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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Tim Ho Wan: Not worth 2 hours in queue

Not worth 2 hours in queue
Asia One - May 7, 2013
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Tim Ho Wan: Not worth 2 hours in queue

At a meeting last Monday, a colleague mentioned how she queued at the wrong nasi lemak stall in the newly reopened Changi Village hawker centre.

Her favourite stall, which used to have long queues, had moved to another spot after the renovation, and another nasi lemak stall had taken its place. But confused diners continued to queue at the old location while the once-popular stall was deserted.

My colleague discovered her mistake only much later, when someone told her of the switch.

The funny thing is, she did not notice anything amiss while she was eating her nasi lemak. Which makes one wonder if people join a queue just because it is there or because they hear the food is good and if, in the end, the actual quality matters.

That thought ran through my mind later that evening as I was queueing at Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred dim sum eatery from Hong Kong that opened at Plaza Singapura three weeks ago and which has been attracting long lines of diners.

I arrived at 7.15pm but my dining companion had joined the queue an hour earlier. In the end, we got a table at about 8.30pm - a wait of more than two hours, which is enough time to catch a movie.

But was it worth the agony of tired legs and rumbling stomachs? I would say no. For me, there is no food worth queueing such a long time for. I did it only for the purpose of writing this review.

There is so much good food in Singapore, you can always dine somewhere else. Also, while there are some good dim sum items at Tim Ho Wan, I do not find everything outstanding.

The eatery made its name on four items, which it calls its Big 4 Heavenly Kings. These are steamed egg cake, vermicelli roll with pig's liver, baked bun with BBQ pork and pan-fried carrot cake. Of these, my favourite is the steamed egg cake ($3.80), better known as ma lai go in Cantonese. Its name translates to Malay cake even though it's a totally Chinese creation.

A good ma lai go is judged on its airy texture and the one here is the fluffiest I have eaten. It melts in the mouth in seconds, leaving an aromatic aftertaste of eggs and brown sugar.

Last week's visit to Tim Ho Wan was my third - after two invited tastings. The first was before the eatery opened and the recipes were still being tweaked to suit Singaporean palates. The second visit was on opening day on April 28.

The ma lai go was less sweet the last two times I ate it, perhaps in response to feedback. But for me, the sugar made it more fragrant and I like the cake most the first time.

Another favourite is the baked bun with BBQ pork ($4.50 for three), which is also the eatery's bestseller. Its outstanding feature is the baked crust, which is crisp and thin. Biting into the bun is pure pleasure as your teeth break the brittle coat to sink into a luscious filling of diced char siew in a sweet, thick sauce.

The vermicelli roll ($5.50) or cheong fun in Cantonese is not the smoothest I have eaten. But it wins points for the unusual liver filling - which, though, slightly overcooked, works well with the rice flour sheets and sweetened soya sauce it comes in. The carrot cake ($4.50), for me, is the least outstanding. Its selling point is that it contains more radish than flour - most versions are the reverse - but I find the radish a trifle undercooked.

As for the other items on the menu, there are some good as well as mediocre ones. Those I like include the beef ball with beancurd skin ($4.20 for three), which has a very light texture and has a hint of citrus peel.

There is also steamed rice with chicken feet and pork rib ($6) with a delicious sauce that makes us finish every grain - and order a second bowl. The prawn dumpling ($5.50 for four) is good too, with a thin, springy skin and a filling of well-seasoned prawn pieces.

Mediocre items include the pork dumpling with shrimp ($5) or siew mai, pork rib with black bean sauce ($4.20) and congee with lean pork, century egg and salted egg ($4.20). You can find similar or better versions at many Cantonese restaurants in town.

Unlike in Hong Kong where prices are lower - for example, three baked buns cost $3.30 there - prices here are not cheap either. They are similar to what you pay at five-star hotels.

So if you ask me again if it's worth queueing for Tim Ho Wan, I would say it depends on how long the line is. If you count more than 15 people, eat elsewhere.

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