Until I left India, I had never eaten in a Michelin starred restaurant. The words Michelin or Three Hatted evoked a sense on awe in me. Surely only perfection could achieve such accolades, that too when you had to earn them year after year and not sit on your laurels. However, in the past 8 months, I have given myself a crash course in global gastronomy. I have eaten in Michelin Starred restaurants in Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Sydney and many other cities. What I have realised is that the stamp itself does not guarantee excellence. It does guarantee the fact that you will not have a bad meal at the restaurant, but perfection remains elusive. Some of them have blown my mind, making me question my earlier culinary yardsticks. But a few failed to make an impact.
Hong Kong based dimsum house Tim Ho Wan now has 45 branches across the world. A couple of their restaurants in HK have earned one Michelin star, dubbing the restaurant as the 'most affordable Michelin starred restaurant in the world' (before Singapore's hawker centers won the awards two years ago). What started as a 20 seater modest shop, now boasts of posh outlets with waiting lines snaking around the block. Defying convention that dimsum is typically eaten in the morning or at tea time, until last year Tim Ho Wan Singapore only opened doors at 6pm. Thankfully, they now start serving at 11am and you can drop in for a quick lunch too.
The menu is straightforward and pictorial. As with Din Tai Fung, you just mark the items you wish to order on the slip on your table and your server will get them for you. No language issues there! The dishes may come in random order though. I started off my meal with pork dumplings in spicy sauce. The thin casing of the dumplings was easy to tear with chopsticks and the meat filling was juicy and well balanced. The soya sauce it swam in could have done with more heat but dipping the dumpling in their in-house hot sauce did the trick for me.
After the dumpling, I decided to try their famed baked pork buns. I love char siu but am not a big fan of the fluffy pork buns. Tim Ho Wan does a twist on them and bakes them so they have a bite. Definitely a step-up. The casing was still a tad bit sweet but the char siu was delicious. I definitely recommend these.
The Hong Kong style shredded chicken soup was strangely gelatinous, though the flavour reminded me of India's hot and sour soup (albeit with a pack of jelly added).
The big disappointment of the meal was the dish I was most looking forward to. The crispy prawn dimsum with wasabi sauce is well acclaimed here, though for the life of me I can not understand why. A luscious big prawn shadowed by a tasteless wrapper and drizzled with a suspiciously synthetic wasabi sauce, it was the stuff nightmares are made of. I wish I had ordered the har gao instead.
With a meal for 2 that costs $25, Tim Ho Wan remains affordable, especially for a restaurant with Michelin heritage. Are they a good alternative to Din Tai Fung? I would think so. But are these the best dimsums in town? If they opened a shop in Delhi, I would still not agree...in Singapore, the idea is almost blasphemous.