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Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok, Hong Kong (cheapest Michelin etc.) (1*)

There are blogger rules and for each foodie destination there are places you must go to and things you must say. Just like London or Paris or New York, Hong Kong has a whole list of them. Quite frankly I wish I was a bit braver. I’ve been to Yung Kee and had the century egg and roast goose. Perhaps I should have ordered something else instead. I’ve also been to Mak’s Noodles and had their incredible noodles with prawn wontons (well a lot of times now) but if I was really brave I would, when I finally blog about it, refuse to use the word “springy”.
And… I’ve eaten dim sum at Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok. And what would be really brave is if this review didn’t mention “cheapest Michelin star in the world. Blah blah blah“. But it has and it is.
Now that’s done let’s get practical. I followed in Hollowleg’s footsteps (here) and got there early – 9:30am – which meant when the doors opened at 10:00am I got in with the first rush. It isn’t the hardest to find in the back streets of Mongkok as you will come across a line of the world’s best tourists (the Japanese) standing more efficiently than you in line. See the first picture. Copy them.
I went here before Jen arrived in Hong Kong so I was the token gweilo on the Tuesday morning I picked. The Japanese tourists I was seated/ shoehorned in next to by the friendly waiters began with a tourism masterclass by taking out a homemade book with translations of dim sum and pictures to point at. Very wise. I took a different approach, I took the dim sum menu (all in Cantonese) and ticked about 2 or 3 things in every section.
The result of this was epic. It was laughable. Three or four dishes in I started trying to share with my neighbours. Five or six in the waiters started laughing and people started pointing. After that, I began to feel like Bruce Bogtrotter in Mathilda by Ronald Dahl (synoposis here if you have never read it). I stormed on. Defeat wasn’t acceptable and wasn’t ever really an option for the simple reason that this was different. This was better. This was lighter. This was more fragile. This was more sophisticated and glorious than anything I had tried in London or elsewhere.
There is no need for me to go through each dish. You’ve had dim sum before. This was like that but better. Two dishes changed things for me though. One was the deep fried glutinous rice pork dim sum (a nice literal translation thanks to my secretary). The combination of the fried outside, gummy rice and pork filling was wondrous. The other was the turnip cake. It was more etheral and fluid than I have ever had before. Nothing like the over cooked and packed stuff you get outside of Hong Kong.
Finally, what I find really interesting is that Tim Ho Wan is cheap and good but it is not meant to be the best by any means. The chef came from three Michelin starred Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons which is meant to be a notch (and price) up and the boards of Chowhound and OpenRice blather about better, different alternatives. And if you said to me “do you want to go again but you have to wait 3 hours?” I would laugh and say no. The variety and quality which I have yet to try excites me more than the possibility of a re-visit.
  • Price – 100hkd for enough food for 3 or one Bruce Bogtrotter-esque idiot (about £8)
  • Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
PS if you are really really brave you will visit the new branch of Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po instead (here via CNNgo) . That really would be cool.

9 Comments

  1. Razlan

    God knows I love my dim sum but I'll never randomly tick some off an ordering sheet. For having the courage to do that, you earned my deepest foodie respect.

    Now where's the series of photos of those laughable dim sums you ordered?

  2. Mr Noodles

    You're SO right about the lighter hand in the kitchens, just look at how translucent that cheung fun wrapper is (rice noodle roll-4th photo). I've not made it here, as I don't think it was open the last time I was in HK, but I must make a pilgrimage next time.

    BTW – have you tried any of the branches of Lei Garden? Not been to any in HK but a recent dim sum lunch in the Singapore branch was the best I've had in years.

    PS: I've heard Yung Kee is a bit past it nowadays.

  3. Tom

    Razlan – I was kind of stuffed due to ill preparation on my part. Now I go with lists of the food I want (in Chinese or with photos off OpenRice). Rather stupidly I only realised after I ordered that there were pictures on the table.

    I was also slightly embarassed so I didn't take pictures of everything. Still there are pictures of a good 7 dishes for one person above!

    Mr Noodles – really interestingly Jen and I went to Lei Garden IFC yesterday and have a tepid experience. Great pork buns. Average everything else. I am not even hungry thinking of it. I wonder whether it is a branch by branch thing as I know they are very reckoned generally.

    You are right about Yung Kee as well. Been there twice. Enjoyable but nothing which really gets me salivating. I think I may buy a whole goose and eat that at home as for some reason I think I may enjoy that more? Or get into the fourth floor which is meant to be better (but probably isn't)

  4. Wild Boar

    I don't know how you feel, but after having dim sum in HK, I just can't bear to eat the inadequate copies in London anymore. And dude, you missed out on the polo char siew paus!

  5. Lizzie

    How strange. When I went they gave us an English translated tick box menu even though half our party were Chinese.

    I'm not sure what you're trying to say about it being 'brave' to refuse to use 'springy' or mention it's the cheapest Michelin star restaurant (both things I did) – they don't seem so much as 'blogger rules' (?!) but merely a suitable adjective and an interesting fact. But I'm sorry I bored you with my blah blah blahing.

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  6. Tom

    Lizzie – I wish they had given me a proper menu.

    And, ah yes, sorry. The above looks bad as I haven't yet put up my Mak's review which continues the story of bloggers' rules and notes they occur for simple reasons, good reasons – that they arise out of rightness. It then goes through how no other word works for Mak's but springy.

    From a man who reviews Hawksmoor, Koya, Bar Boulud and Eastside Inn… I had hoped it was a bit evident that I am poking fun at myself and that would have been made very clear at Mak's.

    Wild Boar – I have to say nothing in London hits the heights I had at Tim Ho Wan. Still Pearl Liang is better than my other efforts here. I have had a lot of good to average and only one incredible so far… That said I was here for a while on my own and didn't eat too much dim sum as I think it is a dish to be shared.

  7. Dan

    There’s no waiting in line at the branch in Sham Shui Po. I went last week and I agree with the folks on OpenRice that it isn’t as good as the original location.

    I think part of the issue is that the SSP location is much larger than the Mong Kok one, which I imagine makes it more difficult to keep up the quality.

    • Well as it is easier to get to it might take a bit of the heat out of the wait at the Mongkok branch? That said last time I went to THW the queue was awful as ever and I realised it was probably the last time I’ll make a trek out there. The dim sum was good, not revelatory, and for not much more I could eat as well at Fu Sing without a wait (albeit for a touch more cash)!

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