If you frequent the city centre it's likely that you walked past the boarded up, Bourke Street shopfront of Tim Ho Wan at some point. It's felt like years since the announcement that the lauded dumpling den was coming to Melbourne, and after what turned out to a trying journey to turn a retail space into a hospitality venue, the restaurant has finally pulled down it's cladding. And now that it's open, it's set to be a surefire hit for the Melbourne food scene.
From its humble beginnings as a 20-seater outpost in Hong Kong's Mong Kok, the restaurant now has 24 restaurants across South East Asia and Australia (including four in Sydney). Possessing a Michelin star, Tim Ho Wan is one of very few, affordable starred restaurants. And as a result of this badge of honour, the menu presents a few options that aren't the norm in Australia's dim sum circles.
Turnip cakes (fish maw — we had to Google it), and steamed egg cakes are some of the not-so often encountered menu items on offer at Tim Ho Wan. Some other interesting dishes included the wasabi salad prawn dumpling ($7.80 for three), the crispy spring rolls filled with egg white ($6 for three) and the spinach dumplings with prawns ($7.80 for three). By the way, the pan-fried turnip cake ($6) left the table divided, but it's worth giving it a go if you're ok with a soggy hash brown texture. On the other hand, the not-quite-savoury, not-quite-sweet steamed egg cake ($5.80) was a definite crowd pleaser.
The famous baked barbecue pork buns ($7.80 for three) are a must-have, and are worth waiting for on their own. As everything is made to order, the menu is on the smaller side, but a few more substantial items do feature, including congee and rice dishes. Unfortunately, there's a noticeable lack of vegetarian options. In all though, it's a tailored experience with great service — bells sit on every table to call your waiter when required — and the experience left us with a reinvigorated view of dim sum and what can be done with this most delicious of eating rituals.
Tim Ho Wan seems to nail the precise energy that feels very typical of Hong Kong's dim sum haunts. Everything feels well-crafted but delivered without pretension, and the bill at the end of your meal won't deter you from a return visit. Unfortunately, this place will have lines snaking around corners for the next few months, but what's an hour when you know it'll be worth it?