Zi Char - Swa Garden Restaurant

Zi Char - Swa Garden Restaurant
540 Macpherson Road


Traditional, Good Quality, Tasty Chinese Teochew Zi Char

(Ratings: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 = Worst and 10 = Best)
Overall: 7
Ambience & Setting: 5
Food & Beverage: 8
Service: 8
Value for Money: 7
Spent about SGD $35 per person.


Swa Garden Restaurant is a small Chinese restaurant that specialises in traditional and authentic Chinese Teochew cuisine, faithfully churning out Zi Char dishes from their unchanging menu for well over 2 decades. A visit to Swa Garden Restaurant is a throwback to years gone by, and will appeal to seniors / elders in the family.

Time has pretty much stood still at Swa Garden Restaurant. Ambience is dated, with musty looking carpeting and old conference / meeting room style furniture, faded curtains, fluorescent lighting and aluminium style doors. Swa Garden Restaurant makes full use of its limited floor space, and tables are packed quite tightly. The enclosed area also means noise levels are heightened.

Service at Swa Garden Restaurant is fast and efficient, despite peak periods and crowds. Food is served relatively quickly. Expect to wait around 15 - 20 minutes for a table, unless you've made a reservation in advance.

Food is the highlight at Swa Garden Restaurant. Teochew cuisine has an emphasis on freshness of ingredients, as well as light and clean flavours. Swa Garden Restaurant does excellent poultry and seafood dishes, and many of their dishes are worth ordering. Because their menu never changes, most of their highlights are traditional Teochew Zi Char dishes such as Braised Goose, Teochew Cold Crabs, Yam Paste, Meat Rolls, Teochew Steamed Fish and Oyster Omelette.

Prices at Swa Garden Restaurant are reasonable, but not exactly cheap, especially for the fish or seafood dishes. Many of their customers have become regulars. I would definitely recommend dining at Swa Garden Restaurant!


A sour appetite whetting starter of Pickles, plus the dipping Chili sauce.

Pickles And Chili

A traditional yet uncommon dish, Teochew Cold Crabs requires skill in not only steaming the crabs, but selecting the right type of crabs for steaming. The meat is wonderfully fresh, with a natural tasting flavour. The roe within is also quite substantial, and added a burst of salty, briny taste to the overall dish. The sour plum dipping sauce made for a good pairing.

Teochew Cold Crabs 01

Teochew Cold Crabs 02

The Four Treasure Bean Curd looks plain, and doesn't taste much better. The actual bean curd itself is not pure bean curd, but mixed with fish paste to enhance the flavour, and was the highlight of this dish. The sauce of egg, chicken, mushroom and peas was generous but a little tasteless, and brought down the overall flavour of the dish. This was probably the least remarkable dish here, an average dish at best.

Four Treasure Bean Curd 01

Four Treasure Bean Curd 02

The Sambal Sweet Potato Leaf has a right amount of heat, and was well prepared. The vegetables were fresh, but this isn't a pure Teochew dish.

Sambal Sweet Potato Leaf 01

Sambal Sweet Potato Leaf 02

A sort of sampler, the Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls dish features 1 meat roll and 2 seafood rolls. The Spiced Pork Rolls were excellent, with a crisp exterior that had a nice crunch, and a meaty and juicy interior. The Crab Rolls were unique, and the crab mean within was well packed, fresh, and flavourful. But I thought the Prawn Rolls were the weakest of the 3, being rather average in taste.

Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls 01

Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls 02

Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls 03

Another traditional Teochew dish, the Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts is typically eaten as a dessert. The texture has the right amount of thickness to smoothness, and is very tasty. Otherwise known as Yam Taro Paste Orh Nee, this version has the right amount of sweetness as well. One of the best Yam Paste / Taro Paste / Orh Nee I've had.

Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts 01

Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts 02

Not a traditional Teochew dish, but the Asparagus With Scallop is pretty well done. The savoury sauce infused with the flavour of the scallops, together with the crunchy texture of the asparagus, make this a hit.

Asparagus With Scallop 01

Asparagus With Scallop 02

While incorrectly named, the Fish Maw Soup is absolutely delicious and addictive. Packed with squid, prawns, fish maw, mushrooms and spring onions, you have a choice of serving it in 2 styles: thick stew or thin broth. Personally, I prefer the thick stew version myself, as it makes it all the more satisfying and comforting, especially during cold weather.

Fish Maw Soup 01

Fish Maw Soup 02

The traditional Teochew style steamed fish is steamed together with mushrooms, preseved vegetables, tomatoes, ginger, red chili, lime juice, and sour plum. Here, you have a choice of fish, and while the traditional fish used is often the Pomfret, I chose to go with the Teochew Steamed Sea Bass Fish. They serve probably one of the best Teochew style steamed fish I've ever had, as the salty and sour tastes of the gravy is well balanced, which is often difficult to get right. The fish is fresh and meaty, just perfect!

Teochew Steamed Sea Bass Fish 01

Teochew Steamed Sea Bass Fish 02

The Oyster Omelette is cooked with fresh oysters packed within a pocket made of eggs. This results in a soft and fluffy exterior, while the oysters within are still juicy and plump.

Oyster Omelette 01

Oyster Omelette 02

A house speciality, the Swa Garden Restaurant Chai Poh Kway Teow features well charred noodles with crisp salted / presevered turnip leaves. However, I didn't quite like the way the noodles clumped together, which made eating it rather messy.

Swa Garden Restaurant Chai Poh Kway Teow 01

Swa Garden Restaurant Chai Poh Kway Teow 02

While not as popular as Braised Goose Meat, Braised Goose Wings And Feet is still an authentic Teochew dish. The meat is served deboned, so the entire portion can be consumed, though personally, I felt it's an acquired taste. The gravy is savoury and tasty, but made the goose skin rather slimy.

Braised Goose Wings And Feet 01

Braised Goose Wings And Feet 02


Update Mar-2016: It's been awhile since I visited Swa Garden Restaurant, about 3 years ago, and this Chinese Zi Char Teochew restaurant looks like it stood still in time. Everything at Swa Garden Restaurant remains the same, from the dated ambience, to the efficient and jovial auntie service staff, and the fresh, tasty Chinese Teochew food. Prices have naturally crept up of course, but the old, traditional ways still persist here.

Swa Garden Restaurant Seating

Swa Garden Restaurant Menu

Swa Garden Restaurant Menu

The Pickled Mustard Greens (SGD $3) are served right when diners are seated, but note that they are not complimentary. Still, I like its mildly sour and sharp taste, with a nice soft texture. I finished most of it!

Pickled Mustard Greens (SGD $3)

The Teochew Cold Crabs (SGD $70) are a signature speciality here, and are served as a cold dish appetizer at the beginning of a meal. The roe-packed female crabs are generally about the size of an open palm, and range in price from SGD $30 - $45 per crab. Loved the bright, fresh, clean tasting sweetness of the crab meat, with the salty briny taste from the chilled crab roe. Good!

Teochew Cold Crabs (SGD $70)

Teochew Cold Crabs

Teochew Cold Crabs

The Fish Maw Soup (SGD $18) is much lighter in colour than when I last ate it, but the texture still remains thick and savoury sweet. Within this hearty, comforting soup / broth is fish maw, squid, prawns, egg, and shiitake mushrooms. Really delicious, satisfiying bowl. Highly recommended!

Fish Maw Soup (SGD $18)

Fish Maw Soup

The Sambal Sweet Potato Leaf (SGD $14) remains among the better versions I've had, with a smoky, wok hei / breath of the wok infused into the fresh vegetables. Tastes savoury sweet, with only a mild chili spice heat, this pairs well with white rice or noodles!

Sambal Sweet Potato Leaf (SGD $14)

The meaty platter of Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls (SGD $15) features hand made spiced pork rolls with a crisp exterior, and a soft, savoury sweet interior, which I felt was delicious. The other items on this plate were decent, neither memorable or tasty.

Spiced Pork Rolls, Crab Rolls, Prawn Rolls (SGD $15)

Finally tried the Teochew Steamed Pomfret Fish (SGD $85) here, and I was pleased with the large, fresh pomfret fish, with its semi-firm, white fish flesh that comes off easily from the bone. Steamed together with traditional aromatics including shiitake mushrooms, pickled mustard greens, tomatoes, ginger, lime juice, and sour plum, this fish is pure comfort food, especially for seniors! Price for this dish is expensive though, but it's better value for money when shared between at least 4 - 5 people.

Teochew Steamed Pomfret Fish (SGD $85)

Teochew Steamed Pomfret Fish

Was most excited with the Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts (SGD $16), which I really looked forward to! It still has that same rich, thick, sweet, earthy, decadent taste and texture as before, with a fruity, floral sweetness from the tender pumpkin slice, and an earthy nutty flavour from the ginko nuts. Still amongst the better versions around, and I loved it! Highly recommended!

Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts (SGD $16)

Yam Paste With Pumpkin And Ginko Nuts

A signature dish here, the Swa Garden Restaurant Chai Poh Kway Teow (SGD $18) truely showcases the skill of chef handling the wok. Every strand of this thick, flat rice noodle is infused with smoky savoury aroma of frying, and the salty briny preserved turnip leaves lend crunch to texture. We actually saw a couple come in and order only this 1 dish, before polishing it off within 10 minutes!

Swa Garden Restaurant Chai Poh Kway Teow (SGD $18)