Dimsum Memoirs – 添好運 Tin Ho Wan, Hong Kong
添好運點心專門点 Tin Ho Wan Dim Sum Specialty Shop, is opening their first overseas branch in Singapore at Plaza Singapura this week! Only did I realised that I had not blogged about our visit to their “flagship” shop in Mongkok 3 years back! Grr…. oh well… here it is better late than never!
Tin Ho Wan was the hot topic of foodie forums and blogs a couple of years back when it was awarded a Michelin star. Overnight, they were suddenly on the “must-try” list of dim sum aficionados and visitors to Hong Kong. Since then, this little dim sum deli which had its humble beginnings under the void deck of a residential building in Mongkok which could barely house two dozens of diners in one seating, rose to stardom and of course, was much under the limelight from both online and printed media as the “cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world”. Well, judging by how affordable dim sum generally is in Hong Kong, this is probably true. But is it doing enough to warrant its Michelin star, to be more than just being the cheapest?
Back during our visit to this eatery in 2010, it was still a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to dimsum in Hong Kong but the head chef by no means came from small beginnings. The dimsum chef Mak Pui Gor who opened Tin Ho Wan was reported to have served at Four Seasons Hotel’s Lung King Hin 龍景軒, the only restaurant given “3 Stars” in the HK & Macau Michelin Guide 2009. This marketing point cause the restaurant to shoot to fame over the internet and local magazine reviews within a very short time. Raves came in rapidly as people matched quality to dollar and so did the queues. Long queues were an invariable sight outside the shop, beginning to form way before their opening hours at 10 am every morning rain or shine, as many of those who await in anticipation are locals families big and small. Some are so accustomed to the waiting game that they brought along foldable stools, like the lady in purple in the first photo.
The queues grew incessantly, much to the dismay of local breakfast dim sum goers who merely want to enjoy a few bamboo steaming baskets of char siu bao and har gau over a pot of freshly brewed “heung pin” or “shuei sin” and the morning papers. In other words, Tin Ho Wan is quite atypical compared to the usual in terms of dining ambience. While the usual dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong are noisy to the extent of rowdy at times, the mood is always relaxed. At Tin Ho Wan however, one feels almost compelled to finish his food as soon as they are being served so that the table would be made available within the shortest time for the next round of diners. The small shop space also meant a somewhat claustrophobic experience, and may come as a cultural shock to those who came expecting Michelin grade service. Boy are they in for a surprise! Economy of space meant a rather tight and compact seating arrangement as one preps for an elbow-to-elbow dining experience which may even make those who are accustomed to dining in a “Cha Tsan Teng” environment uncomfortable. And for those who came, they came specifically for these little morsels of sweet and savory goodness. Appreciation for ambience would seem rather disconcerted and unnecessary.
We arrived at the place around 9.45 am and there was already a long queue in front of the eatery. Tucked within a high-rise residential estate where occupants inhabit flats the size of pigeon holes, this seems to the most incongruous place to find a michellin quality establishment. The queue spills over to neighbouring shops and very quickly reaches the end of the street, where we were standing.
The menu cum order chit at Tin Ho Wan. We used the waiting time to deliberate over what’s nice and what’s not. Without any pictures for reference, we can only hope in anticipation that the food taste as good as they had been raved.
Finally at 10 am, a lady staff appeared and ushered the first batch of diners into the shop who very quickly jam packed the small place with barely 30 seats. The queue outside was still very long and number tags were handed out.
It was a grueling wait that spanned 50 mins before we were finally seated. But that seemed to be fast already. Some on openrice reported to have waited for 2-3 hours!
酥皮焗叉烧包, the signature dish that enable this place to rise and be amongst the ranks of the famed and reputed michellin-starred restaurants. And indeed these small barbequed pork buns lived up to their reputation. The aroma from the fresh-out-of-oven “mexican bun” textured top cover permeated the whole place sending our salivary glands in a mad frenzy.
As our teeth sank in to take the first bite, we were confronted with a confusing marriage of textures, a crisp and hardened top with a somewhat fluffy and light bottom. But it wasn’t long before J and other diners giving nods of approval, revealing a face of bliss and contentment. Some even let out a soft squirm, as if the whole gastronomic experience was almost orgasmic! This is truly their 镇店之宝, their pièce de résistance!
Diners peered into the half eaten buns in a mixture of disbelief and amazement as how such a small package of barely 2 bites could encase so much awesomeness in it! The chunks of pork swaddled in a thick and rich, sweet and savoury sauce which had an almost 流沙 effect. One is now confronted with probably one of the greatest dilemmas in life – to recap the earlier experience of the “oomph!” as flavours and textures explode in our mouths in one gobble, or to savour all the goodness in small but painstakingly slow nibbles with intermittent oohs and aahs…
潮州蒸粉果 like the miniature soon kuehs 笋粿 we have in Singapore, which also have Teochew origins. No prizes for guessing here.
The filling comprises of 沙葛 jicama, more commonly known as “mang kuang” in Hokkien, chinese celery and roasted peanuts. Very nice combination IMO.
沙茶牛肉脆春卷. Spring rolls is another dish traditionally packed with jicama but here, they have satay-flavoured minced pork and carrots in it.
Crisp on the outside and soft and squishy on the insides. Good!
蜜味叉烧肠. This wasn’t on our original order but the lady whom we handed the order chit to took a quick glance at it and immediately responded in proclamation that cheong fun dishes is another signature of the shop and made it sound as grave as a cardinal sin if we hadn’t tried it.
And we were glad that we did. The cheong fun was smooth and silky to an almost 咕溜 sensation while the chunks of pork within was reasonably marinated and soft. And this was a first in a long time, that I could smell the aroma of steamed rice in this dish. We later read in other reviews that the cheong fun came out rather thick for the portion they had. A mishap? A bad day in the kitchen? Inconsistencies in standards? Well, I can only say… lucky us!
古法糯米鸡 Steamed glutinous rice with chicken. Prima facie, the portion appeared to be quite big, only because 2 large lotus leaves were used to wrap the contents instead of one. Dang!!!
Soft and moist glutinous rice with nicely marinated chicken pieces. Decent.
晶莹鲜虾饺 Another quintessential dish in dim sum with plump succulent prawns encapsulated over a thin translucent skin. The prawns were lightly marinated and had a nice crunch to it. This is nicely complimented by the soft and tacky dough skin. Decent.
鼓汁蒸凤爪 braised chicken feet, also nicely executed but slightly on the soggy and “sloppy” side for me. Nonetheless, a definite must-order for me, though slightly disappointing.
杞子桂花糕 Encased with osmanthus flowers and goji berries。 This is more agar jelly like than the traditional cantonese steamed cakes textures I was expecting. But it was nonethless refreshing and gets rid of any greasy and oily feeling. This is all washed down with chinese tea.
Alas at the point of writing, the joint which we’d visited had already closed down due to escalating rental issues apparently. Well, the landlord’s loss as they have now relocated . Their outlets at Sham Shui Po and IFC are still operational and drawing large crowds. But with the opening of their first overseas joint in Singapore, we don’t have to travel to Hong Kong now to get out dim sum fix! Let’s just hope that standards would be kept within expectations of what we’d experienced in Hong Kong.