dim sum: We were impressed by the inventiveness of some of the dim sum on offer. The steamed fish maw and seafood dumplings were wrapped in a translucent black squid ink skin – something we’ve never seen before. Another surprise was when the lids were lifted off the steamers to reveal the scallop and pumpkin dumplings; we couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Three little orange pumpkins sat plump and mischievous-looking, their sticky wrappers giving way to sweet pumpkin and al dente scallops.
Our top three: Steamed fish maw and seafood dumpling ($8.80), scallop and pumpkin dumpling ($8.80), roast duck and pancakes ($88 whole duck or $50 half duck on request).
Tea: The tea list is impressive, from red and white to green tea. One stood out; Morning Blossom Pearl tea ($15 per person) with a carnation bud wrapped in green tea leaves that blooms on contact with hot water. It’s said to help clear the complexion and regulate breathing, and it’s high in antioxidants.
Need to know: The dim sum menu was brand new as of last month.
Even MORE dim sum restaurants worth trying…
The Cathay Restaurant: 2 Handy Road, #02-01 The Cathay, 6732 7888
Crystal Jade Palace: Flagship at 391 Orchard Road, #04-19 Ngee Ann City, 6735 2388
Din Tai Fung: Branches island-wide: dintaifung.com.sg
Hua Ting: 442 Orchard Road, Level 2 Orchard Hotel, 6739 6666
Jiang-Nan Chun: 190 Orchard Boulevard, Four Seasons Hotel, 6831 7220