Sunday, May 20, 2012

Swatow Seafood Restaurant @ Toa Payoh

After spending Saturday afternoon at Swatow Seafood Restaurant, everyone in the family agreed that you've got to be feeling caveman-hungry if you wish to have a shot at every offering at Swatow's high-tea buffet.

I'm not a sucker for buffets because I have all idea how much money I'll be flushing down the drain. But for Dad's birthday, it's worth gorging (just this very once in a while). Swatow is one of the must-go mid-range restaurants for authentic Teochew fare and seafood, as well as Hong Kong dim sum buffet. I've heard a lot from peers, I've seen a lot from a local TV show, and I was dying to get my chopsticks into some good dim sum.

But first of all, you have to make a reservation at least a few days prior to your visit, and queue your way in even with a reservation. I have no qualms about such a system; I'd rather burn extra calories waiting in line to be ushered in without jostling and shoving than to endure bad crowd management. Despite some grouses from my folks for having to wait, I convinced them with the cliched line that it's going to be worth the wait.

Minutes after being led to our table, we were served bowls of shark's fin soup and kueh pie ti shells stuffed full with a mixture of abalone cubes, cucumber and seafood stick tossed in a savoury wasabi mayo sauce.

The shells were crispy and frangrant, and the sauce teased the tastebuds in the most amazing ways. I didn't touch the shark's fin soup, but it looked pretty blah. My parents didn't finish their share.

The rest of the dim sum was served either on pushcarts or on huge trays carried around by the staff. They would go around asking how many servings of the items you wish to have, so as to prevent food wastage by serving fixed portions. The variety of fried and steamed dim sum was pretty impressive, but I had expected no less than that because of the price.

Tempura prawns

Chee Cheong Fun (with char siew, prawns or scallops)
The Chee Cheong Fun was light-tasting and generously stuffed with ingredients. I had the urge to slurp up all the fragrant sauce and leave the Chee Cheong Fun at my sisters' disposal.

Variety of dim sum (including vegetarian options)
Dim sum at Swatow is, on the contrary, catered to vegetarian tastebuds as well. Their vegetarian dumplings were stuffed with chopped mushrooms, turnip and cabbage, and went extremely well with chili sauce (strangely). In fact, almost every dim sum went well with chili sauce. Weird. Of course, they have the usual Har Kow (prawn dumplings), Siew Mai (meat dumplings) braised chicken feet, steamed pork ribs and Char Siew Bao (rost pork buns). But that's entirely missing the point about dim sum at Swatow.

My mum almost launched out of her seat like a kid on her birthday when she spotted a waitress pushing a cart around with braised fatty meat and buns. We never anticipated that Swatow would serve braised pork buns, but I'm glad they did. By then everyone was pretty much up to our necks with food already. But who cared about stopping?

Another surprise came in the form of laksa. Yes, you read it right - laska for a dim sum buffet. One serving is approximately one small soup bowl, so you can get one bowl to share if you're saving the space in your stomach for something else. Other stuff-in-a-bowl to try: century egg porridge (MUST-HAVE), curried fishballs, braised pig veins with carrots and potatoes.

Fried mango-prawn rolls (worth a bite, unless you're still hungry)

And then the star of the show appeared. The entire restaurant started to hustle.

Egg yolk custard bun
 Whatever they call this - Nai Huang Bao, Liu Sha Bao - all that matters is that flowy paste of salted egg yolk and custard. You either peel it open with great care and precision and spill equal amounts of filling into each half, or take the whole bun in one mouthful. The end product: an overwhelming warmth that invades all your senses, starting from your tastebuds. The ecstasy is addictive. Take half if it's your first time, because you'll be dying for a dozen after the first bite. The sesame buns are also recommended if you don't mind sesame in copious amounts.

Almond longan jelly
My sweet tooth could only complain about the limited variety of dessert. Apart from almond longan jelly, there's also green ice jelly, pumpkin paste (below), grass jelly, mango pudding and red bean dessert. The almond jelly was nondescript, the green ice jelly was surprisingly refreshing and the mango pudding was too sweet for my liking. The pumpkin paste was well-liked, though I'd wish they hadn't topped it with parsley.

Pumpkin paste
Update (5/8/2012):

Apparently, my lunch kakis are insatiable when it comes to dim sum, so we headed there for my farewell lunch (yes I'm shifting!).

Apart from introducing the Liu Sha Bao to one of them, I also took the liberty to indulge in my favourite eggtarts. Each eggtart is no larger than a quarter of your palm, so you don't have to worry about sacrificing tummy space for them.

They made the Ee Fu noodles here real good, unlike those slurpy and soggy versions served during Chinese wedding banquets. Just to note, it's more than just a little oily, so those with concerns should steer clear. It's a good tummy filler if the porridge selection didn't satisfy you. Each portion can be split into about 4 small soup bowls for sharing.

The steamed carrot cake was forgettable, unfortunately.

Service was close to flawless. The service staff constantly weaved between the rows of tables topping up tea, serving up piping hot cuisine, attending to requests, clearing empty plates, etc. They would also give us time to decide how many servings we wanted, and would gladly accede to our request to cut our dim sum into smaller pieces for sharing. I've read several other reviews criticizing the lousy service, the cold food, the way the food was served... I've been fortunate enough that none of those occurred during my dining trip there.


  • Do make reservations, as they will admit those who have made reservations first.
  • Buffet on weekends is from 3-5pm.
  • There's a free flow of Chinese tea, barley and plum cordial.

Ambience: 2.5/5 (be mentally prepared for the lively atmosphere)
Food: 4.5/5 (much of this went to the custard buns)
Price: $$ (S$22.80++ per adult on weekends)
Service: Poor/Fair/Good/Excellent

Eat where:
Swatow Seafood Restaurant
181 Toa Payoh Lorong 4, #02-602
Tel: 6363 1717

Also recommended by: Food PhdMyWorldMyLifeLiveIt (Custard and Egg Yolk Buns)


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  3. Great introduction of the food. I will visit there this week. Thanks.