During our trip to Hong Kong 2 weeks ago, we finally made it to Tim Ho Wan, known as the world’s lowest priced Michelin Star rated restaurant. We had tried to go on past trips but long lines and a list of other things that we wanted to do trumped any thoughts of eating at the Dim Sum specialist. This time we decided to go early and be there when they opened at 10:00a. This strategy worked as we arrived at 9:45 and were second in line. By the time they opened, the line was about 20 patrons deep.
To preface our experience, I’ll be the first to admit that I do not know what is involved in gaining a Michelin Star. I assume that it is a combination of food quality, presentation, staff, facility hygiene and similar subjects. For the purposes of this ‘review’ that is the basis that I’m going to work under. We have in the course of our travels eaten in many Michelin rated restaurants and have seen the similarities that they share, which makes me feel that I had a good reference point when it comes to my thoughts on Tim Ho Wan.
To begin with we were greeted by a friendly host who spoke excellent english and showed us to our table and briefly explained the menu and arranged for tea to be brought to us. After a few minutes a waitress came by to ask if we would like anything else to drink at which point we asked for 2 Cokes and gave her our Dim Sum ‘order sheet’ . The sheet, pictured below, had a decent variety of Dim Sum options and it was difficult for the 2 of us to choose. They are famous for their “Baked Bun w/ Barbecue Pork” so that was they easy part. Additionally, we settled on the Steamed Egg Cakes, Pan Fried Turnip Cake, Deep Friend Dumpling with Meat, Vermicelli rolls stuffed with pork and Glutinous Rice stuffed with meat. For 2 people, this amounted to quite a bit of food. Ultimately, I think Dim Sum is better suited for larger groups since that increases the ability to share and try a large variety of dishes.
A few minutes after ordering, our first ‘course’ came out and we were served the BBQ Pork Buns. We read so much about how great they were that we each ordered a serving. They were as good as advertised and I can see why it is by far their most popular offering:
Following the BBQ Pork, the Pan Fried Turnip Cakes were served. I had my doubts about what this could taste like but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the Turnip Cake. The cakes were served with a side of chili sauce for dipping which helped give the Turnips a bit of bite.
Following the Turnip Cakes, the waitress brought out the Steamed Egg Cakes and Deep Fried dumplings with meat. Being that this was the first time that I’ve ever tried ‘Egg Cake’, I was assuming an “eggy” taste that would be similar to eating a hardboiled egg. I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted it since it was far sweeter than I expected. The filling could easily be used in a pastry or donut and served as a dessert! The Deep Fried Dumplings were good and similar to what you typically find in most Dim Sum or Chinese restaurants as an appetizer.
After finishing the previous dishes, our final two items were served including Glutinous Rice stuffed with meat and Vermicelli Rolls stuffed with Pork. Both of these were very good however the Vermicelli roll was extremely sticky and the 3 rolls were basically glued together which made it a bit of a challenge to eat, but technique not withstanding, they were delicious.
So now that you see what we had for Brunch, I’ll offer my final thoughts on our experience.
In all, we were very happy with our first experience with Tim Ho Wan. The food was very good and it is a place that we will visit again. However, what I am having difficulty with is reconciling how this restaurant, as good as the food was, had the ability to earn a Michelin Star. Though the food was good, there were several gaps in the overall experience that makes me question the Michelin rating.
First, our waitress did not speak english. Granted that we are in Hong Kong and I don’t expect English to be a primary language, but as a Michelin rated restaurant my assumption would be that the waitstaff could communicate in English. I’m not criticizing them for that since we’ve eaten at many restaurants in Hong Kong where english was not spoken, but I would expect that a Michelin restaurant would have english speaking staff.
Next, though the restaurant was clean as far as I can tell, they had boxes of supplies stacked all around the hostess/cashier area to the point that it made it difficult to reach the cashier to pay our bill. Perhaps they did not have chance to square away their supplies right at opening, but again, for a Michelin Star restaurant, I would expect that boxes of cooking supplies would not be located in the dining room.
Finally, and perhaps the most puzzling piece, is the fact that they charge $3HKD (about 40 cents) per napkin. When I saw the waitress at another table holding up 3 fingers to indicate that each napkin had a cost, I could only laugh. On principal, my wife offered up her pack of Kleenex, which came in handy when in my infinite stupidity I knocked over my Coke when taking photos of the food. Had she not had the Kleenex, I probably would have spent $50HKD in napkins to clean my mess. I’ve paid for water at restaurants in the past, but napkins?? Never!
Putting these pieces together, I simply can’t understand how or why Michelin would grant them a Star. Granted, the food was delicious but we’ve had better food in other non-Michelin restaurants. When I compare our experience at Tim Ho Wan to some of the other Michelin restaurants that we tried (i.e. Gordon Ramsey’s Petrus which is by far my favorite restaurant that I’ve ever eaten in), I just can’t come to grips that Michelin would consider them at some level, equals.
Again, I am not a trained reviewer of restaurants (but how hard can it be to share opinions about food) so maybe I’m missing something or don’t understand the judging criteria, but in my humble opinion the Michelin rating baffles me. Perhaps someone can enlighten me and explain why or how any restaurant is granted a Michelin award.
Regardless, and my opinion on the Michelin rating aside, We thoroughly enjoyed Tim Ho Wan, and easily recommend it as a place to try when visiting Hong Kong. Be aware that depending on the time of day, waits can approach 2 hours. From what we saw, it looks like it’s easy to get a seat during the week at the time they open. I suspect that it will be a lot harder to get in on a weekend or during prime time lunch and dinner hours……..and DEFINITELY order the BBQ Pork Dumplings – they are worth the trip and $3 napkins! 🙂