Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dim Sum Quest

As a kid, I used to hate going to yum cha with the family. I much preferred what I thought was refined American cuisine - namely, ribs at Ruby Tuesday's or cheeseburgers at Dan Ryan's. When I was forced to eat dim sum, I would sullenly refuse everything save the cha siu bao's, and I'd sit at the table with my earphones on in an attempt to drown out the cacophony of noises from the surrounding guests.

Since coming back from university in Boston, I've grown to love dim sum and crave it on a weekly basis. I recently tried 2 establishments that have engendered an almost cult following: Tim Ho Wan (添好运) in Mong Kok and Lin Heung (莲香楼) in Sheung Wan.

Tim Ho Wan's owner, a prevous chef at the Four Season's Lung King Heen, opened this hole-in-the-wall dim sum joint in order to provide 5-star food to the local masses. It has since received much fanfare, most noticeably in the fact that it has now become a 1-Michelin starred restaurant. I was curious to see whether it lived up to its fame so ventured out on an early Saturday morning in hopes of beating the crowd. The restaurant is pretty hard to find and the lines were already forming when I arrived at 11:30am.

har gau
Probably my most enjoyed dish here. the skin was not too thick, had a pleasantly chewy texture, and the fillings were substantial with large, juicy prawns. However, there was a slight lack of flavour that I had to remedy with dousings of sweet soy sauce from the har cheong:

har cheong
This is my favourite dim sum dish but it turned out to be a bit of a failure here. I much prefer the version from Tasty Congee in IFC!

cha siu bao
The famed cha siu bao was also a let down. It felt really greasy and overly sweet. The one at Victoria City Seafood in Sun Hung Kai Bldg (Wan Chai) far exceeds this. While the version at Tim Ho Wan is much cheaper, i'd definitely fork out the extra money for Victoria City.

chiu chow dumplings
Skin was thicker than that of the har gau and it felt over-steamed. The texture was quite...wet? Pretty mediocre if you ask me.

We also tried the ham sui gok which was soo oily (again, prefer Tasty Congee's version and it's not even a dim sum restaurant!), and the lor mai gai which was actually decent. Too bad my iPhone photos came out poorly.

All in all, I found the dim sum pretty mediocre and I definitely wouldn't line up again for this - nor trek all the way to remote parts of Mong Kok at 11am! Sure, the prices are cheap but you can get much better quality in much more comfortable surroundings elsewhere.


Last Sunday, I finally got around to trying Lin Heung, after walking past the restaurant on multiple occasions and vowing each time to give it a shot. This is a really old-school dim sum house where it feels as if nothing has changed since it first opened in the 1920s. Everything is utter chaos and you have to be prepared to hustle for your food. I felt like I was in a sporting match - whilst my friend preferred the analogy of a trading floor.

It was pretty amusing seeing some of the foreigners come in looking absolutely clueless, until I realised that locals were staring at my confused expression with quite the same delight.

Unfortunately, we arrived relatively late at about 1:30pm and a lot of the dim sum staples were already sold out. Nevertheless, we made do with what was on offer. Armed with our game plan (one of us would rush towards wherever the crowd was forming, hopefully bring back food, and then the next person would be sent into the fray - tag team style) we managed to procure a number of dishes:

beancurd roll
Really enjoyed this dish - the tofu skin was light and silky, and the fillings (chicken, pork, mushroom, and fish maw) were absolutely delicious! Each ingredient complemented the next and the dish was so flavourful.

pork spareribs
This was my favourite dish of the meal. This was succulent, juicy, and absolutely delicious. It was on the oily side but it would have paired beautifully with rice.

some kind of jioa zi with shrimp filling
I thought this was pretty ordinary, though I was surprised to see it stuffed with shrimp rather than pork.

siu mai
Pretty standard but packed with huge chunks of pork. I actually still prefer the siu mai you get off the streets though :P

lian rong bao
I've heard great things about the buns at Lin Heung and was looking forward to trying a cha siu bao but unfortunately they were all sold out by the time I arrived. This was the only bao left. The minute I picked it up, I was shocked by how heavy it was!! This was probably the densest bun I've ever had, akin to mooncake! The lotus seed paste was a little too sweet for me and I couldn't finish the whole thing. It doesn't help that I hate salted egg yolk as well.

my lai gou
This was good - Not sure if it's the best I've had but it held its own.

bo lei tea
Glad we ordered bo lei as it helped cut through all the grease in our meal!

I'm glad we came to this restaurant. While the food definitely won't blow you away, the atmosphere is something you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. It was quite exhilirating to fight for your food and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I managed to wrestle my way to the front of the crowd and return to my table victorious! It certainly gave an added appreciation to everything I was eating :) I only wished I was there earlier to try the cha siu bao's and cheong fun's. That said, I doubt I'll be back anytime soon. One time was more than enough excitement.

Tim Ho Wan
Shop 8, Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2
2-20 Kwong Wa Street,
Mong Kok

Lin Heung Teahouse
160-164 Wellington Street