Boasting the status of being the only fine dining Chinese restaurant on the island, Hai Yan at The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi is a sight to behold.
A lagoon lined walkway lit with small lights leads the way to the entrance. At the reception, a giant chandelier composed of a multitude of lanterns dazzles with its enormity and brilliance. The sound of live Chinese ku zhen music marks our arrival and as we cross the threshold into the main dining room we are enveloped by Hai Yan’s beauty. Polished wooden chairs line white-clothed tables and red lanterns and ornamental wood carving panels drop from the ceiling. A mosaic floor, woven rugs and textured walls add further interest to the space, and when we eventually look up we’re taken by the towering triangular roof, typical of the architecture in the region.
Not long after we’re seated, petite bowls of pickled veggies and cashews are delivered, warding off hunger pangs long enough to browse the menu and make a decision for the evening’s meal. Small prisms of carrot and papaya are still crunchy, with a mild sweetness and tiny bit of tang, and the nuts too have a light coating, just sweet enough to be noticeable but not overly done.
Cocktails at Hai Yan
As with the other food and beverage outlets at The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, Hai Yan has its own signature beverages, handcrafted by master mixologist Miguel Fernandez from Ozone Bar in the sister property in Hong Kong. The house cocktail is the Silk Road (RM90), utilizing a base of Chinese rice wine, baiju, infused with orange. It’s topped up with elderflower syrup, jasmine tea and Campari and we think it a fine way to begin. The Jade Empire (RM40) provides an alcohol-free choice featuring green tea, coconut syrup, pineapple juice, lime juice and Three Cents ginger beer. Both are light, refreshing and open appetites making them well-suited as an aperitif.
While the food menu at Hai Yan is not as comprehensive as commonly found in restaurants across Malaysia, there’s a wide enough selection to keep us studying for a while, but not too much to make us question the quality of what’s presented.
Live Fish at Hai Yan
As we entered hubby spotted fish tanks holding live dinner options and before I’ve even passed page one of the menu, he has had a walk around with the waitress, picked his catch and ordered a pomfret (market price) to be steamed Cantonese style with dried shrimp and coriander. It’s quite a lovely specimen and I swear hubby congratulates himself on his order with every mouthful.
A 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, the Dog Point Section 94 (RM70) goes well with our seafood options. Not your usual sav blanc, this drop has a little more body and texture than those that currently flood the market. The nose has hints of toast, yeast and citrus all rolled into one. It fills the mouth with layers and lingers unhurriedly after swallowing. It’s a good choice – especially for the Cantonese steamed fish.
Wok-fried Andaman lobster with black bee honey pepper sauce (RM240) is one of Hai Yan’s signatures, and when it arrives it’s now my turn to applaud a good pick. It’s a beautiful pile of cut pieces of lobster red and glistening with the honey sauce. A seafood fork and finger bowl accompany the plate; a sign that there’s some work to be done here. At first, we gingerly dig in, not wanting to create too much of a mess. After the initial mouthful, however, all restraint is lost as we dive back in for more and more until it’s all gone. The sticky sauce and overall experience are similar to that of eating a great rack of barbecued ribs: finger-licking, bone/ shell-sucking good.
Rice and veggies balance out our seafood proteins. Lotus root is one of my favourite vegetables, and asparagus runs a close second so the Stir-fried asparagus with lotus root and black pepper (RM48) is an easy pick. The veggies are superbly cooked, only having had a brief encounter with the wok they remain crisp and sparsely coated in oil. A gentle sprinkling of pepper is all that is needed to bring out the natural flavour of the produce.
Egg white fried rice with dried scallop and fresh scallions (RM90) is another house signature. A generous mound is a plenty to share and the rice partnered with the seafood and egg white makes an all-white photo. Don’t let the pale shade fool you though, there’s plenty of flavour in this recipe especially thanks to the little bundles of intensity offered in the dried scallops.
Hai Yan Signature Dessert
Hai Yan signature freshly baked egg custard tart (RM68), is actually a trio of tarts: an original, one that’s caramelized and one that’s topped with bird’s nest with gold leaf. The two twists are interesting, but it’s the original with its buttery, flaky pastry and rich eggy centre that we fancy most.
Service has been exceptional, the menu memorable and the overall ambience absolutely stunning. Hai Yan has made a fine impression as the first fine dining Chinese restaurant on the island and we give it two Yums-Up!
Reasons to visit: the only fine dining Chinese restaurant in Langkawi; great seafood options; good wine list; and, if you arrive early enough, magnificent sea views.