Tim Ho Wan at Olympian 2

One of my regular stops in Hong Kong is dim sum at Tim Ho Wan. The Michelin star recognized restaurant has opened several branches in the past few years and the original hole-in-the-wall Mongkok branch closed last year due to rent increases. On the most recent visit, we dined at the newest Tim Ho Wan branch at the Olympian 2 complex in Kowloon.


The new location is a bit of a challenge to find, as it is an exterior restaurant and so you enter the interior of the mall from the MTR system and then have to find your way outside and around the building. Not too difficult, though.


The interior of this branch is larger and brighter than any of the others, which means that the wait (which can be an hour or more at some locations like the Airport Express station at IFC) is much more reasonable. The four of us were seated in about fifteen minutes. The other benefit of the bright lighting is that pictures can much more easily be taken!

Speaking of which…

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On the left are steamed pork spareribs with black bean sauce. On the right are steamed beancurd skin rolls filled with meat and vegetables.

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On the left is steamed rice with chicken and Chinese sausage. On the right are pan-fried daikon radish cakes.

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On the left are the famous baked buns with barbecue pork – these I could eat several orders of. On the right are deep fried glutinous rice dumplings filled with minced meat. Hard to tell from the outside but both were filled with lots of delicious food.

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On the left is an interesting dish: quail eggs in dumpling wrappers! On the right is glutinous rice wrapped in a typical “bao” bread and steamed.

I didn’t take pictures of everything because dim sum just doesn’t photograph all that well. But we found the food to still be of a very high quality both in terms of ingredients and preparation. Dishes arrived quickly and service was efficient, if not particularly friendly.

In the future, this is the location I’ll return to for great dim sum while in Hong Kong.

Food in Hong Kong – Tim Ho Wan at IFC

Twice during my trip to Hong Kong, I enjoyed dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, the (world’s least expensive) Michelin-starred restaurant founded by former Four Seasons Chef Mak Kwai Pui. The first time was at the original Mongkok hole-in-the-wall location, which closes the end of January to move across Kowloon at Olympian City. The second time was on my final morning at the newer location one floor below the Airport Express check-in lobby at the International Finance Centre.

The crowd that gathers (and waits for hours) outside the original Tim Ho Wan location. I am sure that the neighboring shopkeepers are thrilled that this crowd will soon go away, as I suspect few of the dim sum customers, many of whom are non-locals, shop at the neighboring businesses.

The inside of the shop seats perhaps two dozen people. That was part of its charm, but what was a hidden treasure has spawned three branches, each much larger. It seems that the magic of the hard to find gem of a restaurant is gone, replaced by the desire to cash in on the popularity.  

Above, a full house within five minutes of starting service for the day, with another full round of customers waiting outside. 

One of the nice things about Hong Kong is the Airport Express train. What makes it so nice is that for most airlines, you can check in up to 24 hours before your flight. The agents tag and collect your luggage, leaving you free to roam the city until it is time to head to the airport, unencumbered by heavy bags.

I checked in for my flight at 8:00 am, more than five hours early. Ten minutes later I was downstairs in front of the restaurant, the first person to arrive. I opened my iPad and settled in for a wait. Slowly, other customers arrived and formed a queue behind me. At 8:50, Gary, Rudy, and the other Xangans arrived so we were the first seated and snagged a nice table with great lighting.

Since I have written about the original location and the second location before, I’ll just share pictures of the food. 

While there are some folks who complain that the food at the branches isn’t as good as the original, I think they are carping mostly to make themselves sound superior. The food at the branches continues to be very high quality and the additional seats means that the wait is shorter.

 As I observed, having arrived early, the kitchen staff is still making everything by hand and that quality and attention to detail is clear when you eat the food.

As we finished our meal and I headed to catch the train to the airport, the crowd had grown even larger. As you can see, it is a first or last stop for some people who are going to or coming from the airport. A very convenient location and perfect if you have a long layover and crave some world-class dim sum!


Food in HK – Another Tim Ho Wan Location

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 Location 2

Tim Ho Wan
(Second Location)
9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Food: Amazing
Service: So-so
Ambience: None
Price: Bargain

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.


Food in HK – Tim Ho Wan

Most of my eating in Hong Kong this trip could best be described as the Curry Puffy Cuisine Crawl, since most of the recommendations came from Gary’s suggestions based mostly on his December trip back to Hong Kong.  Each time I return to Hong Kong, eating good food is a central objective.  This time was no exception.

Tim Ho Wan is the least expensive, and perhaps the unlikeliest, Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.  Its one star shows that Michelin can overlook dismal locations and lack of pretty presentation and focus its attention on the food.

Tim Ho Wan Map

Located several blocks from the Yau Ma Tei MTR station, this restaurant was opened by the former dim sum chef at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel.  It is fair to say that the only things missing are the fine china and refined ambience.  The quality of food is exactly what you would expect from the highest calibre restaurant, especially when it comes to dim sum.


I think most of you know that dim sum (yum cha in Cantonese – “drink tea”) is the original “small plates” dining experience, a breakfast/brunch type meal that features small dishes with dumplings, noodles, buns, and other tasty morsels.  Eaten with a group, it is an excellent way to enjoy many flavors and textures while socializing.  Good dim sum is light and refreshing, made with high-quality ingredients.  Bad dim sum is heavy and made with whatever scraps were leftover from the previous night’s banquets.


Even at 10:00 on a weekday morning, there was an hour wait for this twenty-seat restaurant.  Instead of a queue, customers took their number and wandered off, coming back closer to their estimated seating time.  While waiting, a few other gweilo (foreigners) arrived, including a couple from San Francisco, foodies with whom we struck up a conversation.  Non-Chinese speakers need to pay attention or learn how to count in Cantonese, otherwise they might be passed by!  Even with a local friend waiting with us we still managed to miss our number.


With an hour to kill, Tawn entertained me with his many expressions.  Lest you think an hour is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, let me assure you that this was one dim sum place worth waiting for.


The restaurant itself is nothing fancy.  This was about half of it.  I wanted to go take a picture of the kitchen but knew if I didn’t get yelled at, I’d get run over by the workers.  This is a no-nonsense place attentive to just one thing: turning out good dim sum.


The highlight of the meal was the barbecued pork buns.  Unlike the usual steamed buns, these were lightly fried, so were flaky and crispy at the same time.  The pork filling was made of good quality, sizeable pieces of pork rather than the ground-up remnants of yesterday’s pork that you so often find in these buns.  These are cooked several dozen at a time so the waitress will bring out nearly all the tables’ orders at once, causing much ooh-ing and ah-ing around the room as diners taste these succulent treats.  We placed a second order (plus two additional orders for our friend Michael to take home) after we tried this first basketful.


Har gow, steamed shrimp dumplings, were very nice, too.  A good measure of dim sum quality is how thin and translucent the wrappers are.  Thick, heavy wrappers are coarse and filling.  These wrappers were almost transparent, very pliable, and light on the tongue.


We ordered another typical dim sum dish: glutinous rice stuffed with meat and other goodies and steamed in a lotus leaf.


Again, instead of the usual barely identifiable contents, there were large slices of good quality pork loin and vegetables inside.  Very tasty!


Siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimp, were also very tasty, again with a light skin and good quality ingredients.


One of my favorite dim sum dishes is the rice noodles stuffed with shrimp or pork, served with a soy sauce.  We had pork in ours and found it to be a really lovely dish.  The theme kept repeating: light, delicate wrappers with generous, high-quality fillings.


My favorite dish, second only to the barbecue pork buns, was the fried daikon radish cakes.  These are made of shredded daikon, seasoned with bits of pork, and then pan fried until crispy.  The perfect cake is delicate and creamy inside with a crisp exterior that isn’t too oily.  These were ideal.


Tables were shared and so the three of us dined with an old granny, who informed us that she was having her usual lunch of deer tendons and a bowl of noodles.  She explained that the collagen from the tendons kept her looking so young.  I have to say, she did look youthful, so we ordered a dish.  The texture is a lot like eating pig knuckles, the cartilage is soft and flavorful with a sweet soy sauce.


The total before we ordered the deer tendons and three extra orders of barbecue pork buns was only HK$94 – about US$12.  At a price like that it and with quality like that, it was well worth an hour wait.