Xin Man Yuan is one of Singapore’s more recently opened vegetarian dim summeries. It’s located in People’s Park Centre – a shopping mall located at the busy New Bridge Road/Upper Cross Street junction in the heart of Chinatown. You can find XMY on the (relatively quiet) third floor; there are also some interesting looking vegetarian stalls to try in the basement food court. After 8 years of living in Singapore this was my first time to visit People’s Park Centre (not Complex – everyone’s been there!). What an adventure.
Inside it’s cavernous, efficient and quintessentially Chinese. Think chintzy lighting, bombastic (fake) flower arrangements, and more tables than you can count. It’s clearly more suitable for families and Chinese wedding dinners than a romantic evening with your better half (although I may be wrong). XMY offers an la carte menu of dim sum and other Chinese and Malay dishes, and a buffet (for lunch and tea, if I remember correctly). It’s staffed by an army of servers that will try and attend to your every need.
Xin Man Yuan Vegetarian Restaurant
101 Upper Cross Street, #03-32 People’s Park Centre
Open 11.00-22.00 daily
These things are a good size, but lacked any sort of character. One of the key characteristics of siew mai is that it’s meant to be an eclectic assortment of tastes and textures. These were of a mushy consistency and fairly bland taste. The variety of ingredients was lacking – a few pieces of mushroom and mock pork, but apart from that just white mushy stuff. Even the chestnuts were absent. I have eaten these here before, and the first time was much, much better.
Again, homogeneous mushiness that lacked the flavours and textures of the how gar I tried during a previous visit. On the plus side they were a good size, the outer skin had a pleasing elasticity to it, and the mock-shrimp taste was there, but the overall experience was quite disappointing. Without a liberal dose of vinegar, these things would have tasted of little more than wheat starch.
I’m not a regular consumer of carrot cake (the Chinese variant; Western-style carrot cake is another matter…) and, given the disappointments of the siew mai and how gar, my expectations were rather low. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised to bite through a nicely crisped exterior, into a smooth and quite tasty (if floury) radish interior that was intermixed with finely chopped mock meat. It worked well with the vinegar, and was infinitely better than the greased-up versions that are often served in hawker centres.
Before I turned into a vegetable (sorry, vegetarian), I used to enjoy these BBQ pork pastries. They are meant to have a crispy and glazed exterior that gives way to deliciously marinated meat. These were a poor, poor imitation. Their shortcoming was easy to identify – the pastry. Rather than using “puff pastry” (as claimed), this was more shortcrust that practically disintegrated after the first bite. Its thickness and sweetness completely overwhelmed the mock pork filling, which in itself was dry and tasteless. The most disappointing dish of the day.
After a series of fairly miserable savoury dishes, our dessert option provided considerable recompense. These custard buns were delicious. The bun part was light and fluffy, and the custard filling was of a fantastically thick and smooth consistency. The sweetness of the filling had a richness to it that seemed to include some coconut notes. My advice to anyone would be to forget about the savoury options and just order five or six rounds of these.
I have no doubt in my mind that Xin Man Yuan is one of the best vegetarian-only dim sum restaurants in Singapore. I have been here twice now, and the first time was much better. Whilst the quality of some of the dishes may be inconsistent, there is plenty of variety. And if you’re in any doubt as to what you should order, just stick to the custard buns.