STRICTLY Tim Ho Wan is not really somewhere-you-may-never-have-heard-of, but the Hong Kong parent enjoys the epithet of being one of the cheapest Michelin star restaurants and as such the queues for the New York outlet stretch around the block. There is no booking so it qualifies more as being one of the hardest-places-to-get-into unless you enjoy queueing.Mak Kwai-Pue was head chef at the three Michelin star Lung King Heen before opening the first example as a 20 seater in Mongkok in 2009. There are now 45 scattered around mostly Asia.
We were lucky in that the extraction system was being cleaned and so the opening time was put back to 2pm. Plus it was raining hard enough to put off anyone except die hard nerds like us.
Dim sum is also perhaps better suited to a New York audience attuned to grazing where in the UK most shut up shop about 6pm and morph into ordinary restaurants. There is also a strong supportive local community here who probably go for the more eastern elements like congee and desserts like sweet pumpkin cream with sago.
The menu is short, only 30 or so dishes with only a single example of pan fried, one of baked, three deep fried, otherwise it is deeply traditional organised around dumplings and rice. The room is a basement mezzanine decorated rather like the steam bamboo baskets in which the dishes come.You tick off the boxes on the menu to order…there is not much here to worry a guelo with little knowledge. We have the usual suspects – har gow are the shrimp dumplings, steamed pork knuckes come with black beans and bones, the sticky rice is wrapped in a lotus leaf, sui mai is pork and shrimp wrapped in pasta, the rice flour dumplings come with Chinese chives and the spring rolls with xo sauce.
Best of all were perhaps these aubergines fried and stuffed with shrimp…There is an odd but not unuseful dish of blanched iceberg lettuce which helps to cut through the fatty elements and can wrap things up…Every dish is under $5 except a few rice dishes at $5.50, a pot of tea is $1 although you can explore some more precious leaves as an upgrade.
I would not really say it was much better than what you find in London or Manchester, a little smarter perhaps and with the benefit of a swish new kitchen and dining room but, and this is a big but, a much shorter menu that does not include for example any roast meats. It is a novella, not a novel. What it has though, which so often sets out a great restaurant, is the chuzpah to believe it could be the best.