The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi’s Hai Yan restaurant offers a new menu of dim sum and Chinese cuisine

Reopening after a two-year hiatus, The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi’s Oriental-inspired restaurant Hai Yan is ready to serve a new menu in a refreshed setting. If you’ve been there before, what may seem new to you is the addition of dim sum for lunch and some modern versions of traditional Chinese dishes.

Upon entering, a large chandelier catches the eye – a modern interpretation of Tibetan prayer wheels believed to bring good luck. Each wheel has an intricately hand-woven bamboo lantern in red with black lines running through the entire structure. Although there are a few of these chandeliers throughout the restaurant, the largest has an impressive 144 lanterns.

To the left of the entrance is a private dining room that seats up to eight guests. Inspired by the symbolism and abundance of the sea cucumber, which is also commonly used in local medicinal oils, this room is called the Gamat Suite. Intimate and nicely decorated, this suite also has an area with lounge chairs and, of course, a sea view.

To the right of the entrance is the main dining room. Aptly named “treasures of the sea”, Hai Yan has a spectacular view of the surrounding waters, and seating is also available on deck. “Even if the hotel wants to prepare the rooms, there is always space and time for guests to eat breakfast first and then go to the room. Since Horizon and Beach Grill are mostly open air and Langkawi Kitchen is closed for lunch, we wanted to offer customers another dining option in an air-conditioned venue,” says General Manager Ellen Franke. Having an indoor space to retreat to, especially on hot Langkawi afternoons, is definitely a godsend.

From the wooden floors and windows to the intricately carved wooden panels that decorate the ceiling, Hai Yan’s pattern-on-pattern aesthetic seamlessly blends tradition and modernity. On our first visit, daylight brightened the space, which was mostly dark furniture and deep reds. “Even the color of the wood on the ceiling and the reds used are not very bright pure Chinese red. It’s a little warmer, Bordeaux. The decor is a modern take on a Chinese restaurant in a resort,” adds Franke.

Before the renovation, the Chinese restaurant only served dinner and the menu was full of expensive seafood which didn’t really appeal to the locals. “We wanted to attract more people… So we tried to revamp it by going through a proper market research process,” says executive chef Mattia Salussoglia. Rigorous research has revealed that serving dim sum would be the perfect complement.

Salussoglia’s Hai Yan team is made up of three Js – executive sous chef Jay Goh, dim sum chef Chang Jia Kit (known as J.Jay) and the restaurant’s assistant manager, Jerry or JJ. “Chinese cuisine often operates in terms of specialties, as if Chef Dan works at the frying station, he does just that. The head cutter will only cut. But here we are lucky to find people who also want to learn other things,” says Salussoglia, adding that the three Js work collaboratively and are eager to explore outside of their individual disciplines.

To give us a little insight into the effort behind our favorite dim sum dishes, J.Jay took us through a mini xiao long bao making class. As fun and educational as the session was, very few “parfaits” xiao long baos made the cut. You definitely have a greater appreciation for this art form after class.

Finally, we sat down for a dim sum lunch in the main dining room. Sink into the low, deep seats with plush red and gold cushions – these were deliberately chosen to make guests feel comfortable – we perused the gold menu cards decorated with a red tassel. To start, there were four types of steamed dim sum: a traditional chicken siew mai with shrimp; a delicious har gow or water chestnut prawn dumplings; a fluffy fluffy chicken char siew pau; and a truffle pink skinned vegetable dumpling that had a satisfying bite. These were served with the homemade prawn paste, which really gave some dim sum which added a layer of flavor. These artfully created dumplings were followed by steam xiao long baos made in our class, and although they were tasty, our inexperience clearly showed that the skin was thick and there was a lack of uniformity in size.

The fried dim sum – some would say it’s the best kind of dim sum – included five standout creations. The first two were visual illusions that had a modern twist on traditional flavors. Mushroom bread was made to look exactly like a mushroom cap by sprinkling cocoa powder on the skin before steaming it to create the organic cracked lines. Its soft skin was a great textural balance with the earthy mushroom filling. What looked like a fried carrot was actually a chicken meatball with a fluffy glutinous rice flour skin and an asparagus in place of its green stalk.

The fried beancurd skin roll with shrimp and water chestnut had a familiar, comforting flavor. The freshly baked egg custard tart was a work of art, as it had a thousand-layered shell that was delicate and flaky, brought together with the creamy custard in the center. It was divine. The same thousand-layered batter was used for the Baked Honey Grilled Chicken Puff Pastry, which gave each piece of this salty-sweet filling an incredible texture.

Hai Yan also makes her homemade noodles, so the next dish was definitely a treat. The dan dan noodles were perfectly al dente with a slightly spicy peanut sauce that was simple yet addictive.

For a sweet ending, we were served a chilled mango crepe which was given an added depth of flavor with a drizzle of tualang honey, and a pudding with beautifully defined layers of passion fruit and milk including the rich creaminess was cut by the fresh, tangy passion fruit on top. Why have one dessert when you can have two, right?

Dinner at sunset

But it is at night that Hai Yan is truly transformed. Chandeliers come alive and dark lacquer furniture and deep red accents create a more romantic setting. We were told that sunset can also be a beautiful experience in Hai Yan.

For the evening, we headed to the other private lounge, the Empurau Suite, named after an extravagant fish that is the restaurant’s specialty. Able to accommodate up to 10 people, unlike the Gamat suite, this room has more windows that open to the sea, making it more spacious and luxurious.

To showcase Hai Yan’s true range, the evening menu consisted of 11 dishes, and luckily some shared plates. Entrees were braised duck breast with signature Hai Yan rolls, which were a sweet yet balanced bite with pickled onions; the fried squid from the Andaman Sea with salty and addictive egg yolk; and snack-worthy fried fish skin with curry leaf and chilli. The hot and sour soup was a homemade concoction filled with fresh lobster, mushrooms, fish maw, bamboo shoots and egg white. Well balanced, this soup had enough spice to linger on your lips.

The Hai Yan roast duck wrapped in a delicate crepe with sauces and vegetables was fragrant to perfection. This was followed by the two-way lobster – one was a fragrant fried lobster head with ginger and green onion, and the other was a pan-fried tail with a delicious XO sauce. Other sumptuous wok-fried sharing dishes were the succulent cubes of Black Angus beef with basil leaf, shallots and garlic; locally grown fresh vegetables with garlic; and tender eggplant with ground chicken and salt fish.

Again, to sample Hai Yan’s noodle-making prowess, we had the Braised e-fu noodles in a seafood and vegetable broth. Filled with scallops, shrimp and mushrooms, this dish had the freshness of the sea with a satisfying bite of fried noodles.

As with lunch, we indulged in two sweet dishes for our final course. The pre-dessert was a fresh and refreshing mango cream with sago and tangy pomelo and grapefruit. The main dessert was truly unforgettable. The Hai Yan Caramelized Egg Tart – with the same thousand-layered puff pastry shell – was served with an XO cognac vanilla espuma. While the caramelized sugar over the custard gave the dish a nice bite, the brandy punch in the bubbly espuma was a really fun flavor combination.

Like its design aesthetic, Hai Yan’s menu blends the traditional with the contemporary, creating an experience that is only made more unique by the luxurious and relaxing surroundings of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi. The delicious menu and the amazing sea view definitely demand another visit, very soon.

This article was first published on May 9, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.

Freeda S. Scott