Hong Kong: Tim Ho Wan


Tim Ho Wan is the hole-in-the-wall eatery in Hong Kong that defied all odds to gain an entry in the Michelin guide. In 2009, Chef Mak Kwai Pui, previously the chef of 3 Michelin-starred restaurant Lung King Heen in Four Seasons Hotel, opened the original Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok. It was an immediate hit as it served high quality dishes with a bang in the buck. It was definitely a steal, averaging about HK $50 (SG $9-$10) per person for a meal. With notoriously long lines a testament to its popularity, waiting time is easily an hour, to maybe four. But people queue, just for the glorious dim sum, so they can say that they had the cheapest 1-Michelin Dim Sum in the world.
The original outlet in Mongkok has been relocated to Olympian City due to high rent. There are 3 other outlets in Hong Kong – North Point, IFC Mall and Sham Shui Po. The Atrium of Plaza Singapura in Singapore is its first every international outlet.
At Plaza Singapura, regardless of the day or time visited, there is sure to be a queue. If you think you’ll have better luck at odd hours of the day, you are quite mistaken, as queues remain quite insanely long and almost unbearable. For that, I prefer to wait for the hype to die down before I lay my hands down on what this extravagant, as many people claim, Dim Sum restaurant has to offer.
Fortunately, I got a chance to travel to Hong Kong just recently and I knew that my trip would not be complete without a visit to Tim Ho Wan. We decided to visit the outlet at IFC mall, just above the express train to the airport – the most accessible and the most comfortable outlet. A little more garish, cleaner and air-conditioned, the ambience was far from the other outposts where most people eat their lunches with sweat trickling down their faces on sticky tables and next to battered walls. Yet I assure you the authenticity of the food remains.
The first time we went there, it was 5pm. Even though we were still stuffed from lunch at The Chairman and a heavy meal at Wagyu Kiseki Den awaits us that evening, we rushed to Tim Ho Wan nevertheless, knowing that it was the one thing that we could not miss out. And of course, like all its other outlets, there was an extremely long queue and for a while, we were little put off. However, we were delighted to find out that they do take away orders (unlike the one currently in Singapore) and waiting time would generally be about 15minutes or so. The second time we went there was to be our last meal at Hong Kong. What a wonderful way to end the trip. Don’t you think so?
The menu here is simple – dim sum of all sorts are available, though not of a selection comparable to larger restaurants around Singapore. That is because this is a restaurant that prides itself on quality rather than quantity. Fresh dim sum is made daily, with only fresh and premium quality ingredients used. Also, they are never pre-steamed and reheated, but rather made-to-order so as to retain its flavor and texture. Well, that explains why it has won the plaudits of food critics and the harts of epicureans around the world.
Luckily for us, there are menus printed in English. If you are dining there, get a number from the server and tick off whatever you want on the menu. When you finally do get our table (we surprisingly didn’t have to wait that long during our 2nd visit, most probably due to its quick and efficient service), hand the menu over to the server and your table will be groaning with steamer baskets within 5minutes.
The first time when we took away

The first time when we took away

Baked Bun with BBQ Pork (3 for HK $18). This makes up ¼ of the Big 4 Heavenly Kings. This is the legendary marquee dish that has transformed the eatery into a mecca. Baked rather than steamed, its outstanding feature has to be the slightly crumbly sugar crust reminiscent of a classic Po Lo Bao, yet not overly sweet. The bun is fluffy yet crisp and biting into it is a pure pleasure as you sink into an overload of luscious filling – tender char siew in flavourful thick barbecue sauce.  It may look unassuming, but what you get is an enticing surprise.
Steamed Egg Cake (HK $14), more commonly known as Ma Lai Gao in Cantonese, or even Malay Cake even though it is totally Chinese. Another of the Big 4 Heavenly Kings, this much-lauded egg cake is not only light and fluffy, it also boasts a nice caramelized taste that lingers against each savoury bite of the cake. Yet, what I like about this cake in particular is that it is not overly sweet. Its sweetness is subtle and lingers on your taste buds to remind you of its uniqueness.
Another of its Big 4 Heavenly Kings is its Pan-fried Turnip Cake (HK $14), also know as Carrot Cake. This one was simply well fried, golden scorched in patches on the crust. It was extremely flavourful as it carried a generous amount of chopped radish interspersed in the cake. However, I felt that it was still a tad greasy, and well, maybe you could find carrot cakes that are as good as these ones elsewhere. Flavourful as it may seem, nothing much unique.
Glutinous Rice Dumpling (HK $26). Each grain of rice, with the perfect stickiness, gooeyness and chewiness, this is definitely for all dumpling lovers. However, what makes it so exceptional is that it is packed with tender meat – chicken, beef and pork – that spices up the entire dish. Just from opening that banana leaf, the aroma hits you immediately and your taste buds will be tantalized. Also, look at just how big the portion is!
Mun Chicken Feet with Abalone sauce (HK $26). I didn’t try this as I simply do not have the courage to try chicken feet :p However, my mum said that this was just ordinary and she had had better ones elsewhere.
Steamed Vegetable Dumpling with Shrimp (HK $24). I felt that the skin was although smooth, it was extremely extremely thick, which obviously explains why it was not the least fragile. It was definitely too thick for my liking as I prefer thin silky skin that is able to optimally enclose an abundant of filling all at the same time. Well, in my opinion, that should be what an exemplary dumpling is. Hence, this was although packed with vegetables, the skin certainly spoilt it for me. Nehhh.
Steamed Rice Roll stuffed with Shrimps and Chives (HK $24). This arrives without the soy sauce. Soy sauce are provided on the tables (which you share with those sitting next to you), and you are expected to pour it on by yourself, according to your taste and preference. Quite a good idea I would think! The problem my mum and I had with this too is the thick skin. As far as it was packed full with plump shrimps and chives that added a hint of refreshness and lightness, we felt that we were just eating too much skin. Oh well, maybe that’s how Tim Ho Wan does it, but it is certainly not in line with our taste buds unfortunately.
Overall, I do believe that Tim Ho Wan is exceptional. Although not everything may be outstanding, it is somewhat better than many of the Dim Sum restaurants that we usually find – both in terms of taste, and especially price. What I find most impressive is its fuss-free dim sum which are mostly well-executed to a good standard, and some incredibly done specialties. However, the price here, as well as the one in Singapore, is slightly higher than the other Hong Kong outlets, simply because of the high rental. To be fair though, they are still comparable with Singapore’s average of about SG $4-5.50 per basket.
In order to serve patrons more efficiently, Tim Ho Wan does not take reservations, but instead, serve customers on a first-come-first-served basis. Thus, if you really want to experience what this restaurant has to offer, do come early (I mean really early, like when it opens at 10am or something), or be prepared to wait in line. But if you ask me if I would sacrifice my time and suffer the agony of tired legs and rumbling stomachs to wait in line just for its affordable Dim Sum and more importantly, the best BBQ Pork Buns you could ever find, I would say, well maybe not. Singapore has become a food haven and there are a wide array of choices that you can chose from. I’d still wait for the hype to die down in Singapore and in the mean time, I am perfectly fine with just having to reminiscent the experience I had, savouring that Baked BBQ Pork Bun from Tim Ho Wan at IFC Mall in Hong Kong.
Tim Ho Wan
Shop 12A
Hong Kong Station Podium Level 1 
IFC Mall, Central
68 Orchard Road #01-29A
Plaza Singapura
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2 Responses to Hong Kong: Tim Ho Wan

  1. Pingback: Hong Kong: Tin Lung heen | The Cinnamon Sheep

  2. Pingback: Tim Ho Wan (添好運) | The Cinnamon Sheep

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