Tim Ho Wan Restaurant - Chatswood Sydney

Tim Ho Wan on Urbanspoon
The dainty and flavourful Siew Mai, with a red hat for a difference.

The reputation had begun in Hong Kong, escalated when Lung King Heen Restaurant was awarded one Michelin Star.  Chef Mak Kwai Pui was responsible for the cuisine served at Lung King Heen.  The rest you may say is history. Chef Mak then served at the Le Meridian Hong Kong, before he decided to purse his own business - and Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok was born six years ago, with a modest 19 seats location.

 The crowds continued to troop in THW branches in Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Manila and Kuala Lumpur. This year saw the launch of the "adding of good vibes' in Australia.  Chatswood, the bustling centre of Asian migrants with a higher than average income level, complete with a transport hub and a shopping precinct, was the obvious choice to launch, with Burwood, Sydney Chinatown and Melbourne apparently in the line of sight.

With personal curiosity, social media expectation and crowd hype, I really tried to keep an open mind as I joined the queue on a late Sunday afternoon with two other friends.   The THW outlet in Chatswood is in the District Dining Precinct, purpose built over the Railway Street side of the rail station.  There are expensive high rise apartments nearby, commuters can make a dash for a yum cha session here before continuing on City rail to the Macquarie Shopping Centre and Macquarie University.

The signature baked Char Siew or barbecued pork bun.

The deco is modern, emphasising on tables for twosomes.   The staff that afternoon did look stressed out, although it was not a really busy time by THW experience.  Asking for drinking water involved a few times trying - the wait staff were not very communicative as well, seemingly pressured to clear tables and bring in the ordered dishes than  doing anything else.

Customers reflect the Hong Kong Gen Y anime loving spectrum - and the cooler climes of mid-autumn here did help in dressing up.  There were the old timers scattered across the tables, obviously relishing of good old times in the Fragrant Harbour.  Non-Chinese Australians seemed happy with the menu, which consists of only twenty-five items - what a brilliant idea for a business model, which incorporates the difficult-to-discard concept of encouraging table turnover,  an easy to order picture menu card and quick working staff to bring in dishes within an impressive five minutes after ordering.

Liver Cheong on the foreground, with steamed pork ribs in black bean sauce in the background.

The lady at the payment counter had a sense of humour.  I could not place it truly - was this a blend of Surry Hills, Mr.Wong in Wynyard and with shades of those great traditional Cantonese restaurants?  One thing for sure, there was not enough space to push trolleys  with bamboo baskets, every inch was better allocated to paying customers.

Ambiance and taste, with bean curd skin wraps in the foreground.

And bamboo baskets there were a-plenty, even providing the motif for the upper wall.    The chefs and kitchen staff looked focused and busy.  I did hear about the signature dish - baked barbecued  pork buns.  The dough outside was not the traditional recipe, it was an old-styled skin, something refreshingly different.  Biting into the bun did make me feel, hey, there may have been too much sugar in the outer coating, but I was tipped off to savour what was inside, more than anything else.  And there it was - savoury, tender on-the-bite barbecued pork - as you broke open the bun in halves.  The taste comes up first as they slither into my mouth, delicate and wholesome, standing a class above the rest.  There are three such buns on one serving plate - now how many shall I order to take back to the Wollongong Coast?

My favourite - steamed fish maw with prawn paste.

My dining mates did find the braised chicken feet with abalone sauce different and drier than the prevalent version in most Australian yum cha sessions.  We all agreed that it just was more of an old school recipe.  Most of the items available were savoury rather than sweet.  There seems to be an abundance of using pork and shrimp in the steamed servings.  There is no rash and rough presentation, every thing has been predetermined to be as dainty and delicate as possible when served.  Each dish is charged around the seven to eight dollar mark in Chatswood.  Seafood rules at THW, so be prepared.  Oh yes, there are also spring rolls, always a hit with the kids and beer drinkers (no alcohol license has been granted to THW at the time of writing).  Grandma may want to check out the glutinous rice with chicken and mushroom wrapped in bamboo leaves, I avoided that as it is a hefty serving. Chinese tea is charged at $2.50 per person.

Shrimp and veg dumpling - refreshing and uplifting.

The world of corporate and competitive cuisine in the great cities of the world can be challenging.  And dramatic - I understand, correct me if I am mistaken, that chef Eric Koh, who was head hunted from Mr. Wong's in Sydney CBD to head THW in Chatswood, has been reported to have headed back to his previous employ. Does this mean anything, maybe not, as long as the quality of the dishes THW churns out in Australia continue to excite and satisfy customers.  Tellingly, the Sydney operation is overseen by Singapore based Chef Cheung Yat Sing -  this follows an increasing trend whereby Australia is viewed as a business province of headquarters in low-taxed Singapore.

The Cantonese are fond of poetically naming dishes with splendour and meaning.  THW is welcome in this great southern land.    In Hong Kong pop of previous generations, they recognised the Four heavenly Kings in that music genre - and so now there are also four such kings in dim sim cuisine -  the barbecued pork bun, vermicelli roll (Cheong) with pig liver, steamed egg cake and the pan fried radish cake.  Please ask your Cantonese speaking mates for the beautiful Chinese names!

Where the creative people are.

So in the end, after half an hour and devouring ten items amongst the three of us for a late teatime snack session, what are my recommended dishes?  I have to say the Siew Mai and the liver filled Cheong.  They are made with finesse, require delicate and skilled hands plus they came out being served with the right texture and freshness.  Has the restaurant lived up to the hype?  Perhaps not, but it is still worth trying for a few select items and try to visit away from rush hour.   Some say this interim Australian operation of THW does not provide exactly the same taste as in Hong Kong, but I think that can be subjective, so just judge for yourself.

Tim Ho Wan Restaurant - whole day dim sum from 10am till 9pm every day
1 Railway Street, upper level facing road
Chatswood NSW 2067
Telephone 612 9898 9888
Bookings in private room available for a minimum spend of AUD300 - otherwise is a wait and sit system.

Apparently the dish that draws in the crowds, especially in their South-east Asian outlets.


The Sydney Noob said…
Nice write up!! I still haven't been. So it's above average it can wait but I'll get there eventually.
Kin Yuen said…
Yes there is no rush, as it is not worth queuing for too long and try to visit during more quiet times if you can. Once you are seated, pick your favourites and go from there!

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