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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

HK's Tim Ho Wan to open S'pore outlet

The famed dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan will open a branch at Plaza Singapura in March.
The Business Times - January 28, 2013
By: Debbie Yong
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HK's Tim Ho Wan to open S'pore outlet

Gone are the times when foodie bragging rights were earned according to the number of air miles one is willing to chalk up just to get a whiff of Chef X's famous this or a bite of Chef Y's handcrafted that.

In the current era of the celebrity chef and his rapidly expanding global restaurant empire, it's the chef who comes to the diner - not the other way around.

Come mid-March this year, local diners will be further spoilt for choice: revered Hong Kong dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan will be opening its first overseas outpost in the newly launched atrium wing of Plaza Singapura. The 100-seater will occupy a 2,000-sq ft space across from Starbucks Coffee in the mall's ground floor.

Tim Ho Wan's chef-founder Mak Kwai Pui says that the idea for a Singapore outlet was first broached by a long-time patron of his restaurant, Robert Chua, about half a year ago.

Singapore-born, Hong Kong-based Mr Chua is a well-known television personality often credited for being one of Asia's pioneer broadcasters. Both he and his younger brother, founder and chairman of Hersing Corporation Harry Chua, will back the local venture.

"One of my conditions for agreeing is that everything has to be done like I do back home," Mr Mak tells BT Weekend in a phone interview from Hong Kong.

This includes serving dishes one course at a time so that each item can be eaten piping hot, rather than laid out all at once as is commonly done here.

"Singapore has so many Chinese people who love dim sum, but there's nowhere that offers real, authentic Hong Kong-style dim sum," says Mr Mak.

The menu at Tim Ho Wan Singapore will be 80 per cent similar to the one in Hong Kong and will include familiar favourites such as his famed barbecued pork buns. The other 20 per cent will comprise made-for-Singapore special creations that will be introduced gradually once operations are running smoothly.

Prices will be slightly higher here due to higher labour costs and rental ("the rent here is 40 per cent more than my most expensive outlet in Hong Kong"), but will likely average around $4 per item.

Mr Mak plans to fly in to Singapore every three to four months to ensure that standards are consistent. In his absence, he's recruited a Singaporean dim sum chef from Marriott Hotel's Wan Hao restaurant to helm the kitchen. The chef will spend a week or two in Hong Kong later this month to familiarise himself with Tim Ho Wan's take on the art of dim sum making.

Formerly a dim sum chef at three Michelin-star Lung King Heen restaurant, Mr Mak's first solo foray, a grubby, hole-in-the-wall Mongkok eatery, surprised global gourmands by earning a Michelin star in its first year of operations, which it has kept since 2009.

On Feb 3, he will open the chain's fifth outlet, a 100-seater in Olympian City, a West Kowloon shopping mall. The chain has three other outlets in Central, North Point and Sham Sui Po. The latter outlet and the one in Mongkok are the only ones with a star in the 2012 Michelin guide.

Mr Mak hopes to open three to four outlets here in the next two years, before branching out to Malaysia, Thailand or even Australia.

"Once everything is set on track, it won't be tiring," says the 50-year-old. "I want to do this while I still can, and not wait eight to 10 years, when I might not have the energy for this anymore."

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