This is a big deal. Tim Ho Wan is awesome in Hong Kong, and it has come to Australia blazing a distinct trail.
There is one comparison to Melbourne’s The Fat Duck and that is the incredible foodie fever that is swept up by it. That is the only comparison. Tim Ho Wan in Chatswood does not (generally) take bookings, serves several hundred people in a day, and is at the opposite end of the price spectrum. It does not matter if you are from an investment bank and have generated a computer program that unfairly gets you several gold tickets for your clients for The Fat Duck; you need to wait in line for THW so loosen your tie.
It is raining heavily outside and has been for several hours, leading to the cancellation of today’s horse racing “Championships” and also to the line being kept inside rather than down the stairs and around the corner. We waited almost two hours (1:55 to be exact), starting close to the other end of the fancy food court being spruiked by Poh. The wait is an experience in itself. I had time to go and get Cheezels from Woolies, some green tea red bean paste buns from Bread Top, and a takeaway coffee nearby while Catherine waited in line. There was families complete with obligatory pram in tow, and all walks of life young and old, but the placement in Chatswood is a no brainer – it is perfect for a crowd who know their har gow from their siu mai.
Having been to several very good Hong Kong restaurants for dim sum in December, we have some recent experience to compare Tim Ho Wan to. There are many aspects the same as our experience at Tim Ho Wan in Central such as receiving the order form prior to seating (to speed up service), the discipline behind the food being served, and the efficiency of the many floorstaff. The prices have been kept in check too. On the whole I was staggered to find the dishes like the famous baked pork buns to be only $6.80 for three.
The baked pork buns are delicious with the THW characteristic sweetness in the bun, which is baked rather than steamed to produce a firmer texture, offsetting the beautiful roasted pork inside. The sweetness in certain bites was quite pronounced from the exterior of the bun, taking away some of the balance, but on the whole they are a good replica of the dish that has made THW famous across Asia. The glutinous rice is perfectly wrapped in the lotus leaves. It’s almost too perfectly set out with a surprise mushroom on the outer of the rice, the one piece of blood sausage at one end and stacks of flavoursome chicken and pork throughout. To replicate this time after time is an artform in itself. Equally there is nothing wrong in a dish such as this to be a little random too.
The steamed prawn dumplings are as good as I’ve found around Australia over many years. Perfect wrapper; full of fresh and juicy prawns cooked to the second; and even better with the chilli and soy offered on the table. The har gow aficionados are surely more than satisfied. Last of the savouries we tried was the “carrot cake”. It is a nice dish with certain accents of carrot and meat but it is not in the same class as the prior three in my opinion.
As dessert lovers, we had to try both on offer. The mango pomelo sago is light with a balance between creamy sweetness and the slightly savoury tapioca and pomelo well distributed through the sago. The tonic medlar brings back happy memories of Hong Kong and is a dish I have only tried overseas. It is jelly, but more than that. It has slight sweetness again, balanced with delicate osmanthus flowers, and a texture that is firmer than you expect. Adding to this it is a fantastic way to aid digestion after a fair amount of rich food.
There is one main issue with THW and it has nothing to do with the wait, or the food. Describing the tea as “peasant tea” would be kind to it. I’m not sure what is going on, but the tea is nothing like we enjoyed in good quantities around Hong Kong (including at THW Central), or indeed at our locals like Tao Tao House in Hawthorn. I can’t work it out but there is no two ways about it, it is hard to drink.
There is a fever about THW in Chatswood and I’m glad. It is exciting to have world renowned restaurants entering the Australian market, and it is great to see the reception provided. The logistics behind this operation are too staggering to think about. They are turning over around one hundred people every hour (that is an understatement). It is an honour for Australia to accept a THW branch and it is fantastic to see they are delivering on the experience they no doubt want to duplicate from the other side of Asia.