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You’re gruffly shown to your seat, told to sit on a long bench table where you’re squeezed in between strangers so closely that you can hear each slurp of noodle, each munch of dim sum, each bite of pig’s liver. The service is less friendly than you’d get from a parking attendant; the ‘menu’ consists of a thin paper form in which you tick off your choices with a pencil; the next course comes out almost before you’ve started the current one; and there’s no wine, beer or other alcohol on offer. It’s hot, crowded, noisy. Sounds awful? No, it’s magical. And by the way there’s a 30-person queue outside waiting for a table.
Welcome to Tim Ho Wan, a small eatery at Hong Kong Station and the latest branch of “the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant” – the original Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok.
The Hong Kong Station restaurant was given a Highly Commended ranking in our recent FAB Awards held in Geneva in the Railway Station category (the winner was SSP’s superb Le Train Bleu at Gare Du Lyon, Paris) and I decided this week to see if all the hype was justified.
Tim Ho Wan, sometimes described as “a hole-in-the-wall eatery’, is the brainchild of Mak Kwai-pui, formerly a chef of Lung King Heen, a three-Michelin Star restaurant in Hong Kong. In 2009, he decided to open a humble 20-seater dim sum restaurant, one that would shock the local culinary community a year later by earning a Michelin star of its own in the 2010 Hong Kong and Macau Guide.
Shortly afterwards Telegraph travel writer Michelle Wranik wrote of waiting in a three-hour queue for a table: “It’s hard to believe I’ve just made a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant. It felt more like dropping off a shirt at the drycleaners. From the outside, Tim Ho Wan looks like any other nondescript dim sum canteen in the city’s traffic-choked Mong Kok district. But there is one marked difference: Michelin reviewers have awarded it a coveted one-star rating, netting it the auspicious title of cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.
“Baskets of prawn dumplings and pork buns cost a mere US$1 – a long way from the eye-watering US$330 bills that can be clocked up at other Michelin-starred restaurants such as the Fat Duck or El Bulli. It’s a rare chance for layfolk to sample cuisine usually reserved for the upper echelons of society.”
The result has been a triumph. Don’t go there expecting refined service or fancy surrounds. Be prepared to be shouted at by the waiting staff. Expect a cacophany of slurping, plates being banged down on to the tables, and noisy chatter from appreciative diners. You’ll be in and out in well under an hour but you’ll feel like you’ve just dined all night long.
And then you pay the bill. HK$150. For two. Yes that’s right. Around US$19. For that I think I can forgive the lack of finery. Tim Ho Wan is all about the food. Baked Bun with BBQ Pork (what would my cardiologist say?); Vermicelli Roll stuffed with Pig’s Liver; Steamed Pork Dumpling with Shrimp; Pan Fried Carrot Cake… stop it, I’m making myself hungry again nearly 24 hours later.
Next time you’re in Hong Kong check it out. You won’t leave hungry, you won’t leave poor, but you will leave with a rare experience in our industry, a Michelin-Star experience.