In April 2010, Tawn and I had the opportunity to visit Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin star winning dim sum restaurant in the Yau Ma Tei area of Hong Kong. When you hear “Michelin star” the normal image is of a big, swanky restaurant. Tim Ho Wan is quite the opposite, a modest twenty-seater emphasizing their food and little else. Because of the chef’s success, a second location was opened in Sham Shui Po, the fabric district in Kowloon. While in Hong Kong earlier this month, we stopped in for a visit.
Tim Ho Wan
9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Located roughly equidistant between the Sham Shui Po and Prince Edward MTR stations, the second location of Tim Ho Wan is fairly easy to get to. Recognizing it will be a bit more challenging if you don’t read Chinese – there is no English signage. However, the street it is on seems to have no other restaurants, and most of the time you will see a queue out front, so that’s your clue that you are in the right place.
There is also a third location now open in a decidedly more upscale and easier to reach spot: the MTR Airport Express Hong Kong station. Look for store 12A on level one. This way, you can zip into the city from the airport on a four-hour layover, have time to eat the Michelin star earning dim sum, and then head back to the airport!
We headed to the restaurant about 11:00 am on a weekday, sneaking in between the morning crowd (the restaurant opens at 8:00) and the lunch crowd. That meant no wait for us, although just thirty minutes later the other tables quickly filled up. This second location is probably three times larger than the first, so waits are reportedly much shorter than at the first location, where waits longer than an hour are common.
As for the food, it was still very good but I would dare say the quality and care of preparation is lower than we experienced at the original location. And, in one case, the hygienic standards were lower, too.
The cheong fun, wide rice noodles filled with pork, steamed, and served with soy sauce, remain a favorite of mine. Tim Ho Wan prepares them beautifully, with the most delicate and silky noodles I’ve ever had.
Close-up view of the cheong fun, called “vermicelli” on the menu. The dish is just HK$15, about US$2, and even at three times the price, I would classify it as a must-order dish.
Another dish the restaurant is acclaimed for is its char siu bao, or barbecue pork buns. These are baked with a crumb crust on top and have a delightfully flaky texture.
Inside view of the barbecue pork bun. As I understand it, the origin of these bao is that restaurants would use the leftover pork from the previous evening’s banquets as the filling. Of course, that is probably not the case at most restaurants these days. Tim Ho Wan’s are made of very high quality pork and I could eat a few servings of these buns and call it a day.
Another winning dish is what the menu calls the “glue rice dumpling”, or glutinous rice dumpling. Filled with sausage and other goodies then wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed, this is the most generously-sized item on the menu – about the size of my hand with fingers open wide. The quality of the ingredients is very high and the rice is very aromatic.
The pan fried turnip cakes, another dish that is usually a favorite of mine, disappointed. On our visit to the original Tim Ho Wan location, these cakes were fantastic, with a nicely browned crust and a flavor that comes from only the most seasoned of griddles. In fact, at the original location, this was my favorite dish. Unfortunately, the version at location number two was undercooked and uninspiring.
We made a wrong turn with the steamed beef balls in bean curd (tofu) skin. Commonly nicknamed “Chinese hamburgers”, these meatballs were cooked very rare. While I enjoy rare beef (steak tartare is wonderful), the texture didn’t work well in this dish. Additionally, one of our dining companions found a hair stuck in one of the balls. We brought this to the attention of a server, who replaced the dish but did not offer any compensation. While I know that Hong Kong doesn’t have a reputation for good customer service, the least I would expect at a Michelin starred restaurant (at any decent restaurant, for that matter) is that we not be charged for the dish that had to be replaced.
We headed back on track with the siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimps. These mainstays of dim sum were tasty, although there was nothing particularly impressive about them compared to siu mai I’ve had at a dozen other dim sum restaurants.
Dining companions Tehlin with her daughter. When I ordered, I ordered for four hungry adults, forgetting that a child isn’t going to eat nearly as much. Oh, well, more for the rest of us!
Chris, Tawn, and Chinese aunty.
For dessert, we ordered two types of warm, sweet soup. One was the corn and purple glutinous rice and the other was green peas with sea lavender (a type of fragrant seaweed). Both were tasty but didn’t photograph very well. The third dessert, described as “tonic medlar & petal cake”, was tasty and beautiful. It is a gelatine of dried flowers, probably Chrysanthemum, that was beautifully golden and wonderfully aromatic. This is the type of dessert that is at once very simple – Jell-O! – but also very dramatic.
All told, we had twelve dishes and tea for four, and the bill came out to UK$177, about US$24 for three and a half people. While we did have the hair in the meatball incident and three dishes that were only average, the remaining dishes (especially the cheong fun and char siu bao) were fantastic and well worth the effort to find the restaurant.