I have incredibly fond memories of Tim Ho Wan. Quite a few years back I went to Korea and Hong Kong with my university friends. This was our first time travelling overseas together and even though we had our share of disagreements there were also lots of laughs.
Something that I will never be able to forget is the gruelling 2 and a half hours we spent lining up to get inside the original Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok. None of us had eaten breakfast so we were all starving. This resulted in us ordering comically large amounts of food. When all the dishes arrived in quick succession there was a wall of steam baskets between both sides of the table and I could hardly see my dining companions. Everyone in the restaurant was so amused they even started taking photos of our impressive meal. Despite the sheer amount of food we ordered the bill was still only roughly $13 AUD. We walked away incredibly full, happy and with a take away order of the famous baked bun with barbeque pork.
Therefore I was pretty excited when I heard that Tim Ho Wan was expanding its operations and opening up a store in Melbourne. Despite this excitement, I already knew that nothing could top that initial experience we had in Hong Kong due to the amazing price and unforgettable circumstances. That said there was nothing wrong with this meal and the service at the Melbourne store is definitely a lot better than in Hong Kong.
I appreciated how the sauce was already on the table. This saved me from the chore of asking for chilli sauce which is in my opinion, a must have item when doing yum cha.
The most famous dish was the first to arrive on the table: crispy baked barbeque buns. This is one of the items that popularised Tim Ho Wan, and when we were in Hong Kong we ordered 5 plates of these between 7. These were piping hot. The sweet buttery crispy skin gives way to barbeque pork covered in more sweet and sticky sauce.
Egg white spring rolls were perhaps fried a touch too long at too low a temperature. The inside egg white and prawn filling was both unusual and delicious, with the egg white adding a nice lightness to the dish. However, it was let down by the skin which was hard rather than crisp.
Chinese sausage and chicken glutinous rice was a surprising hit. In fact it was my favourite dish of the day. The wait staff pour a sweet soy sauce over the whole little bucket of rice. This bubbled away for a while infusing the soft and sticky rice with a lovely savoury flavour throughout. The chicken was also incredibly generously sized and incredibly pull apart tender.
Shrimp and wasabi wonton was something that I ordered because it seemed fairly unique. The insides were stuffed fairly generously with shrimp but this really wasn’t anything worth writing home about.
Pork liver vermicelli rolls was certainly one of the more adventurous items on the menu. The vermicelli rolls were smaller than usual and very sparsely filled, with only a few tiny bits of meat in each roll. I think it might be best to just stick to a regular pork roll in the future.
Ground beef balls are one of my mum’s favourite dishes. So every time I go to yumcha I always order it with her in mind. Tim Ho Wan’s version is delightfully light and fluffy with a generous serve of sauce on top.
Pork and prawn shui mai was one of the only dishes to come in an array of four. This was a satisfying rendition with meaty pieces of prawn that went well with chilli sauce but lacked flavour on their own.
As a warning the menu is rather limited, but this was also the case in the other Tim Ho Wan stores we visited in Hong Kong and Thailand. I don’t have any problems with this because they generally cover most of the dishes that I like at yumcha, but if you’re used to the more expansive options that are available at many other places this might surprise you.
As for how it stacks up against the other branches across the world, I think the Melbourne branch does okay. In terms of taste it is roughly equivalent with the Thailand Tim Ho Wan. However, I doubt that anything can beat the Hong Kong branches in terms of price, taste and that feeling of authenticity. I certainly wouldn’t recommend lining up for any significant amounts of time to eat here, but if you can get a seat it’s definitely worth trying for yourself, if only for the rice and barbeque pork buns.
P.S. My friends also dined here a few days later on a weekend and they found the food to be below par. They said that the dishes came far too quickly after their order was checked off; indicating that it wasn’t made to order and the quality of everything was rather inconsistent. I think that it may be best to avoid peak times like weekends and prime dining times of 12-2pm or 6-8pm so that the staff don’t rush you as much and everything is fresher.