Experiences - Australia

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan is a pretty famous name these days. For a while the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, it has gone from a humble dumpling house to a franchise with restaurants in multiple countries and a name revered across the gastronomic globe.

Yum chaImage Courtesy: Tim Ho Wan Melbourne

Originally opened by chefs Mak Kwai Pui and Leung Fai in Mong Kok (Kowloon side of Hong Kong) in March of 2009, it only took a year for Tim Ho Wan to reach culinary nirvana, debuting in the Michelin guide a year later. The original storefront was easy to miss. You could wander by and wonder why there were dozens of people lined up outside dingy electronic stores and cheap looking take away stalls. Visitors had to take a number and wait for it to be called. And with wait times exceeding 3 hours, it was lucky it was situated close to both the Ladies Market and the fish and reptile district, giving prospective diners an easy way to kill time while they waited.

Mak Kwai Pai was a former head dim sum chef at arguably the world’s greatest Cantonese restaurant, the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. During his time there, the Four Seasons became Hong Kong’s first 3 Michelin starred restaurant, and hasn’t dropped a star yet. Mak started working in dim sum kitchens at 15 and hasn’t stopped since. “My dad and uncle were both chefs, and they brought me into the industry,” he told Forbes in 2017. “I’ve never tried any other cuisine. Only dim sum.”

seafood and pumpkin dumplingsImage Courtesy: Tim Ho Wan Melbourne

Chef Leung, a fellow Hong Konger, shared Mak’s desire to make great food that anyone could afford. Together, they wanted to remove the exclusivity and prohibitive pricing of fine dining. So with only $15,000, they launched their hole-in-the-wall dim sum dynasty. “Back then we didn’t think we were taking much of a risk. It was really cheap! Because we didn’t have much money at the time, we picked up appliances, machinery, an air-conditioner and furniture from restaurants and businesses that went out of business,” recalls Mak to Forbes. Their optimism is best represented in the name – Tim Ho Wan translates to “to add good luck.”

The original bolt hole is gone, but Tim Ho Wan now has five restaurants across Hong Kong. Their annual sales are estimated at nearly $22 million. Tim Ho Wan have also franchised out their brand to over 40 restaurants through ten partners in ten countries. “We actually never thought about overseas, but there were [partners] overseas who liked our business operations and wanted to run Tim Ho Wan,” says Mak. “We had no special technique to attract them.”

While only 2 of the Tim Ho Wan branded restaurants (both in Hong Kong) have Michelin stars, there’s no doubting the quality of the ingredients and the preparation of the food is top notch. And while I’d be lying if I said the experience I had in the Melbourne arm of the empire was as good as that first time I sat down in the old store in Mong Kok, I can tell you the dim sum are still delicious. While nothing will compare to the crystal skinned Har Gow and the melt-in-your-mouth baked pork buns of the original, the standard in Melbourne is still excellent, and if you’re looking for some truly authentic Hong Kong dim sum, then Tim Ho Wan should be top of your list.

Tim Ho Wan

206 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC

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