First look: Tim Ho Wan, Chatswood

Terry Durack
The steamed har gau prawn dumplings.
The steamed har gau prawn dumplings. Photo: Brendon Thorne

'The cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world' has rolled into town in the perfect storm of social media frenzy, orchestrated publicity and the love that we all have, deep inside, for steamed dumplings. Cue long queues. 

At 10am on Saturday March 28, a queue of 250-odd people streamed down the stairs and out onto Victoria Avenue in Chatswood.  Two fire-engine red Chinese lions sailed up the escalator to a frenzy of drumming. It was dumpling central; the place to be.

Tim Ho Wan is the big drawcard at Chatswood's new Asian-inspired food court, The District, pulling dumpling lovers from far and wide for its now-famous sugar-dusted, crisply crusted barbecue pork buns – yes, the ones that sent Hong Kong into a frenzy when chef Mak Kwai Pui opened the original 20-seater Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok in 2009.

Tim Ho Wan's popular barbecue pork buns.
Tim Ho Wan's popular barbecue pork buns. Photo: Brendon Thorne

The corner space is clean and bright, with banquette and small timber stool seating, and heaps more chopstick-wielding elbow room than the Hong Kong outlets. In the kitchen is the talented Eric Koh, former dim sum chef of London's Hakkasan and Sydney's Mr Wong, alongside Singapore-based group executive chef Cheung Yat Sing.

The menu is pick-and-tick (as at Taiwanese bao-house Din Tai Fung) and the food comes fresh and fast – except for that one pesky order of yours that seems to take an age and then goes to the next table by mistake. Hey, it's opening day, what did I expect? At least the next door table gets to pay for it.

First day nerves notwithstanding, the classics – steamed har gau prawn dumplings ($7.80) are sweet and small, and pork and prawn siu mai ($7.20) get the vote for best on ground; well-made, chunky, old-school. Sticky pork ribs in black bean sauce ($6.80) are actually tender – they're never tender - and braised chicken feet come with abalone sauce ($6.20), an interesting suck-it-and-see idea. 

Tim Ho Wan has opened in Chatswood's new Asian-inspired food court, The District.
Tim Ho Wan has opened in Chatswood's new Asian-inspired food court, The District. Photo: Brendon Thorne

Deep-fried prawn dumplings topped with wasabi mayo ($7.80) are an unnecessary diversion from tradition, but the flat, flaky spring rolls ($6) are terrific, filled with a super-light mousse of prawn, eggwhite and spring onion. Cheung faan with pig's liver, known here as vermicelli roll ($7.50), is good on the rice flour rolls, not so good on the leathery liver.

The clean, bright, food mall fit-out is pleasant, and the young staff are keen, though it will take some time for the human element to keep up with the massive turnover and the pressure of those queues. 

And then there's The Bun ($6.80 for three). Who wouldn't like a golden, sugary, tanned pastry crust that is remarkably flaky-soft, yet holds a spoonful of rich, dark, satiny barbecue pork inside? They're scandalously sweet in their overall porky, crusty, fragile awesomeness – sweeter than those at Lung King Heen, Mott 32 and the Tim Ho Wans in Hong Kong - so perhaps save them for last. 

Spring roll with egg white and prawn mousse.
Spring roll with egg white and prawn mousse. Photo: Brendon Thorne

To drink (before the licence comes through), there is Chinese tea ($2) with a not entirely pleasant odour ($2), and – better - a refreshing hot or cold barley drink ($3).

So welcome to Sydney, it's great to have you here, Tim Ho Wan. Or as I think of you, Tim Ho Bun.

Tim Ho Wan, The District, Corner of Victoria Avenue and Railway Streets, Chatswood, above Chatswood Station. Open 10am-9pm daily 02 9898 9888, timhowan.com.au