I wish I could say that I’m almost done with my Hong Kong posts, but I’m not. I just happened to have gotten the easier ones out of the way first.
I put this one off for quite a while because I’ve been pacing back and forth restlessly, mulling over how best to present to you the cheapest 1-Michelin starred restaurant on the face of the planet. Should I wax lyrical? Burst into colourful prose? Throw around a several handfuls of hyperboles?
So I sat back down, and sighed, and decided I’ll do the usual boring thing of letting pictures speak for themselves. I know, how very original of you Christine.
You see, at other places there are queues, and then at Tim Ho Wan there are queues.
Now if I had been ill-prepared, thinking I could skip into a Michelin-starred restaurant without reservation and without even going early, then I very much deserved to squat in the line.
But we were early. We knew there would be a wait, and that the queues were legendary, so we got up at the crack of dawn, and found ourselves at the back of a queue anyway – at 9.15am, 45 minutes before the shop even opened at 10. No reservations allowed.
They have another outlet, but rumour has it that this original outlet is still the best.
The rest of the 45 minutes was spent lolling around in the summer heat, and as luck would have it, when it opened, every single person in front of us fit into the tiny shop, except for us. Only 20 people in at a go. Can you imagine that?! We passed the next half an hour slobbering with our faces plastered to the glass windows watching everyone else eat. It was excruciating. The lady staff outside passed us a slip of the menu in English, in what I think was pity, and we calmed down enough to order.
You can leave to walk around once you have taken your queue number, but if you’re not around when they call for you, your table goes to the next number. No way we were risking that.
It’s dim sum, so it’s nothing foreign. There are rather less common items of course, but if you look closely, you’ll noticed we placed an order for 2 of the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork. I had a feeling I wouldn’t share. You might want to up that to 3 orders of the baked buns. Take my advice.
So after another half hour, we got ushered in, had to squeeze ourselves in between cramped tables of diners, and into the table right at the back of the restaurant next to the kitchen. The place is so tiny, if I had stopped to turn around to gawk at the food on the other tables, I would have knocked someone’s har gao over to another table. Sitting beside the kitchen, we got to see some rolling action from one of the chefs prepping an astonishingly thin cheong fun (rice roll) very deftly.
This is, perhaps, a symbol of Tim Ho Wan, a signature dish with a halo around it. Each order of the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork comes with three buns, and that may or may not be enough for you. Alone. No sharing.
Think of it as a po lo bao (polo bun – a popular Cantonese confectionery), with a crisp, sweet crumbly exterior, that yields to pillowy insides and a treasure trove of glistening char siew. These are so light, they’re barely filling, and so delicious I practically inhaled all three before I knew it. About 750 of these are sold each day. Stuff of the baking gods I swear.
And here we have Siew Mai, as is mandatory. Succulent, flavoursome, and springy with a delicate wrapping of dumpling skin on the outside. An excellent rendition this was.
Har Gao, yet another staple. I must rave about the humble appearances of all the dumplings and their exceptional quality. Paper-thin dumpling skins once again, and what I think is the perfect ratio of crunchy prawn to skin (9:10). You can see the skill in these dumplings, and the light handling of the dumplings. I imagine I’d tear the skins like a barbarian if I tried sealing them.
I had read on several sites that the Chiu Chow Style Steamed Dumpling is an interesting and unique dumpling dish at Tim Ho Wan. The skins of these are slightly thicker and tackier than the other dumplings, and are filled with a mixture of garlic chives, peanuts, what I think is water chestnut, and a couple of other crunchy ingredients.
I liked this Deep-fried Dumpling Filled with Meat very much. It’s quite like a glutinous rice ball stuffed with meat, deep-fried till golden brown and crisp. The skin is a little sweet and is an excellent contrast to the salty filling.
Do something for me. Please don’t miss out on the Steamed Rice Roll with Shrimp. Or any of the cheong funs for that matter. I probably run the risk of some readers condemning me with fire and brimstone, but this is very probably the best cheong fun I’ve ever had. They’re made fresh to order, and I saw them with my very eyes since all I had to do was look over at the kitchen.
Oh how it shines. It’s slippery, unimaginably thin, and with just the right amount of…tension. See, some cheong funs are difficult to cut into, they stick too much, and are too elastic. This one had just that tiny bit of chew, but remained staggeringly delicate. Doesn’t matter what filling you order yours with, it’s the vermicilli sheets that win.
Deep-fried Beancurd Sheet Roll with Shrimp. Let’s just say that there wasn’t a single dish that we tried that wasn’t good. This was done well, crunchy, brimming with filling, and when dipped into a bit of that black vinegar, never fails. It’s not something worth raving about, but it is delicious.
The menu describes this as Tonic Medlar & Petal Cake. I have no idea what in nine hells that is (in fact, some of the other menu items are even more hilarious). All I know is that this is an Osmanthus and Wolfberry Jelly. That’s all! And here I was thinking Tonic Medlar sounded like some potion from Warcraft. It’s a light, palate cleansing type of dessert, just slightly sweet and floral. The jelly wasn’t as light as I would have liked it to be, but it’s passable.
We could have ordered more, but we had an entire list of other places to hit after Tim Ho wan. I’d like to think we tried most of the crowd-pleasers.
And I know you have been waiting for this. You’re probably clawing at your screen wondering just how cheap is the cheapest 1-Michelin starred restaurant.
The total damage done was HKD$140.
See? This is why you should consider a couple more orders of the Baked Buns.
Eat in a 1 star Michelin restaurant before I die? Check.
Tim Ho Wan
2-20 Kwong Wa Street