The famous Tim Ho Wan from Hong Kong has finally made it to our shores (three months ago, actually), and I have been meaning to make time to have a taste. However, I not only haven’t managed to find the time, but I must admit that the stories about the crazy queues to get in put me off quite a bit as well. I love how in Singapore we have such a cute ‘queue culture’ – it’s almost like a hobby or national sport for some! I swear some people get in line first then ask, “Eh, what is this for huh?”, heh. Unfortunately, patience is not quite my strong suit, especially when it comes to my rumbling tummy. Hence I’m extra grateful to Priscilla from Brand Cellar for remembering I hadn’t yet had a taste, and for arranging for my folks and I to have a meal there. =)
Tip: According to them, the best time to go if you want to avoid the queue is between 4-5pm on a weekday.
They have these ‘Big Four Heavenly Kings’, which are basically the specialty items at Tim Ho Wan. Mag (from Brand Cellar) highly recommended we order these, even though two of the four items are not what I would normally choose.
I would not have ordered the Steamed Egg Cake, otherwise known as ‘Malay Cake’ when literally translated in Mandarin. Mostly because I like my sweet stuff really sweet and ‘heavy’ tasting – no sweet popcorn or cheng tng for me, for example – and also because it seems incongruous with the rest of the meal to have something like a sort of cake with my har gao and siew mai. It was surprisingly good though, and my dad in particular really enjoyed it (and polished off the last bit!).
Another dish that would normally not have made my order list was the Vermicelli Roll with Pig’s Liver. It is cheong fan wrapped around liver and vegetables. I like neither liver nor vegetables. I take liver soup (with a lot of brandy mixed in to mask the taste) every now and then for my anemia, but otherwise I don’t touch the stuff. I found this very unusual as this is more commonly done with char siew (roasted pork), shrimp or yu tiao. The strong-tasting liver was nicely balanced by the silky blandness of the cheong fan, all pulled together with the delicious sauce. However, seafood fan that I am, I still like this dish best with it is done with prawns. Special mention must be made on the texture of the cheong fan – silky smooth, light and melt-in-your-mouth sedap (scrumptious).
Next, the star of the ‘Big Four Heavenly Kings’, the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork. To attest to this one’s star status, this dish is such a hit with Singaporeans that it actually has a limit on the number of plates you can order – one plate per person, whether you choose to finish it dining in or to pack it as takeaway. Unlike the usual bao (steamed bun) or pastry, this one is a deliciously crusty-on-the-outside, pillowy-soft-on-the-inside bun encasing a savoury char siew filling. Such a comforting, indulgent treat. I understand now why this is the top-selling item on the menu!
Tip: Tim Ho Wan does not do takeaways, but you can ‘cheat’ and still get to take home your BBQ pork buns to enjoy for breakfast the next day. Beat the system by having each person in your dining party order one plate (of three buns). Enjoy some at the restaurant, and ask to bring back the rest that you didn’t manage to finish. You can think of me when you re-heat these by toasting them in your oven the next morning!
Rounding up the list of the ‘Heavenly Kings’ is the Pan-Fried Carrot Cake. While not usually a fan of carrot cake (too starchy and tasteless most of the time), this is my absolute favorite dish at Tim Ho Wan. It was really soft and not one bit starchy; in fact, the entire the cake seemed to be made up of thinly sliced radish, unlike the usual minced/blended mix I normally associate with carrot cake. It was also pan-fried and seasoned just so – tasty!
Ordered a few more of mine and my folks’ dim sum favourites – Prawn Dumpling (har gao), Pork Dumpling with Shrimp (siew mai), Congee with Lean Pork, Century Egg and Salted Egg (pei dan zou), Vermicelli Roll with Shrimp, Beancurd Shrimp Roll with Pork and Shrimp, Chicken Feet with Black bean Sauce and Deep-Fried Beancurd Skin Roll,. They were all more than decent, and between us, it was all empty plates when we left!
We were told that Tim Ho Wan suggests dipping the deep-fried items Worcestershire sauce rather than the usual vinegar. It sounded strange, but it worked a treat! The flavours went really well together, the Worcestershire sauce ‘cutting’ some of the oiliness. If you think about it, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar taste slightly similar in their tangy saltiness, although I personally prefer the slight sweetness that Worcestershire sauce has over the sharper tasting vinegar. Now why didn’t I think of this combination?
My verdict is they have better than average, reasonably priced dim sum (especially for a one Michelin star restaurant), with a few standout dishes. I am not sure I’d wait over an hour for it though, but that’s just me.