This year’s Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand awards for Singapore were recently handed out. But do they really represent the best meals you can have here for under $45? These three luscious buffet spreads — that are all in five-star hotels and cost below $40 per head — beg you to reconsider.
1. Local Semi-Buffet Lunch at Lobby Lounge, Shangri-La Singapore
Price: $38 ($19 for children aged 12 and below)
Available: Weekdays, 11.30am-2.30pm.
Don’t let the “semi” fool you — there’s nothing half-done about this local spread where you get to choose one main dish from a selection of six and graze on around 20 others. For one thing, those mains are made according to recipes shared by five of Singapore’s most popular hawker stalls and restaurants, curated by local food blogger Leslie Tay. Shangri-La’s executive Italian chef Franco Brodini and his team then personally visited the hawkers over a period of a few months and learnt to recreate their dishes.
THE LOOK: The hotel’s quietly elegant new cream, lavender, and dark wood-hued Lobby Lounge — a sprawling area that was unveiled in May after an eight-month makeover — is the very unhawker-ish setting for this meal. Not that we’re complaining. Now we can have some of our fave local fare served to us by gracious waitresses as we plonk ourselves on cushy chairs, dig our feet into gorgeous carpeting and enjoy robust air-conditioning. The centrepiece of the dining area: an impressive feature wall by celebrity landscape designer Charlie Albone, from which a mini jungle of live plants cascades.
THE FOOD: Most of the dishes on the a la carte main course list (Prawn Noodle Soup by Beach Road Prawn Mee, Bak Chor Mee by Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle, Katong Laksa by The Original Katong Laksa, Fish Bee Hoon by Ka Soh Restaurant, Hainanese Chicken Rice by the hotel’s culinary team and Chilli Crab & Mantou by Dragon Phoenix Restaurant) are worthy, generously sized recreations of the original versions. The latter even comes with half a fat Sri Lankan crab, never mind that the gravy has a too-sour tang. But the Bak Chor Mee (see main pic) is something else — it’s a dry version topped with stewed mushrooms that’s accompanied by a rich, briny soup laden with quality fish maw, tender pork slices and a runny egg. The soup is so good, we’ve returned for it already.
Note that only the main course is served to you. You help yourself to the rest of the buffet, a mix of Peranakan and Chinese dishes like Nonya Curry Chicken, Sambal Sotong, Kueh Pie Tee and Popiah that complement the mains nicely. Just remember to save room for dessert: a selection of yummy handmade kueh from popular purveyor HarriAnns, including our fave Rainbow Lapis, which looked stiff but turned out to be surprisingly soft and yielding.
BOTTOM LINE: There are those who believe that spending money on a buffet of local food is a waste of money. This levelled-up Singapore spread, with its quality ingredients and posh setting, might change their minds.
2. Dim Sum Buffet Lunch at Jade, The Fullerton Hotel
Price: $39 ($19 for children aged between 6 and 11 years)
Available: Weekends only. Two seatings: 11am-12.45pm and 1.15pm-3pm.
It takes us three tries to get a table at this a la carte dim sum buffet: the first date we pick is booked out; the second has been reserved for a wedding. Not that we didn’t expect it — Jade’s dim sum lunch has been running for about eight years and has consistently been popular for its extensive selection and quality of food. Now that it’s had a décor overhaul, bookings have gone through the roof, so expect a few weeks’ wait to get a table.
THE LOOK: We get why brides are thumping on the doors to this place: the restaurant’s new fittings are totally wedding-worthy. Beige- and peach-hued lanterns tumble from the ceiling, silver curtains gush from gold rods across the French doors, and the specially commissioned wallpaper is all hand-painted birds, butterflies and flowers. Call it mod-romantic Oriental, done by — surprise — an Australian interior designer.
THE FOOD: When it launched in 2009, the buffet offered mostly dim sum dishes. Now the list of 55 items stretches far beyond dim sum — there are soups, appetisers, zi char-style main courses, congee, noodles and dessert. Even Jade classics like the popular Roasted Five-Spice & Sea Salt Pork Belly and Deep-Fried Prawn with Wasabi Mayonnaise are on the menu, though a better recommendation would be the melt-in-the-mouth Sauteed Sliced Beef with Spring Onion & Ginger, which the restaurant manager tells us is made with Japanese wagyu.
Some items, like the crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-inside Golden Mantou Stuffed with Chilli Crab Meat and the comforting Braised Bird’s Nest with Truffles & Egg White in Superior Broth are limited to one serving per diner. But there’s plenty else to fill up with after, including typical dim sum faves such as the fairly tasty Steamed Osmanthus Char Siew Pau filled with roast pork cooked with fragrant osmanthus flower. Just don’t expect fancy presentation — many of the dishes come in individual portions (yes, even the dim sum) to minimise food wastage.
BOTTOM LINE: A formidable list of fairly tasty if not show-stopping fine Cantonese cuisine at an affordable price — and now in a more photo-worthy setting than ever.
3. Lunchtastic Buffet at Seasonal Tastes, The Westin Singapore
Price: $32 ($16 for children aged 12 and below)
Available: Weekdays, noon-2.30pm.
The first thing we notice when we step into the cavernous space on the 32nd floor of the Westin is the backdrop. Huge picture windows line two sides of the dining room, framing a spectacular view of the Marina Bay area. Beyond: the ship-dotted South China Sea, sparkling just like our eyes do at the sight of a good spread. The effect is surprisingly relaxing and our annoyance that our dining companion is late quickly fades away. Who needs stress therapy when you have this kind of personal panorama?
THE LOOK: The décor — in a soothing autumn-hued palette — is sleek and minimalist in a Japanese sort of way. There are tasteful Japanese prints on the cushioned seats and ceiling panels that resemble shoji screens, while the wooden furniture is all Zen lines. We especially like how the tables and chairs are spaced so generously apart that the kaypoh-looking office ladies nearby can’t judge us for trying practically all of the 40 dishes available — it isn’t often you get this level of real-estate luxury in a Singapore restaurant.
THE FOOD: Along the walled sides of this 150-seater run the buffet counters, including a separate “island” for dessert. The international spread includes the usual sections, like dim sum, sushi, design-your-own pasta and cold seafood (think crayfish, king prawns and flower crabs — fresh, if a tad overcooked — piled into hollowed-out watermelons). There’s also a not-so-usual range of superfood dishes, like a Quinoa Salad with Dried Tomatoes & Raisins, that’s surprisingly delicious. Here’s our tip: Sidestep the yau kwee types piling their plates with the shellfish and home in on the local dishes instead, because that’s where this buffet shines. Go for the tender, punchily seasoned skewers of chicken, beef and mutton Satay; the umami Hokkien Mee luxed up with clams, prawns and mussels; the thick, ultra lemak Laksa (add a scoop of sambal chilli for extra oomph); and the aromatic Hainanese Chicken Rice that puts many a kopitiam version to shame. Desserts are strictly for those with a very sweet tooth — most options here are toothache-inducing.
BOTTOM LINE: A crowd-pleaser with a wide variety of quality grub. Some sections, like the dim sum and Indian ones, aren’t worth the calories, but the local and healthy options make up for that. Want a table? Book it pronto, because this promotional price runs only till end September.