I’ve finally lost my Tim Ho Wan virginity at their Kuala Lumpur branch.
But I’m not sure about all the hype because I didn’t get an orgasm.
Note: Images for this blog post was taken using a Samsung S5 mobile phone instead of my Lumix GX7 camera.
Chef Mak Kwai-pui‘s Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong hit the limelight by landing a Michelin star back in 2010. Since then, food herdsters around the world blindly queued for hours just to get a taste of what journos and bloggers describe to be some of the best dim sum in the world.
I have no such curiosity to wait in line for food, no matter how good.
But I am dining with my good friends Fiona and the Maestro this evening, who suggests we check out Kuala Lumpur’s Tim Ho Wan in Mid Valley Megamall.
“OK, but is there a long queue?” I ask the Maestro. “I have not even bothered checking out the one in Sydney because I refuse to join the herds” I add.
“The hype has diminished and there shouldn’t be a queue anymore” he reassures.
“Worse case, we can book the upstairs dining room for a minimum spend of RM50 a head” Fiona adds.
“Tim Ho Wan it is then ‘coz I don’t fancy Western food when I’m in KL” I declare to the Maestro. “There’s too much good local fair and I have limited time and calories to spare.”
Tim Ho Wan, Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur
The self-order form pinned against a green board at our table boldly declares “Hong Kong’s Most Famous Dim Sum.”
Dim sum may be cheap as chips in Hong Kong.
But chef Mak Kwai-pui earned his stripes being the head chef of three Michelin star fine-dining Cantonese restaurant Lung King Heen at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong.
His foray out on his own has now garnered Tim Ho Wan outposts in Singapore, Manila, Sydney, Jakarta, Taipei and Hanoi.
Kuala Lumpur now has two outlets in Mid Valley Megamall and 1 Utama Shopping Centre.
We arrive at 7 pm on a week night and walk straight to our table without having to wait.
The dining room downstairs is spacious and there are just as many empty tables as there are occupied ones.
Steamed chicken feet with abalone sauce
One cannot call oneself a dim sum exponent if steamed chicken feet is not in one’s eat list. If you’re wanting to try it for the first time, it’s a great start but you’re merely taking baby steps. When you eventually crave chicken feet over bacon and eggs on a Sunday morning, that’s when you’ve finally arrived at yum cha connoisseur status.
For those who imagine chicken feet having stepped all over chicken shit in a poultry farm, you are absolutely spot on. But let it be known chicken feet has a layer of hard skin that comes off like a glove after being blanched in hot water. So, whatever fears you may have with chicken feet should vanish, albeit separated by that whisker thin layer of epidermis.
Then again, you may be confronted with the occasional sharp and pointy toe nails. I would not recommend bringing nail clippers to a Chinese restaurant but unlike human nails, there are no visible crevices for dirt to accumulate.
What’s left after chicken feet having been steamed, is soft skin and wobbly cartilage that should slide off the main fibula bone with ease when you bite into it.
I found Tim Ho Wan’s foong jao, chicken feet or phoenix’s claws to be too firm and needed more time in the steamer. The cartilage is too crunchy to be eaten and it’s difficult to manoeuvrer and strip the skin off the bone, even with my well-seasoned, chicken feet-stripping chompers.
Also, flavour of the abalone sauce has hints of five spice which I personally dislike.
How To Eat Chicken Feet – My Way
The way to eat chicken feet is to put the entire feet, toes first, into your mouth. Then bite off the entire metacarpal bones. You will now have at least three whole chicken toes in your mouth.
Swivel the chicken toes in your mouth with your tongue, stripping off all the skin and cartilage using your teeth. The skills test is swallowing all the soft skin and gelatinous cartilage without swallowing small pesky bones.
Once you’re done, lean forward and spit out the little metacarpal bones and phalanges onto your plate. These bones ought to be dead clean of meat and make a “ping ping” sound as they hit the plate.
Do this without feeling ill-mannered in the presence of your dining companions and you shall be presented with my certification of yum cha exponent. Among yum cha connoisseurs, this practice of spitting out chicken feet bones onto a plate is no less rude than complimenting a Japanese ramen chef by loudly slurping up his ramen noodles.
Spinach dumpling with shrimp
The delicate and translucent skin of spinach dumplings with shrimp is unmistakable.
I am not a fan of vegetable dumplings but generous chunks of shrimp meat add sweetness when dipped into Chinese chilli sauce that’s true to tradition with fermented yellow bean.
Pan fried carrot cake
I am more inclined to call “pan fried carrot cake” radish cake instead because that is what it really is after all.
The caramelized layer offers textural contrast and it’s among the best I have tasted. Bits of lup cheong are a tease among delicate softness that melts in the mouth.
The Maestro tells me his mother invariably orders two portions of this radish cake whenever they frequent Tim Ho Wan.
I would do just that too.
Baked bun with BBQ pork
This famed baked bun with BBQ pork is the culprit responsible for long queues outside Tim Ho Wan outlets around the world.
Sweet on the outside with a crispy crust and innards made of savoury sweet BBQ pork, it’s a pretty good bun by any standard.
Good as it may be, I am not prepared to wait in queue for these as so many are willing to do.
Spring roll with egg white
Spring rolls fresh off the deep fryer are crisp and crunchy.
I am told egg white adds a refreshing new dimension to the plain old spring rolls dished out by Chinese restaurants. Frankly, I can’t taste the hype because egg white is subtle and contributes little taste in itself.
The Maestro tells us to dip these rolls into Worchestershire sauce. This is similar to a Northern Chinese fluffy egg white where its subtle flavours are brought out by generous doses of Chinese black vinegar.
Chinese spring rolls that impressed me recently were those laced with strips of cheddar cheese that melted at every bite. It’s a simple twist but more impressive because I found them in a surburban Chinese restaurant in Sydney.
Good prawn dumplings have delicate and translucent skin to the point of being difficult to pick up without tearing apart with your chopsticks.
Unfortunately, the skin on these ones are firm and far from some of the best I have tasted.
Glutinous rice with lotus leaf
Lo mai kai or glutinous rice and chicken with lotus leaf is one of my favourites at yum cha.
There is something magical about steaming food in banana leaf, pandan leaf or in this case lotus leaf that imparts its flavours into the ingredients.
Unveiling its fragrant contents, the sticky rice is soft and full of flavour from bits of har mai or dried shrimp, lup cheong and chicken marinated with oyster sauce.
Freshly baked egg tarts
I don’t have a sweet tooth but I have a soft spot for certain types of sweets such as egg tarts at yum cha.
Egg custard being soft and velvety is one thing but these tarts fail the test because the pastry is far from its flaky best.
Tonic medlar and osmanthus cake
Tonic medlar and osmanthus cake offer a little respite for being different with fragrant hints of tea and goji berries.
The chilled, jelly-like texture is refreshing though I am happy nursing a warm cup of Chinese tea after this meal.
Tim Ho Wan, Kuala Lumpur ~ My Verdict
It would be misleading to compare Tim Ho Wan’s dim sum in Kuala Lumpur with those of a different city such Sydney which I am familiar with.
But an important point needs to be made.
The range of dim sum in Kuala Lumpur is limited to polar extremes. You can get cheap dim sum steamed in glass cabinets from coffee shops along Jalan Dang Wangi operated by locals or settle for expensive dim sum served by Chinese restaurants in hotels. There is little choice in middle ground. So, a player like Tim Ho Wan though relatively more expensive, could fill a gaping void in the city and this may augur well for KL folks.
In comparison, Sydney’s dim sum is plentiful not just in popular Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Good yum cha can be found in just about every suburb in Sydney with a strong multicultural community. These restaurants are operated by chefs from Hong Kong and competition is fierce. This kind of environment maintains quality and service at competitive prices.
As the Maestro tells me, the novelty of Tim Ho Wan may have subsided in KL after a year because the long queues seem to have vanished. Quality and refinement aside, Tim Ho Wan in Mid Valley Megamall is competing with the litany of food choices ~ western style cafes, spruced up local street food and Chinese cuisine.
If you haven’t been to Tim Ho Wan, my suggestion is to call up and order a few baked BBQ buns for pick up because they are quite unique from the usual steamed BBQ pork buns. This avoids any potential queue and might just quell your curiosity on those famed items.
More refined as it may be, I find Tim Ho Wan’s dim sum experience a little tentative because yum cha ought to be casual. Part of the fun is eagerly anticipating your favourite dim sum whizzing by in steam trolleys. After all, this entire ritual began at the foothills of the Tibetan mountains where locals offered light snacks to climbers who stopped for a cup of tea.
From a differentiation point of view, a restaurant can offer dim sum either by doing it better and/or doing it differently a la Sydney’s Mr. Wong. Think foie gras prawn toast and you get the picture. Tim Ho Wan’s up-market dim sum may work in KL but I am not convinced about this strategy for Sydney. Unlike KL, Sydney’s yum cha standard is already pretty darn good.
So for now, I will gladly tick Tim Ho Wan off my eat list, even for its Chatswood outlet in Sydney which I have yet to visit.
Why? Because Tim Ho Wan’s menu is limited.
I may not order everything on the menu but I like the option of variety at yum cha. My favourite items are wu gok or crispy yam dumplings, steamed beef tripe, deep fried prawn dumpling with chilled mayonnaise, cheong fun or vermicelli roll with beef and hints of mandarin peel (as opposed to prawn or BBQ pork).
The occasional crispy calamari fingers and friendly banter in Cantonese or Mandarin with waitresses peddling their trolleys add camraderie to a good yum cha experience, none of which I got here at Tim Ho Wan. You could tell me to eat dim sum elsewhere because I may do just that.
Why? Because I’m game for an orgasm.
So dear readers, how do you rate Tim Ho Wan’s dim sum? Is the hype of Mak Kwai-pui’s food justified?
Tim Ho Wan
Unit 27 – G, Ground Floor, The Boulevard
Mid Valley Megamall
Lingkaran Syed Putra, Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 10am – 10pm, Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays 9am – 10pm
Note: Malaysia recently introduced a Goods & Services Tax of 6%.
Food prices shown above are BEFORE GST and service charges. This restaurant imposes a 10% service charge on menu prices.
In addition, a GST charge of 6% is imposed on menu prices and the 10% service charge.