In celebration of my birthday, my pals Daniel and Hazel took me out to have dim sum lunch at Royal China situated inside Raffles Hotel. Incidentally, last year one of my friends had wanted to take me here but we couldn’t get a reservation at the last minute. So a year later for the same occasion (how coincidental), I finally got to eat at Royal China. This is indeed a very popular restaurant and you must make advance reservation in order to secure a table.
The interior of Royal China is elegantly decorated with nuevo-Asian motifs and the space is swathed with lovely Tiffany Blue-ish color. I like the soaring high ceilings and regal high-backed chairs – an indication of a genteel dining experience in this space. (Read: fancy-schmancy.)
We asked the waitress what the signature dim sum dishes are and she recommended a couple of items which I’ll elaborate on below.
But first, I want to share with you a simple graphic which I put together in order to help you identify and decipher the Cantonese terms that I will be using in this post to refer to the dim sum items. I’m accustomed to ordering dim sum in Cantonese (yes, I speak it!) so consider the graphic below as a PSA.
The items above are what my friends and I normally order at dim sum (back in NY). These are our staple dim sum items often shared in a round table of ten to twelve friends. I enjoy dim sum a lot because for me, it’s not so much about the eating but more about the social gathering, catching up with friends in between nibbles of dainty steamed dishes and sips of Chinese tea – often jasmine or chrysanthemum.
I must say that har gow is usually a default dim sum order for most; a dim sum session doesn’t feel complete without these little shrimp-filled steamed dumplings. These were really well-executed at Royal China, the shrimp filling was succulent while the skin was thin and delicate. I recall one time I had har gow at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland, CA and the skin was so friggin’ thick and not fully cooked; I chalked those up as the worst har gow I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Siew mai is also a default standard order for most, imo. The siew mai at Royal China tasted great, I liked the little touch of a goji berry to add color over these shrimp and pork steamed dumplings.
The menu stated this as lo pak gou (steamed shredded daikon radish cake mixed with bits of dried shrimps and pork sausage) and what arrived to the table wasn’t the usual rectangular blocks that’s been pan-fried (ie. Cantonese style). However, this Singaporean hybrid version – stirfried with omelette and bean sprouts – was very tasty. The pieces of radish cake were fluffy and flavorful, with a nice robust aroma of wok-smokiness. (That’d be my best concise translation of “wok hei”; it’s kinda like the essence imparted by a hot wok on food during stir frying and it brings about an additional flavor and aroma of smokiness to enhance a dish.)
This wu kok is a fancified version as it contained scallops. Typically, wu kok – deep fried mashed taro – is stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork. I thought this was alright as the batter was too salty for me.
Mango and Shrimp Spring Roll – I don’t have a Cantonese term for this as these aren’t common in Cantonese dim sum restaurants; I think perhaps it’s a Singaporean creation? Either way, the waitress claimed this was one of Royal China’s signature dim sum dishes and I was sorely disappointed because the flavors and textures just didn’t cut it for me. I didn’t think this was special enough to be a representative dim sum dish for the restaurant. I have had this elsewhere (Szechuan Court at Fairmont Hotel) and it was much tastier and crispier there.
Ever since I moved to Singapore, I have taken a very big liking on this Salted Egg Yolk Custard Bun – fondly referred to in Cantonese as lau sa bao. Therefore I almost never pass up the chance to order these whenever they are available on the menu and was happy Royal China had them. I ended up being disappointed by these though because the custard filling didn’t have the right texture for me (a little too congealed and greasy), while the bun itself was too dough-y and not as fluffy/airy like versions I’ve tried elsewhere.
For those of you who are also big fans of lau sa bao, can you share with me in the comment box below the best places where you’ve had them before?
In lieu of a birthday cake, I ordered the Mango Sago Pomelo dessert – which… uhm, I thought my own version which I made at home with bird’s nest fared much better than Royal China’s version. :X Heh! This was also too overpriced and I definitely do not recommend this. Still, it was good to have a palate cleanser to cap off our meal. I always need to have something mildly sweet at the end of dim sum (somehow we forgot to order daan tart that day; must be the food coma setting in already.)
Anyhoo, like I’ve written above, dim sum has always been more of a social affair for me more than actual gastronomy. Even though the dim sum dishes weren’t all bad, I enjoyed the company of both Daniel and Hazel more.
Oh, I just had to throw in this photo because (1) Daniel and I were unintentionally matchy-matchy in our choice of outfit colors, and (2) the Raffles Hotel corridor at the background is so grand! Raffles Hotel is really a very beautiful space that befits its historical landmark in Singapore status. The colonial-style architectural details are such a visual delight.
In conclusion, Royal China is a-okay. The har gows and siew mais were excellent. The other dishes were not terrible, but they weren’t a homerun for me. For the price (and reputation), my expectations were somewhat let down. Royal China boasts itself as a prestigious and authentic Chinese restaurant with six locations in London and one in Dubai, before opening its doors in Singapore. Plus supposedly it’s renowned for their dim sum, so naturally I had high expectations.
Anyway, when it comes to dim sum, I’m always down for ghetto ole’skool Chinatown style with pushcarts. Can never go wrong with those if we’re gonna talk about authentic flavors without any bells and whistles, and they are easy on the wallets too. Fancy lor pak gous I hardly crave, but sweet and tender fung jow served piping hot in recycled-dunno-how-many-thousand-times bamboo steamers gets me excited.
I shall leave you with this awesome love ballad, aptly titled “Dim Sum Girl”, by one of my fave Asian American rappers/bands – The Notorious MSG. I always chuckle whenever I hear this song. Btw, GUYS!!! You need to make an official music video for this kick-ass song. Please!!!
Click the play button to listen to: Dim Sum Girl.
Yo, this song goes out to all you sexy girls who push that dim sum cart all over the world. You know who you are, babies… You work so hard and we love you so much. Check it out yo:
It’s been so long since I see you smile
Looking so good coming down that aisle
With sexy dress and a little dim sum
Make me crazy when I order chow fun
People – they’re telling me
That I shouldn’t bother with a lady
Like you – you rock my world
Yes you – my dim sum girl