We'd decided we needed a change-up from our usual brunch at Cherry Garden, and hence, headed to Hai Tien Lo's Weekend A La Carte Yum Cha Buffet ($68++ for food only; $128++ with alcohol). It's not so much a dim sum buffet as it is a lunch buffet, but notwithstanding the limited range of dim sum, we really liked the buffet here. Hai Tien Lo is renowned for serving up some really exquisite Cantonese cuisine, so it's not too far off that their ala carte buffet would fare well too.
What we liked about Hai Tien Lo is that, unlike many ala carte buffet places, it doesn't have that staggered seating system. Here at Hai Tien Lo, we sat down for the entire duration of the lunch opening and had ourselves an incredibly leisurely brunch. I suppose that was how we managed to finish everything.We were there when it opened at 11.30 am till well past 3 pm after it'd closed.
Service was almost flawless; warm and friendly, if a little bumbling as some of our orders were mixed up.
There were a couple of dishes that are restricted to just a single order per table, like the Steamed Pomfret in chef's special spicy sauce, a plummy sweetish blended chilli paste emulsified with delicate soy. The fish was impossibly fresh, its freshness done justice by steaming to a moist perfection.
The Quick Fried Hokkaido Scallops was so lightly cooked you can still see the faint pink hue in the middle. The creamy scallops were lightly sauteed with sugar snap peas and, in keeping within the family, topped with crisp-fried dried scallops for a salty briny finish.
The Braised Abalone, naturally also a single order per person, was soft and succulent, set atop a smooth beancurd, a broccoli floret and slathered with a luscious oyster gravy.
The soups here were ah-mazing. We loved them all. The Double Boiled Buddha Jumps over the Wall, the last of the single-order-per-person dishes, is usually something I don't eat because I'm not a fan of the dried seafood that goes into it, was superb. The soup had real richness of depth. A whole hunk of shark's fin, chunks of dried scallops, sweet wolfberries, juicy Chinese black mushrooms, deer tendon and cordycep flowers provided texture.
The Double Boiled Chicken Soup was my favourite. It was delicate but oxymoronically packed with flavour. White Fungus and Chinese black mushrooms lent texture.
The collagen-rich Double Boiled Prawn and Preserved Vegetable in Shark Bone Broth wasn't as salty as you'd expect. This was smooth and surprisingly light, with the use of piquant tomatoes to cut through the richness of its collagen base.
The sunshiney Double Boiled Scallop and Pearl Mushroom in supreme chicken stock was creamy, silky, generous with the scallop bits and shimeiji caps, with a mellow base.
For appetizers, we loved nibbling on the light-as-air Thai Style Crispy Fish Skin, made a little tart and spicy by raw shallots and fish-sauced bird's eye chillis.
The Deep Fried Fillet of Sea Perch with salt and pepper, another great snacker, was wonderfully crisp and addictive.
The Crispy Barbecued Pork Belly was decent; tender and salty, proper fat-to-meat-ratio, and crunchy skin, but somehow, generically forgettable.
Generally, the dim sum were unimpressive. They were decent but just lacking in that finesse in execution. The ubiquitous dim sum duo of Steamed Shrimp Dumpling and Steamed Pork Dumpling were juicy, had the right bouncy texture, but clunky. Even if the siew mai was lavishly topped with caviar beads.
The Deep Fried Beancurd Sheet stuffed with Prawn Paste was prettily be-ribboned with a seaweed strip. Crisp golden skin and juicy fresh prawn mince fillings. Too bad it was laced liberally with parsley, urgh.
The Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings stuffed with diced mushrooms and vegetables would have been great but for the overwhelming addition of ginger. I just couldn't make out anything else in this.
Compared to the limited and unmemorable dim sum, the mains made for the better part of lunch. Like the Poached Fresh Prawns, unbelievably fresh and sweet.
The Sauteed Venison, seasoned simply with ginger and spring onion, was juicy and moist, if a tad gamey.
The Braised Pork Chucks were supposedly laced with truffles but there was about one tiny shred of it, and for most part, none of us could tell this was truffled. Still, this was very nicely done. Tender, moist and delicate.
The Sweet and Sour Pork was very commendable, with pickled pink ginger balancing the sweetness of the ketchup-base sauce.
We really liked the Braised Beancurd with conpoy and a trio of century, salted duck and chicken eggs. Saucey and thick and luscious.
The Braised Homemade Beancurd with minced pork and pine mushrooms in chef's homemade XO chilli sauce was another fabulous main. We wiped up that lovely meaty gravy.
The Fragrant Fried Carrot Cake was a lot larger than I'd expected. Each cube was a big mouthful. That said, this had a nice charred crust and soft insides.
For desserts, the Jackfruit and Coconut Pudding was a modern take on the traditional kuehs. Fruity and refreshingly light.
The Matcha Cake was one of the better ones I've had. Moist, airy and nuanced.
The Chocolate Cake used semi-sweet chocolate and a sour strawberry wedge for a balanced sweetness.
Hai Tien Lo
Pan Pacific Hotel Level 3
7 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6826 8240
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner