|The Queue usually runs around the corner, but moves fast|
Signs identified the Bourke Street location even before Christmas, so it was no real shock that upon its opening in March, Tim Ho Wan's first Melbourne site boasted queues around the clock. Fortunately, they've done this before (there are currently over 20 Tim Ho Wan sites in Asia and Australia, including four in Sydney), so the waiting area had been neatly sectioned off around the corner, and casual stool seating provided. Menus can be found dotted along the queue area, and in peak times, clipboards are handed out by staff, bearing checklist menus ready to be filled out and handed in straight away upon being seated.
On my first visit, two friends and I had organised to meet there at 6:30pm on a Friday night. I arrived a bit early at 6:20pm, so jumped straight into the queue to try and save us some time. It moved quickly, and lo and behold, by 6:30pm when the others showed up, I was head of the queue and we were ushered straight in. On my second visit, a Tuesday night a few weeks later, I arrived at 5:45pm and my friend and I walked straight in to a half-full restaurant. Needless to say, the queues are starting to abate. A relief for hungry diners!
|Bill delivered upfront|
Efficiency is key here, with lots of staff on hand to keep the flow of patrons moving in and out as quickly as possible. As soon as your menu is submitted (it's all a bit business-like, but you just run with it if you want your dumplings), the bill is laid upon your table and, when each dish is delivered to you, it is scribbled out on the bill. Should you wish to order more, the bill is taken away, revised and brought back. There's no mucking around. The fit-out is light wood with touches of lime green, with the 105-cover space sporting bench seating and lots of rather uncomfortable small stools. It's clean, no-fuss and not particularly great in atmosphere - but that's not why you come here.
So how's the food? Look - it's pretty okay! The phrase "Michelin star" does encourage high expectations, but one should remember that it was only the original restaurant that earned the accolade, and all the others since have been modelled upon it by the Singaporean company that owns Tim Ho Wan, but essentially: this is a chain. One of the chefs who began it all, Mak Kwai Piu, had commandeered the restaurant at Hong Kong's Four Seasons to three-star status before breaking away to open the original Tim Ho Wan in 2009, along with fellow chef Leung Fai Keung. I heard somewhere that the chefs at the new franchises must undergo rigorous training in making the dumplings - no idea if that's true or not - but the food certainly does come out very uniform, almost to the point where it looks like fast food. I found some of it a little plain in flavour, but for the price, it's BLOODY good, and I will definitely go back.
|Baked Barbeque Pork Buns, $7.80|
Tim Ho Wan's most revered menu item is the baked pork bun - its point of difference being that it is baked rather than steamed, its casing lightweight and slightly sugared, and its innards a gooey, sweetened barbeque pork filling. I enjoyed the buns, but they are less filling than you'd expect, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more filling. They are on the sweet side, but I'm not averse to that.
|More barbeque pork filling, please!|
Other self-touted menu stars (or "Big 4 Heavenly Kings", as the menu labels them) are the turnip cake, steamed egg cake, and pig's liver vermicelli roll. I haven't tried these yet, but they are next on my hit list, along with the fish maw, chicken feet and congee. We also had the wasabi fried prawn dumplings, steamed spinach and shrimp dumplings, vermicelli shrimp roll, and glutinous rice, followed by the mango sago and the osmanthus jelly. On my other visit, I also sampled the spring rolls with egg white - surprisingly pleasant - and the beancurd skin roll - tasty, but a bit too strange of a texture for me.
|Wasabi Salad Prawn Dumplings, $7.80|
|Spinach Dumpling with Shrimp, $7.80... delicious|
|Vermicelli Roll with Shrimp, $7.80|
|Glutinous Rice (and other things!) in Lotus Leaf, $8.80|
|Unwrapping the glutinous rice...|
|The guts of the glutinous rice... not pretty, but fun and delicious|
|Dessert! Mango Sago Pomelo, $6.00. Mango-y.|
|Tonic Medlar and Osmanthus Cake, $5.80|
|This looked cool, but was kinda flavourless.|
The restaurant does not currently offer alcoholic beverages, and I don't know if that's part of the plan in future, but I imagine the lack of alcohol helps deter patrons from staying too long! Be prepared to drink Chinese tea (bottomless, apparently) or soft drink, then head elsewhere for your boozing, post-dumplings.
Tim Ho Wan means "add good luck" and aims to produce good-quality, affordable dim sum. No luck is needed for the Bourke Street franchise: it has achieve its aim already and is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are partial to pork buns, dumplings, or Chinese food. I've heard that some people have been less than impressed but, being very affordable (each visit cost me approximately $25-$30 for my share), tasty, and accessible... why the pork-bun not?! At least you can say you've tried it. Then let me know what you think!
Tim Ho Wan Bourke Street is open daily from 10am to 10pm (last orders 9:30pm).