A taste for the foreign 2 (updated)

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan or 添好运 in Cantonese is a one-Michelin star dimsum restaurant from Hong Kong. It opened here at Plaza Singapura mall in the new retail wing early this month. I read that on its opening day, the queue started forming at 8.45am, way before its opening time of 10am!

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Apparently only one outlet in Hong Kong is awarded the Michelin star. Nonetheless it’s still amazing for this hole-in-wall eatery. Many rave about how good the dimsum is, and prices are said to be reasonable. The funny thing is it was my husband who was eager to try. Both of us have not been to HK for many years, and we didn’t try it when we were there.

The queue at the Singapore restaurant outlet was even reported on the news, and we learned that it implemented an SMS alert system for customers so that they can go shopping instead of waiting for a couple of hours in line. We thought that was a wonderful and innovative customer service which is sorely lacking in the Singapore F&B scene. Anyway last Wednesday we finally went to check it out, since it being a weekday, we figured we wouldn’t have to wait too long.

When we arrived at noon, there was a long snaking queue outside the restaurant which isn’t very big, probably can sit around 100 people. We wondered, “whatever happened to the SMS system touted on the news?” But I went ahead to queue up while my husband checked out the other relatively new restaurant that is opened by a Malaysian celebrity chef, Chef Wan. (We read that the restaurant was packed when it was first opened a few months ago.) My husband returned and updated that Chef Wan’s restaurant is really big but not many customers. He suspected that the food isn’t great and so we were not switching over.

I anticipated a long wait, so I told my husband to get me a snack from Starbucks, across the walkway from THW. Thank God I did that, it turned out I had to wait for 2 hours before we got a table! I couldn’t believe I actually did that, it was something I had never done. My husband echoed my sentiment when he said, “the food has better be damn good!”

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Interestingly the staff are pretty young and seem to be locals. (It’s very hard to discern between a Singaporean and a Malaysian Chinese except for the accent. Though my husband will tell you the fashion style sets them apart, but the staff are in uniform.) The restaurant owner tries to alleviate the pain of the long wait by offering bottled mineral water to those in line. There are chairs at the doorway but they’re obviously insufficient. We also notice there is a take-out counter but it is closed.

As I was nearing the front of the queue, the staff handed out the order chits. The menu is not extensive, it doesn’t look like there’re 28 items as reported in one review article. Top of the list are the four ‘Heavenly King’ dishes of crispy char siew (BBQ pork) buns, steamed vermicelli flour (cheong fun) with pork liver, pan-fried savory radish cake (locally known as fried carrot cake), and steamed Malay cake (a cake made from rice flour). Of course we ordered them, as well as the glutinous rice with chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, steamed beef balls with orange peel, and 2 portions of the vegetable of the day. There was a sign at the entrance which says that each person is only entitled to one portion of the crispy char siew buns.

For the record, I didn’t try the char siew buns. But I can see it’s very popular. The table of 3 ladies next to us ordered one portion each, and each portion has 3 buns!

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These are not small buns, instead each is about 3″ in diameter. My husband took a bite and went “hmmm… This is very good!” He polished them off without hesitation, though he did offer me a bite. (I try to avoid pork if possible and declined.) I guess those ladies wouldn’t have any hesitation as well, though it would be hell of a lot of food considering they also ordered other dishes.

I tried a little of the steamed vermicelli flour with pork liver.

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Now I know the dish doesn’t look fancy, in fact none of the dishes do. But I must say this is very well done. The vermicelli flour is very smooth. The best, if not one one of the best, I’ve ever eaten.

Again I didn’t try the steamed Malay cake, but my husband declare it was better than even the one at Imperial Treasure, which has one of the best dimsums in Singapore.

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I really like the steamed beef balls. I can actually taste the texture of the beef, it’s like having a steak.

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Unfortunately I was a little too slow. After taking one, before I knew it, the other two were gone.

The wrapped glutinous rice with chicken is well done. The rice is soft and chewy and very flavorful. I could see and taste the chicken pieces in it, unlike those offered in other restaurants. But I find it a little too saltish.

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The steamed radish cake is a pleasant surprise. For the first time, I can actually taste the texture and sweetness of the radish.

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I realized after having a bite of the radish cake why the dimsum eatery is awarded the Michelin star. These michelin-starred restaurants place great emphasis on the natural flavors of the ingredients, and the dressing or sauce are complementary to them. This is what TimHoWan has done, allowing diners to taste the real flavors of the dimsum ingredients.

The only disappointment is the vegetable dish which is basically boiled cabbage in light soy dressing. I know this is not a dimsum dish, and I don’t see other tables ordering it, but we want to include vegetable in the meal.

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Our verdict is that THW certainly lives up to its reputation, and the quality is better than other dimsum restaurants in Singapore, even Imperial Treasure. In fact last Sunday we had a comparison taste testing at Canton Paradise restaurant at 112 Katong mall. The wrapped glutinous rice is bland and I could hardly taste the chicken. I also couldn’t taste the texture in the pan-fried radish cake and the beef balls. The food quality at Canton Paradise is honestly inferior to that of THW.

My husband thinks the long wait at THW is worth it, but I’m not sure about that even though the food is excellent. I mean, 2-hour wait is damn long! (I was the one waiting in line while he took Buddy in the stroller for a walk round the mall.) I guess we can try going to the restaurant earlier, before 11am, and hopefully the queue isn’t that crazy. The restaurant will also be opening new outlets and perhaps this will reduce the wait time.

Laduree

I had tried the Laduree macaron when a friend brought some back from Paris a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if it was because the macaron was not fresh but I thought it was nothing to shout about. Anyway I learned that Laduree has opened in Singapore early last week at Takashimaya. There is a sale counter on level 1, right in front of Chanel boutique, and a store on level 2, next to Van Cleef and Arpel shop.

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There were queues at both the counter and the store. I decided to queue at the store because I wanted to check out the interior. Outside, the staff separated the customers into two lines, a shorter one outside the shop and a longer one across. So basically once those in the shorter line entered the store, those at the front of the longer queue were moved to the shorter one.

The lines were not as long as that at THW, I waited for about 30 minutes before I entered the shop. While waiting, it was amusing to see some customers taking pictures with the Laduree signage next to the door.

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I have read in a Her World online article about the store being decorated in the signature mint color and the chandeliers are specially imported, as well as the ceiling depicts a cloudy blue sky. Indeed there’re the chandeliers though I don’t find them looking very spectacular, the ceiling is rather pretty though. Is the pastel green color called ‘mint’?

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The shop size is not very big, and it’s no wonder they restrict the number of customers inside it. When I pushed Buddy in the stroller into the store, a staff helped to move the rope barricade so that the pathway is widen for me to move through, which I thought is very considerate of him, and I’m impressed by his initiative. He even told me that when I was going out, he would move the barricade back to allow room for me. But he didn’t have to as my husband came along and took the stroller out.

The young staff are mostly locals, and the rest appear to be Filipinos. They’re dressed all in black, except for a couple of them in white shirt and striped vest, which I’m not sure if it means they’re the supervisors or what. The shelves on the wall are lined with the typical merchandize of tote bags, jams, tea leaves, and even pretty tea room paper cut-outs.

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The highlights are of course the macarons, which come in 16 flavors, and costs S$3.80 each (compared to less than Euro2 in Paris). (Euro1=S$1.62/US$1.31) I was rather surprised when I saw the limited list in the brochure given to me. A friend who was at Laduree Tokyo outlet a couple of weeks ago told me about the tea-flavored macarons, but they’re not available here. The said article also mentioned that the macarons are flown in 3 to 4 times a week.

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I got one each of the Vanilla, Salted Caramel, Chocolate, Chocolate Yuzu, Marie Antoinette (baby blue colored), and the popular Pistachio flavors. The taste test this time fared better than my previous experience. I though the macaron shell has the right light texture, though the chocolate paste is a little too sweet for me. The Pistachio has a wonderful nutty sweetness and I can understand why it’s so popular. Marie Antoinette has a sweet floral taste to it. My husband had the other three and he thought Vanilla was alright, he doesn’t like the Chocolate Yuzu but he loves the Salted Caramel (which he’s a fan of).

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There’re also chocolate products, such as pralines, truffles and bars, available. A staff told me that the brother of Laduree owner created this chocolate brand, Le Marquis de Laduree. Really?? I checked online and found that it was the Chairman of Laduree, David Holder, a chocolate lover himself, who decided to set up a chocolate brand for the company.

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Now the chocolates are not cheap, a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnut is S$25, compared to Euro9 at the main Paris store. I’m a lover of dark chocolate especially with nuts. I know it’s rather steep but I want to compare it with other brands such as Venchi from Italy and The Chocolate Factory from Spain. (A bar of 100g Venchi dar chocolate bar with 56% cocoa and hazelnut is S$14.) I haven’t tried the chocolate yet and once I do, I’ll update it here.

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The products are packed in the signature pastel mint-colored paper bag.

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According to my husband, it’s entirely up to your luck whether you get to have freshly flown-in macarons or those which sit in the counter for one or two days. This is the problem of not having onsite ovens, and so he wonders if the macaron is worth paying for.

(Update on 10 May)
We returned to Tim Ho Wan restaurant last weekend. This time, arriving earlier,slightly after 10am, hoping that the queue won’t be too long. But, there was already a snaking line and the restaurant was only beginning to seat the diners. This time, my husband queued up,and just like before, it was a 2-hour wait!

This time, quality of the food was a disappointment. The pan-fried radish cake was not as flavorful. In fact this time I could hardly taste the radish. The glutinous rice with chicken was not as saltish but also not flavorful. The only item I enjoyed was the fried spring roll with egg white, which was crispy and very tasty.

We’re pretty disappointed with Tim Ho Wan this second round. The chef founder had apparently insisted on steaming the dim sum only upon order. But my husband noticed that when the first batch of diners sat down, the dishes were served immediately, putting doubt on the claim of freshly cooked food. This definitely doesn’t warrant a 2-hour wait. We’re not returning.

We also checked with a staff on the SMS or texting system which the restaurant supposedly has. The staff informed us that they did implement it initially but it broke down, and now they’re still fixing it. You would think they spent time testing it before the opening of the restaurant to make sure it works. Anyway my husband also found out that the restaurant is a partnership between the HK chef owner an a property realtor boss. Now, what does a realtor guy know about restaurant operation?

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4 thoughts on “A taste for the foreign 2 (updated)

  1. You went! Did you bring lil Alex along?
    I wanted so much to go too but not so soon, Maybe few months later, hopefully by then the Q won’t be so long. I don’t think my lil girl can take the 2hrs wait. She will probably drive me crazy.

    • Yes, we took Alex along. He didn’t wait with me, instead my husband took him on a walk round the mall in the stroller. It was easy for him since Alex was napping until he woke him up to feed. For in your case, it’ll be difficult since you can’t put your daughter in the stroller. So hopefully the second outlet will be opened in a few months’ time and take the crowd away from the plaza Singapura restaurant.

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