It is truly an honour and achievement for traditional Asian restaurant Tim Ho Wan (添好运) to achieve a Michelin star, and a fortune we can all enjoy right here in Tim Ho Wan Singapore. Chef Mak Kwai Pui is the master behind this internationally recognized Hong Kong dim sum brand, which has landed in Singapore with a hailstorm of supporters.
I’ve been invited to the 2nd Tim Ho Wan Singapore outlet, strategically located in the Toa Payoh neighbourhood no doubt for the cheaper rent and to establish a hit with the heartlanders in this area. I brought along my pal Chef Warren for his expert taste buds to assist me on this food trip.
Simply furnished just like any other dim sum restaurant, Tim Ho Wan dim sum opens it’s doors at 11am but the cooks come in for preparation at 6am everyday. Even with a 25 man kitchen team, the cooks at Tim Ho Wan have to work to the bone to hand make dim sum with fresh ingredients delivered daily. Admittedly though, after speaking to Tim Ho Wan Singapore’s Executive Chef Cheung, the fresh ingredients in Singapore will never be as fresh as in Hong Kong, since we have to import almost every raw food.
Nonetheless, he reassured me the dim sum recipes are exactly the same as what is used in the original Hong Kong restaurant, and the ingredients are as fresh as humanely possible for Singapore standards. Chef Cheung has also been tutored and trained by Chef Mak in Hong Kong personally to learn the same philosophies that make the brand such a success. That’s Tim Ho Wan’s promise to dim sum lovers.
Arriving at around 2pm, there was still a queue outside Tim Ho Wan in the ERA centre despite being off-peak. It’s a lot less compared to lunch period any more, but still amazing how fervent Singaporeans can get over food. Waltzing in pass the entire queue with dirty looks to our reserved table, this is what I love about food tasting sessions. The place was still packed like sardines in a can.
Dim sum is all about variety in small dishes, so I hope you like drooling over food photos because there’s going to be quite a few.
To start off, we had the 豉汁蒸肉排 Pork Ribs with Black Bean Sauce ($4.20). This was not overly oily and marinated just right to produce soft steamed ribs. It can be easy to go overboard with the black bean sauce, as it’s quite a salty paste, but this was perfect. Very good start.
Hearing so much about the 4 Heavenly Kings Dim sum (四大天王点心), a homage to old-school Hong Kong celebrities the 4 Heavenly Kings, it was time to see whether they lived up to the Godly title.
This is the 黄沙猪润肠 Vermicelli Roll with Pig’s Liver ($5.50), which is quite rare in Singapore to use pig’s liver wrapped in Chee Cheong Fun/Vermicelli Roll. I initially thought it was beef before popping it in my mouth, then the liver hit me. Now personally I hate liver, but in a bid for an objective view, the liver was about medium cooked still having some redness thus being tender and fresh.
It was good for Chef Warren who thinks in this line we need to eat everything. Screw that I still hate liver. We also had the prawn and char siew version of this dish, which all had very fresh ingredients as well.
The chee cheong fun roll wrap for all of them was silky and smooth yet firm enough to hold all the ingredients in without breaking apart. Soak up more of the sweet soy sauce for a nice well-rounded taste.
酥皮焗叉烧包 Baked Bun with BBQ Pork ($4.50).
OHMYGODWTFBBQ. Biting into the crispy sugary skin breaking apart to reveal savoury char siew brought me to wonderland for a few seconds. Traditional Char Siew Bao is with steamed white skin but this was more like when a Bo Lo bao 菠蘿包 and a Char siew bao got married and had a beautiful, delicious baby.
This was in my opinion the best dim sum I had at Tim Ho Wan. Chef Warren found it a tad too sweet for him though, but Chef Cheung explained later on it was intentionally made this way so the palate would crave for more buns. Sneaky.
香煎萝卜糕 Pan Fried Carrot Cake ($4.50). I’m pretty neutral about carrot cake because it’s so starchy usually, but this was not as jelat and had bits of Lap Cheong (chinese sausage) inside giving it a sweeter fragrance. With the addition of meat inside, this became such a joy to eat.
Rounding up the heavenly kings is the 香滑马来糕 Steamed Egg Cake ($3.80). I originally thought this was a Singapore adaptation, but this has been on the Hong Kong menu since long ago as well.
Extremely fragrant with Gula Melaka and coconut milk flavours, this cake had such a Q texture that if you pushed down on it flat, it would bounce back up. This was very fluffy and would break apart with a fork easily yet still retain it’s overall form. Not exactly a Malay cake fan, but this was on such a different level I became a convert.
From Left: 鮑汁闷风爪 Steam Chicken Feet with Abalone Sauce ($5.00), 家乡咸水饺 Deep Fried Dumpling with Salted Meat($3.80).
These are specials exclusive to the Toa Payoh Tim Ho Wan branch. I really liked the chicken feet that was cooked till the meat skin pretty much dripped from the bone, but some people enjoy it firmer like Chef Warren.
The Deep fried dumpling with salted meat however, was a complete miss for me. The dough was sticky and stuck to my teeth, the meat to bun ratio was damn imbalanced (can barely taste the meat), and the cloves marinate just overpowered everything. Just give this dish a miss and stick with the traditionals.
You know it’s not dim sum until the Har Gao arrives. 晶莹鲜虾饺 Prawn Dumpling ($5.50) had very fresh huge prawns and wrapped in the same silky skin that’s not overly chewy. The secret is in the kneading technique and also the recipe that is well-guarded by the restaurant.
Another mainstay of dim sum is the 鲜虾烧卖皇 Pork Dumpling with Shrimp ($5.00). A wonderful meat dumpling with fresh prawns, this version was flavourful with a unique hint of wolfberries that most Siew Mai’s don’t have.
Classic fried dumpling, the crispy 青芥末明虾角 Wasabi Salad Prawn Dumpling ($5.00) comes with Wasabi dressing and Tobiko roe which adds a slight spice to make the fried dumpling less common and expected to the bite.
From Left: 杨枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago ($5.00) and 杞子桂花糕 Tonic Medlar & Osmanthus Cake ($3.50).
Even though we’ve had so much already, we struggled to move on to dessert since we’ve heard such praise. The mango pomelo sago was pretty average in my opinion, probably because so many famous Hong Kong dessert shops have already started selling this in Singapore.
The Osmanthus cake however was quite unique to me and not really a cake. Within the jelly texture you can taste the wolfberries and the strands of Osmanthus flower, making a very refreshing light dessert. I loved this jelly cake.
Chef Cheung was very hospitable and came out to speak with many guests here for feedback and comments. He explained how they only used fresh ingredients which is the key cornerstone of their popularity.
With Tim Ho Wan’s roaring success, it’s only a matter of time till the next few outlets open. I’ve heard there will be more local flavour infusions in the next outlet, but Chef Cheung kept the details a secret.
I’m guessing chili crab dumpling somewhere in there! Fresh ingredients and classic award winning recipes, Tim Ho Wan Singapore is definitely worth the slightly pricier dim sum. Skip the monthly specials and go straight for their famous dishes.
Related Guide: Best Dim Sums in Singapore History- The Ultimate Guide
Expected Damage: $20-$25 per person
No reservations, queue early