You expect the pre-opening week of this Michelin-starred dim sum chain to be all about minor tweaks. But behind the scenes, four days out from opening, you find dumpling boot camp. It's cloak and dagger all the way with Tim Ho Wan, a restaurant that started as a 20-seater in Hong Kong and now has spread like wild fire to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Sydney.
Sydney's branch has taught us to expect long queues when Tim Ho Wan finally opens on Bourke Street this Wednesday, March 16 at 10am.
The Singaporean company that owns the franchise goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain standards and ward off competition. Not dissimilar to the practices of Coke or McDonald's, even chefs are kept in the dark as to what's in the flours - the orders are made by owners who don't touch the food. Crazier still: the recipes are only released to franchisees six days out from opening.
In that time, 30 or so prospective chefs – most of whom come from five star hotels and have to be able to crimp far more than the 200 dumplings per hour that's considered exceptional elsewhere – are whittled down to a brigade of about 20. Some fail to meet the standards demanded by Singapore's roving chef training team who work them hard in that week. Others give up. Those that survive, we're told, will never have trouble finding work again.
As for ordering, advice from our Sydney critic Terry Durack would be that the baked pork buns filled with "scandalously sweet pork" are the king of the Four Heavenly Kings which also includes a pan-fried turnip (white radish) cake, sweet and steamy egg cake and cheung faan (rice flour pastry filled with pig's liver). But he'd also back the braises, spring rolls filled with a light and prawn-moussey egg white, and the congee, made with three kinds of rice.
Come early this Wednesday to nab one of the Melbourne incarnation's 120 plush green stools that give colour to the sleek fishbowl, bright with tiny mirrors and blonde woods.
God speed, dumpling fans.
Open daily 10am-10pm.
206 Bourke Street, Melbourne, timhowan.com.au