Voted #1 Best restaurant in Asia 2015, Tim Ho Wan(添好運) which translates to “to add good luck” in Cantonese, started off as a hole-in-the-wall dim sum shop at Mong Kok, with a modest 30 seat space as its first shop. Original chef and owner, Mak Kwai Pui, is a former Dim Sum chef at The Four Seasons Hotel. He opened his first eatery in 2009 and within a year, his restaurant Tim Ho Wan was accorded a Michelin star, making it the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world.
You can imagine the flurry of excitement created when Chef Mak decided to expand his business outside of Hong Kong, giving people who were not able to travel to his original restaurant, a chance to still savour the special Dim Sum creations that excited the Michelin Guide’s judges. Sydney’s operations are headed up by Vince Howe, of Stag Asia and the Sugar Daddy Group.
Like many of its sister restaurants, when the Chatswood operation opened, the queues were relentless, with 1 – 2 hour wait times. Now, with branches in Burwood and Sydney CBD, the wait time during lunchtime is usually in the order of 5-10 minutes. Yum Cha in Tim Ho Wan is also not the usual trolley cart affair, but a more organised one where you are given a paper menu on the table, an ordering slip and a pencil to tick off the quantities that you want.
Unlike most dim sum restaurants, where there would be an extensive array of choices, Tim Ho Wan’s menu is relatively smaller with the focus on perfecting the items on offer. Their menu at Chatswood features 25 savoury items and 2 desserts, with a rotating list of specials.
Of its entire menu, no visit to Tim Ho Wan would be complete without trying their “Big 4 Heavenly King Dim Sum”, consisting of its famed barbeque pork bun, vermicelli roll stuffed with pig’s liver, pan fried turnip cake and steamed egg cake.
Considered the big daddy of the “Big 4 Heavenly King Dim Sum”, the famous barbeque pork buns (酥皮焗叉燒包) is what put Tim Ho Wan on the culinary map. Traditionally, the trademark of a good baked barbeque pork bun is the crispy crust, usually found in a flat mount at the crown top of the bun. But Tim Ho Wan’s version went one step further. They figured if the crispy crust was the best part of the bun, why only have it on the top? Hence, their version has the sweet, thin and crispy crust encasing the entire bun, making it light and crispy on the outside, and juicy piping hot on the inside. It is a perfect balance of sweet and savoury, and so very addictive, that one bite into the pillowy bun, you are almost guaranteed to go for seconds! In fact, they are so good that it is not unusual to find people getting extra boxes to take away, even after having had their fill of them at the restaurant!
The 2nd of “4 Heavenly King Dishes” is its pan fried radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕). It is called a cake, but it is not sweet but rather a savoury one. It is made primarily with rice flour, grated radish, Chinese sausage, and shrimp. The mixture is sieved to ensure no lumps and then steamed. Once a cake form is yielded, it is cut into square pieces and then pan fried so that the top and bottom of the cake is crispy, but the inside is soft, with turnip and shrimp flavours. Yum to the max! It is also recommended that you eat this dish with some chilli sauce to further enhance the flavours.
The 3rd offering is the steamed egg cake (香滑馬來糕).This is one of my mom’s favourite dim sum dishes and she also makes a version of this herself. Eating this dish definitely evokes many of my childhood memories! The trademark of a good steamed egg cake is that the light brown sponge cake is steamed, not baked. Tim Ho Wan’s version seems to taste different, in a good way! The fact that it is darker than most that I have seen and tasted, suggests that they may have caramelised the sugar, resulting in a richer flavour. It is also feather light with a hint of caramel.
The last of the 4 Heavenly King offerings, is the vermicelli roll with duck liver filling (爽滑鴨潤腸). Tim Ho Wan also has the standard filling choices of barbeque pork, beef, or shrimp. But the one that makes it to the Heavenly King list is divisive one; where you either think that it’s fabulous, or shocking, depending on whether you actually like the taste of liver. I know Coco and Viner, Sacha, is usually so adverse to liver that he would generally not touch it with a 10-foot pole. Funny thing is, he was so distracted by how perfect and innocuous the vermicelli roll looked sitting there in the middle of the table, beckoning to be eaten, that before he knew it, the roll was in his mouth. I am happy to report that he was surprised to find that the flavours of the liver were not overpowering, which speaks volumes about the quality of this dish. The silky rice flour skin and the generous sauce probably helped somewhat as well.
From the steamed portion of the menu, the pork dumpling with shrimp (鮮蝦燒賣皇) is really fresh and succulent, while the skin is the right thickness, and the meat is very substantial. Unlike some Dim Sum places, where you taste more pork than shrimp, this one has the perfect balance.
No Yum Cha visit would be complete without at least one order of prawn dumpling (晶瑩鮮蝦餃). To say that I am crazy over these dumplings, would be an understatement. I have been known to impatiently run after Dim Sum carts, just to flag down a basket of these delicious delights! Tim Ho Wan’s prawn dumplings are done to perfection. The shrimp is fresh and generous. The skin is so translucent that you can see the pinkness of the shrimp inside, yet it gives the dumpling a springy texture and does not tear until you actually bite into it.
Salted egg fillings (流沙), which loosely translates as “flowing sand” because of its deep runny yellow colour, is the in-flavour with Dim Sum these days and is mostly found in steamed buns. Tim Ho Wan’s tribute to the Lao Sha filling is its sesame rice ball with salted egg yolk (黃金流沙煎) that is on its special item menu. Most people wouldn’t have guessed what’s in the sesame rice ball before biting it. One bite into this sticky, fried, glutinous rice ball coated with sesame seeds, and you are greeted with a super fragrant, runny salty egg custard oozing out of the centre. A definite must try!
With branches of Tim Ho Wan in Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, more people will finally be able to sample the mix of traditional and special dim sum items makes dining at Tim Ho Wan a truly unique Yum Cha experience.