|The Tim Ho Wan restaurant at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City|
It is better to go in the mid-afternoon, about three to four o’clock, advises the waitress. This is to avoid the long line of diners trying to get into the newest dining sensation in the country—Tim Ho Wan. Since it opened in May 20 this year, queues still haven’t shown signs of abating especially during lunch and dinner times.
Because of the demand, its owners are imposing strict rules. For example, all members of a dining group must be present all throughout the queue to be seated and served. They don’t accept reservations. You can only order as much for yourself, especially for the baked bun with barbecue pork, their most acclaimed item. You cannot order 20 pieces all for yourself. You are allowed one order, which has three pieces for P145, I was told. You can’t order to go but you can have what you didn’t finish wrapped. Yes, they don’t have a delivery service.
The first Philippine branch at the first floor of the SM Mega Fashion Hall of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City can accommodate about 200 people, but the dining area can get cramped quickly and the seats are not really comfortable. These may be a way of telling you not to linger and lounge too much because there are still people waiting. The place is for quick bites and then you must be on your way. We haven’t seen this demand and strictures on dining before, and arguably it is deserved.
Tim Ho Wan, which began as a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Hong Kong, is the world’s most affordable Michelin-star restaurant. It was established by Hong Kong chef Mak Kwai Pui, who started at the age of 15 as an apprentice for his uncle at a small Hong Kong restaurant, where he learned to make dim sum. After working in hotels such as Le Meridian and Four Seasons, he set up his first restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, a humble place with 15 seats, in 2009, on Kwong Wa Street in Mong Kok. The name literally means “add good luck.” Soon, it saw long lines of diners. Within the year it started, his restaurant earned a Michelin star in the 2010 Hong Kong and Macau Michelin guide, alongside expensive fine-dining restaurants.
|Tim Ho Wan founder, chef Mak Kwai Pui (left), visits the SM Megamall branch with chef Leung|
Tim Ho Wan is praised for its dim sums, made with high quality but sold at affordable prices. The success of the restaurant led to three more outlets: at North Point, IFC Mall and Sham Shui Po. The original outlet in Mong Kok has been relocated to Olympian City. In 2013, the first overseas outlet was opened in Singapore—at the ground floor of The Atrium@Orchard, Plaza Singapura, a popular shopping mall—in partnership with brand manager and service provider Hersing Corporation. Three more branches were opened: at Bedok Mall on New Upper Changi Road, Westgate in Jurong East, and Toa Payoh Hersing Centre.
With the Singaporean master franchise owner, Tim Ho Wan was brought to the Philippines through a partnership between Rikki Dee and Felix Ang of Cats Motors. Dee already owns a string of restaurants such as Mesa Filipino Moderne, Ebun, Mangan, Chin’s Express, Inihaw Express, Cerveceria, Isogi and Kai. Recently, he brought the Todd English Food Hall to the country.
Together with Singaporean master franchise owners Peggy Chua, Robert Chua and Brian Chua, founder Chef Mak visited the Philippine branch on June 17 and was overwhelmed by the warm reception.
Dee is eyeing to open four restaurants within the year. Already, the outlets at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, and at the Glorietta Mall in Makati City are under construction. The menu is the same as those in Hong Kong and Singapore. Soon, the Philippine branch will also be serving bimonthly specials, new dishes featured every two months. To ensure the restaurant’s quality and standards are kept, Hong Kong chefs were brought in and are training Filipino chefs.
The menu basically has 25 short-order dishes, mostly dim sums. The specialties are called the Big 4 Heavenly Kings, which consist of the baked bun with barbecue pork, pan-friend carrot cake (P145), steamed egg cake (P85) and vermicelli roll with pig’s liver (P150).
|The baked buns with barbecued pork are their most popular and acclaimed item—saucy, crumbly, sweet|
|The glutinous rice in lotus leaf, which we commonly call machang, is a complete meal in itself.|
|The pork dumplings are compact and tasty|
|The delicious prawn dumplings with plump and juicy pieces of prawns inside|
|The dumplings Teochew style contain crunchy vegetables|
|The delightful and crunchy wasabi salad prawn dumpling|
Vermicelli roll with pig’s liver
Pan fried Carrot cake
|Steamed egg cake|
|Tonic medlar and osmanthus cake|
The reputation of its savory pork buns is well deserved. The golden yellow buns have crumbly and fragile pastry shells that break open to reveal savory-sweet and saucy barbecued pork. It is recommended that it should be consumed within 10 minutes or else the buns loses about 50 percent of its deliciousness, according to Chef Mak. The buns may be too sweet for some.
The steamed egg cake is soft custard with a crunchy caramel coating, while the pan-fried carrot cake tastes like the regular radish cake. Liver lovers will revel over the vermicelli roll with pig’s liver, with a slice of liver wrapped in silky vermicelli. The vermicelli roll also comes with other fillings—barbecued pork, beef and shrimp—and one doused in sweet sesame sauce.
Steamed dim sums include prawn dumplings (P160), pork dumplings (P150), pork rib with black bean sauce (P120), beef ball with bean curd skin (P120), bean curd skin roll with pork and shrimp (P120), dumpling Teochew style (P120) and spinach dumpling with shrimp (P120), all served in bamboo steamers.
These are very enjoyable and tasty, even without the sauce. The prawns are plump and juicy, wrapped in silky glutinous rice, and the pork dumpling is compact and flavorful. The last time I had dim sum this good was at the crowded original restaurant of Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan, a must for every visitor in the island state. While their much acclaimed xiao long bao, soup dumpling, is incomparable, Tim Ho Wan’s meat-filled dumplings are better.
Tim Ho Wan also serves fried dim sums—bean curd skin roll with shrimp (P140), spring roll with egg white (P120), and wasabi salad prawn dumpling (P140). The last one is most recommended—a crunchy delight spiked by a drizzle of wasabi mayo.
Rice dishes include rice with beef and fried egg (P180); rice with chicken, sausage and mushroom (P170); and glutinous rice in lotus leaf (P190), which we commonly call machang. The glutinous rice is meaty and saucy, a complete meal in itself.
Though it looks simple, the congee with lean pork, century egg and salted egg is surprisingly likable, a comfort food that is so egg-y and with a perfect texture. It leaves a memory of flavors that stays far long after you have dined, making you realize how delicious they were. If you have the patience to queue, yes, you should try Tim Ho Wan.
|Rikki Dee, Chef Leung, Chef Mak, Peggy Chua, Robert Chua and Brian Chua|
|Kelvin Khoo, Johnson Chan, Chef Mak, Brian Chua, Rikki Dee, Peggy Chua and Robert Chua|
|Chef Leung, Chef Mak, Chef Leung and Chef Fung|
|Robert Chua, Chef Leung, Chef Mak, Rikki Dee, Chef Leung, Chef Fung and Brian Chua|
|Chef Teddy, Chef Leung, Chef Mak, Chef Leung, Chef Fung and Chef Yip|
|From left: Felix Ang, Brian Chua, Chef Mak, Chef Leung, Hirubalan, Carol Sy, Chef Fung, Chef Leung and Robert Chua|
|Felix Ang, Grace Ang, Mrs. Leung, Arlene Chan, Johnson Chan, Chef Teddy, Chef Yip, Robert Chua, Chef Leung, Chef Mak, Mrs. Mak, Peggy Chua, Beng Dee, Chef Fung, Chef Leung, Kelvin Khoo, Bryan Lim, Brian Chua and Rikki Dee|