Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A flop at Tim's Kitchen

We came to new branch of Tim's Kitchen at The Elements shopping mall in West Kowloon for our family reunion dinner in celebration of the Chinese New Year. It's just four of us so we were looking for something decent and convenient for everyone, and this place seems to fit the bill.

The decor of the restaurant - located along side other Chinese restaurants on one section of the shopping mall and opened just late last year - was similar to the one in Sheung Wan, except it looks a bit smaller and definitely felt more crowded. We intentionally planned for an earlier dinner as we want to eat at a more leisurely pace, but I was slightly bothered by the waitress bugging us whether they can bring in the dishes straight away when we were hardly settled down at our table and had our first sip of tea.

Anyway, after previous visits we were quite familiar with their menu already and I did call in advance to reserve most of the dishes already, so 10 minutes later we told them we could start, after finishing the thousand-year egg and pickled ginger served as amuse-bouche. Their crab claws have always been their signature dishes and our favorite - and this time we have them cooked in two different ways and ordered two of each so we could share.

First was the deep-fried crab claws with black peppers and salt - it's known as typhoon shelter style locally since it's made famous by the seafood stalls operated on boats docked inside typhoon shelter. The claw was in decent size, and a well-balanced dish with just the right spices not overwhelming the delicate taste of the crab meat.

Second was the steamed claw with egg-white custard. This is the must-order item of this place and this one didn't disappoint either. The soft and smooth custard made of egg white and superior broth provided just the right backdrop of flavor to the crab claw which was carefully de-shelled and steamed with the meat exposed. The dish was minimally seasoned but not lack of flavor by any means.

Well we enjoyed the crab claws cooked two different ways, but what followed afterwards didn't quite match our expectations. The snake soup was a major let-down. We had snake soup a few times this season at casual places but not the fancy version, so I figure we better try this before the season ends. Tim's Kitchen was known for their snake soup with finely-julienned meat in a rich broth base with just the right thickness. But this one was literally tasteless with too much corn flour added and not enough meat, not to mention the ham and the meat and the mushroom were unevenly sliced and didn't taste great. I had a far better one at a mom and pop snake shop just last week for a quarter of what we have to pay here. And what's the deal with just serving 2 small dishes of garnishes for the 4 of us? You expect us to share that like we do at a cha chaan teng? I felt ripped off.

The pomelo skin, braised in a shrimp roe sauce, was okay. Don't believe this is the prime season for pomelo and the skin has a slight hint of bitterness, but not to the extent of ruining the dish. I could also live with the dish cooked a little longer so the flavor of the shrimp roe sauce has more time to infuse into the pomelo skin. The one we had was still a little too firm.

Even though deep-fried chicken is a tricky dish which is easier said than done, but I do expect them to do a better job than what we had. It's overcooked - way overcooked - so the meat is dry as cardboard, plus it's under-seasoned. I know, I know, restaurants these days tend to overcook chicken dishes for fear of the avian flu or whatever, but still, it's no excuse for bringing a poorly-cooked dish to the table. And it didn't look like a fresh chicken to me - probably an imported one previously chilled - and at this price, this is unacceptable. This was merely high street supermarket quality food. In retrospect we should have returned it.

The casserole rice with Chinese "charcuterie" was great - that perhaps was the saving grace for the evening. The cured pork sausage, liver sausage, duck legs and pork belly came in good portion and they were tasty (except the belly being too skinny and not enough fat) The rice was cooked to the right doneness with the flavor from the meat and fat covering the surface. The burnt rice crust in the bottom of the casserole is usually my favorite part of this dish, but seems like there wasn't much there, somewhat to my disappointment. But overall this is still good.

We decided to skip dessert because we had our fair share of sweets just a few hours ago (at a Sunday brunch elsewhere - later on that in a separate post, I am sure). But given what we have tried, I doubt if we had missed anything.

This is not a terrible meal per se but very average. So is this a case of a new restaurant in its teething period or the place spreading itself too thin (with branches in Macau and Shanghai in addition to the 2 shops in Hong Kong)? I tend to think it's a little bit of both. We have had decent meals here a number of times over the years, so I still have faith to see them turning around, but to be safe, next time I will stick with the original shop in Sheung Wan.

When? January 26 2014
Where? Tim's Kitchen, Shop 1028B, The Elements, 1 Austin Road, Kowloon

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