Tim Ho Wan at Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, is one of two Tim Ho Wan restaurants with Michelin stars in Hong Kong, with the other being their North Point outlet. We have seen the ridiculously long queues outside the Tim Ho Wan branches in Singapore, and while they seem to have abated with the opening of multiple branches, we can say that the queues outside the Hong Kong branches remain as long as ever. In fact, on a weekday morning just a couple of minutes after opening, the restaurant was filled up and a queue started to form. Why is that so? It is the price.
We found the service decent and the food unexceptional. Again, maybe it is because we have been spoilt by some really delicious dim sum back in Singapore. However, the saving grace of this place is the exceptional value it provides for the quality of the dim sum it provides vis-à-vis its cost.
Service and Ordering
Just have a look at the price for that. For their famous baked bun with BBQ pork, beef ball with beancurd skin, pork dumpling with shrimp (shumai or siu mai), vermicelli roll with BBQ pork (chee cheong fun) and two cups of tea, we paid a paltry HK$85 to dine in air-conditioned comfort. In Singapore, after adding the 10% service charge and the 7% tax, we would be paying SGD$25.42. That is a whopping 65% increase in price for the same items.
Given their one Michelin star, they must have decent service, and they don’t disappoint. We did encounter one service glitch though – our siu mai never arrived. We approached a staff who seem befuddled because it seems she had never encountered an item not being delivered to the customer in a timely fashion. After another 10 minutes we approached another staff who had the same befuddled look, and finally one of their supervisors, who simply looked at the order tab timestamp and glanced at his watch, noting that the time was still within the 30 minute window and told us to wait for another 10 minutes. From their actions, it appears that their staff genuinely believe that they have this awesome kitchen system which is foolproof and never fails.
Unfortunately the glitch probably occurred when they served two servings of their ‘beef ball with beancurd skin’ – on hindsight the second serving was supposed to have been our siu mai. Their infallible system is not designed to handle glitches.
When we went to the cashier to cancel the siu mai for non-delivery after being exasperated with their staff’s responses, the supervisor there seemed totally shocked and exchanged some words with the kitchen supervisor. It looks like they really almost never ever mess up orders, it was quite a sight to behold. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a complaint about their service, which we felt was pretty decent, but simply some musings of a lightning strike event occurring on our visit.
If you have never been to Tim Ho Wan, their system is quite similar to Din Tai Fung’s ordering system where you simply mark the items you want on the order sheet and hand it to their staff. If you have trouble understand the written Chinese do not fear, there are English subtitles on their highlight menu:
Tim Ho Wan at Sham Shui Po – Baked Bun with BBQ Pork
This is their most famous and delicious item on the menu. It is the item that my mother always buys home when she happens to be near a Tim Ho Wan branch. When we first tried this back in Singapore, we must say that the taste was irresistible. This is not your regular char siew bao (BBQ Pork bun). It is more of a super delicious polo bun with char siew filling. For more on what a polo bun is do see our writeup on Kam Fung. When you take your first bite, you will notice the mildly sweet and crispy bun combining with the moist and savoury char siew (BBQ pork) to give a unique and delicious taste that is really one-of-a-kind. I have no doubt that the char siew by itself would be heavenly.
The bun at their Michelin star outlet was outstanding as well – but my taste buds may have been playing tricks on me as it seemed that the ones at the Singapore branches taste a tad better. Nonetheless we rate this a strong 4.2/5.
Chee Cheong Fun and Beef Ball with Beancurd Skin
The appeal of Tim Ho Wan is in its exceptional value, the price-performance ratio if its dim sum. With their main signature char siew bun out of the way, the other items that we ordered didn’t strike us as exceptional. The chee cheong fun was had a generous amount of char siew – unfortunately this was the regular kind of char siew and not the super delicious ones found in their signature bun, unavoidable given the preparation methods. The combination of the chee cheong fun with the usual sauce was solid. We rate it 4/5.
For the beef ball with beancurd skin, the taste didn’t really grow on us and we found the taste combination rather pedestrian. The beef ball was nice and springy but the combination with the beancurd skin seemed rather plain. We rate it 3.7/5.
Tim Ho Wan at Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong is exceptional because of its cheap and good food. HK$85 for all that in an air-conditioned environment is really nuts. In terms of pure food quality however, their items can be a bit hit and miss. The char siew bun is great, but the other items weren’t as outstanding. If we had a chance to come back we would definitely try their glutinous rice dumplings instead, which seemed to be a very popular item based on our observations.
As a public service we would like to confirm the opening hours for Tim Ho Wan at Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong – they are opened from 1000-2130hrs on weekdays and 0900-2130hrs on weekends and public holidays. The available information online was ambiguous and we went down to the place at 8am only to find it closed.