The world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant has landed in Sydney, which surely can’t be news to you by now. Tim Ho Wan, which means to ‘add good luck,’ is certainly a spot of fortune for the Chatswood community (who already have a Din Tai Fung and a Mamak, mind you). Their budget-friendly menu features yum cha classics such as vermicelli rolls, sticky ribs, pork buns and dumplings, although you’ll need a lot of ‘ho wan’ if you want to score a table.
The Tim Ho Wan dumpling dynasty began in Hong Kong in 2009 as a humble 20-seater restaurant (admittedly not a lot of forward planning there) and has since spread over South-East Asia before landing on our shores. While Chinese food has never been particularly expensive in Sydney, what you don’t often find is fresh, light, made-to-order dishes where you don’t need a lie down afterwards.
If you’ve proved yourself worthy by conquering the queue, you’ll be greeted with a rather unremarkable family-friendly food hall, although at this stage you’re probably deliriously hungry, and in that case you’ll find a golden, shining food temple. To pass the final 10 minutes of waiting, you’re given a form to pick and tick your order, so by the time you take a seat the food countdown is already on.
There are 25 menu items to choose from, classified as either steamed, deep-fried, rice, vegetables, dessert or the ‘big 4 heavenly kings’. The first big king is their famous baked bun with BBQ pork ($6.80), which features sweet and salty caramelised meat encased in crumbly pastry. It's a dish that could just as happily live in the dessert section, so maybe save this baby for last.
The range of handmade vermicelli rolls ($7.50) use satin-soft noodle sheets, with prawns, BBQ pork or pig’s liver lovingly tucked inside. The classic spring rolls ($6) contain a surprise bouncy egg white, but you’re better off with the bean curd skin roll with pork and prawn ($6.80), which has a blistered, crispy exterior that makes an audible crunch with every bite.
Both the prawn dumplings ($7.80) and the spinach and prawn dumplings ($6.80) are freshly pursed with a sticky, translucent skin, and are well stuffed with springy prawns too. The pork rib with black bean sauce ($6.80) looks a little unappealing at first, a dish of pale knobbly joints, but the slippery, peppery sauce is lip-smacking, and the meat is surprisingly tender.
There are only two desserts on the menu: a mango pomelo sago ($6), thin and creamy as a melted Weiss Bar, and an obscurely named tonic medlar and osmanthus cake ($5.80), which turns out to be a golden tea jelly with osmanthus flowers captured inside. It’s both gentle and cleansing.
Where does the new arrival belong among Sydney's established dumpling houses? It's right up there. For those who can’t be persuaded to join the queue (or cross the bridge, for that matter), Tim Ho Wan will be opening a further two stores in the CBD and Burwood later in the year.