Tim Ho Wan is the Hong Kong chain of Dim Sum restaurants that hit Singapore last year (2013 – IIRC). Their debut outlet at Plaza Singapura saw hours-long queue snaking from their entrance. When I first glimpse the restaurant sign-board, I just saw “Tim Ho…” and I thought, “Tim Horton’s is in Singapore?!?!” (I had just returned from Canada).
Then I saw the full signboard, and recalled the article in the newspaper announcing the arrival of this HK icon (at least I was given the impression that it was a HK icon).
While I like good food, I was never one to queue for it. There are just too many options and alternative in SG to waste one’s time queuing for food.
Then a branch opened in Toa Payoh. Walking distance from my flat. I passed it several times, and detoured to the 2nd level (where the restaurant was) to assess the crowd and the queue. The first few times, when it was new, and I passed by during lunch time on a weekend, the queue was horrendous. It looked like at least an hour’s wait. Possibly two. Maybe even three.
However, the last few times I surveyed the queue, it was more reasonable. At about 3:30 on the weekends, the queue was almost non-existent.
So one Sunday in March, I brought my mum to try Tim Ho Wan. We arrived at about 11:20 am, and there was a queue of about 10 persons. This is considered a short queue. Within 15 minutes, the queue length doubled. We got seated after about 30 minutes of waiting/queuing.
We ordered glutinous rice in lotus leaf, century egg porridge, yam dumpling with chilli crab filling, pork ribs in black bean sauce, beef chee cheong fun, spicy dumplings, and fried pork buns.
The good: we liked the glutinous rice in lotus leaf, and the yam dumpling with chilli crab filling, which was quite unique.
My mum thought the pork ribs was tough – not tender enough. I thought the fried pork buns could have done without the dusting of sugar. PL thought the chee cheong fun was not as good as the freshly made ones at Pek Kio hawker centre. The century egg porridge (or congee) was unremarkable. As was the spicy dumplings.
All in, our assessment was it was not worth the wait. In future, we would just order the yam with chilli crab for takeaway, and skip the queue. We would then stand in front of the others in the queue and wolf down the dumplings with gusto and relish (“Nom nom nom nom nom! Ahhhhhh!”). Then comment loudly about how smart we are to avoid the queue.
Total cost was about $44 for three person, 7 dishes, 3 Chinese tea. Price-wise it was reasonable for a full-service restaurant.
BUT… this is a far cry from the traditional Dim Sum restaurants, from the “culture” of Dim Sum.
Dim Sum is traditionally a Breakfast-Brunch-Lunch-Tunch meal. Traditionally, you sit down, have some tea, snack on the tidbits (usually peanuts – braised, roasted, or steamed – or pickles, while you sip tea, chit-chat, catch the eye of a server pushing a trolley of food, ask what’s in the trolley, select the items you want, nibble on them as you chat some more, stop another trolley as it passes, get more food, and enjoy the food, and company in a relaxed environment.
In a traditional dim sum restaurant, a meal could take a few hours to finish. Even in a fast paced society like Singapore, a leisurely Dim Sum meal should take over an hour. Eating, I mean. Not queuing.
We were in and out of Tim Ho Wan in about 30 minutes.
The staff was fast and furiously efficient. The food came in a steady stream which matched our pace quite nicely, actually. I do not know if this was planned or serendipity (serendipitous?). Considering the small tables we were seated at, it would make sense for the restaurant to have a system of managing the food service.
The tables, as mentioned, were small, square tables, joined into long lines. The spacing between tables were barely adequate. There were frequent “jams” as servers tried to go in one direction, while staff with empty dishes tried to go the other direction, in a space barely wide enough to accommodate one person. My mum later told me that the staff often jostled her as they passed behind her.
The seats were simple stools with no backrest.
It was noisy, frenetic, crowded, and we were quite glad to be out of the place after 30 minutes.
It was not a place to have a relaxing meal. And certainly not a place to have Dim Sum.
And while it is McDonald’s-like in its efficiency, the queue makes it hard to call it a “fast food Dim Sum”… unless you go with the takeaway option I mentioned.