Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stumbling Across Tim Ho Wan

It’s a pure coincidence that we ended up at Tim Ho Wan on this holiday morning – we were aimlessly driving around trying to find a parking space we could stop and eat and we ended up just a couple blocks away from the restaurant's Shum Shui Po branch, so that is why we dropped by for an impromptu breakfast stop. Both of us have never been to this branch so we were happy to try for the first time.

For those naysayers arguing that local Michelin Guide was irrelevant don’t need to look much further for counter-proof than Tim Ho Wan, which was unarguably the biggest local beneficiary of the guide, being shot to fame after being awarded their first star at their original shop in the guide's first edition and retained that since. Starting off from a humble store in the middle of nowhere in Mongkok, this casual dimsum diner has now since moved to a bigger shop nearby, a few branches around town and even expanded overseas with outposts in Singapore, Taipei and New York City. Not bad a development.

The restaurant is always ultra-popular – being named one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world definitely helped – so we expected we would need to wait for our table. But turned out it wasn’t that bad with only 10 or so groups in line ahead of us, and 15 minutes later, we were seated on the ground floor dining area. The d├ęcor of the restaurant was pretty generic, a mix between modern cha-chaan-teng and traditional Cantonese tea-house. Everyone has to be seated at communal tables and space was tight, but not to the point of being very uncomfortable or intrusive. I actually quite liked the vibe with people kept walking by and food got dished around the entire time. They put a nominal charge for tea, but I wasn't impressed with their tea at all – I wish they could offer the option of more premium choices tea which I wouldn’t mind paying extra for. After all dimsum and tea always go hand-in-hand in our culture. And now we are on the subject of criticism, I also thought they could do a better job in translating their dimsum dishes in English - their translation was horrible at best on the menu and on the paper placemat with pictures of their signature dishes.

Unlike the most traditional tea-house where one got to pick the dimsum dishes from the cart going around the dining room, we got to pick our food by writing and checking on the piece of paper with the items listed. The two of us went for a ridiculous amount of food. There’s no particular order of serving so the dishes just arrived as they were ready.

First dish was the signature item of baked bun with barbecued pork. Almost every table ordered this dish and rightly so, because it was undoubtedly one of the very best I had. They were served hot like they just came out fresh from the oven, with the soft bun with a slightly sweet, crusty top and the rich barbecued pork with gravy inside.  Steamed rice rolls were usually the staple item of any dimsum restaurant but it’s not often one would find this version with chunks of pork liver. I like the soft texture of the thin, almost translucent rice rolls, though I thought the cilantro flavor from the filling was a bit too overwhelming.

We had a few more traditional dimsum dishes, including the chicken feet, prawn dumplings (har gow), pork dumplings (siu mai), beef meatballs and the steamed sponge cake. I did like the siu mai with rich flavor and well balanced of fat inside, and the beef meatballs with the soft texture, cooked just perfectly. Looking back at the meal it was unthinkable that after seven dimsum dishes we still got room for a few more, but we did order our second round.

Wontons with red chili oil was not a traditional Cantonese dimsum but one of northern Chinese influence, but they were amazing, especially the chili oil with the complex spicy flavor (I think they mixed the hot soybean paste into it). The spring rolls were served super crisp like they were just pulled off from the fryer and I loved our final dish of deep-fried milk curd, with that interesting combination of textures from the crispy batter and the delicate and sweet milk curd filling.

There’s a good mix of locals and out-of-towners as their clientele, but don’t take this as those touristy trap places catering only for tourist for their bragging rights. It’s as legit as they once were with solid execution of classic dimsum dishes that was worth the detour. Provided the waiting time is not terribly long, I am all for coming back more often, just for a simple meal with a few dimsum dishes.

More pictures at https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157681376447024

When? May 30 2017
Where? Tim Ho Wan, Ground Floor, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Shum Shui Po, Kowloon
Menu Highlights? Baked Buns with Barbecued Pork

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