One of the biggest tests of a relationship is how much free time you are willing to sacrifice for one another. My parents, who have always had an unshakeable relationship with yum cha, can withstand any challenge. No queue is too long or restaurant too far in their quest for the best dim sums.
When Hong Kong's Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan opened in Chatswood last weekend, there was no hesitation about braving the queue. The original 24-seater in Hong Kong's Mongkok is famous for its crumbly, baked-to-order barbecue pork buns, and for being the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. The lower North Shore branch is their first franchise to open outside Asia, with two more on the way this year: one in Burwood, another in the city.
Despite seeing Instagram videos of 240-plus dim sum lovers lining up for opening day, we cross our fingers and turn up at 9.20am on the second day of trading, 40 minutes before the doors open. Our vigilance pays off, with only a dozen or so people ahead of us. We wait next to an excited octogenarian lady and her daughters, who have all been to the Hong Kong branch and are keen to see how things stack up closer to home.
Eric Koh, formerly of Mr Wong, is the chef behind our very own Tim Ho Wan. Having been in the dim sum game for nearly 30 years, Koh has still been surprised by the excitement surrounding the opening. "We did expect a crowd but nothing like this. We have over 15 chefs in the kitchen who start prepping at 6am, and we don't finish until 12am every night."
The size of the kitchen brigade is unsurprising, given they pump out nearly 1800 baked barbecue buns alone each day. Happily, they don't disappoint. A delicate shell of sweet, crumbly topping wraps a molten filling of barbecue pork slices. It's the kind of moreish sweet and savoury hit typical of Cantonese cuisine. Our friends from the queue agree they stand up next to the originals.
The buns are one of the restaurant's four signature dishes along with delicately pan-fried carrot cake (made with radish), fluffy steamed egg cake and pigs liver cheung fun (steamed vermicelli rolls) for serious offal lovers.
These dishes are called the "Big Four Heavenly Kings", a Canto-pop reference to a group of four male singers who dominated the hearts and airwaves of early '90s Hong Kong. Their songs are blasted in the bright, HK-style cafe (char chaan teng) fit-out.
Ordering is easy from the menu of 25 items including favourites such as gar gow (prawn dumplings), siu mai (prawn and pork dumpings) and dishes with slightly unconventional twists like the braised chicken feet with abalone sauce and sweet treats including the tonic medlar and osmanthus cake (delicate cubes of goji berry jelly).
Despite the overwhelming crowd, service is responsive and in control. Empty tea cups are refilled and steamers are whisked away without prompting. Within 15 minutes of ordering, our first dishes land, including what turns out to be an overall favourite. The spinach and prawn dumplings have skin so thin and translucent, stuffed with chunky, crunchy prawns, we end up fighting over them. Koh says the magic of the dim sum is in the details – each ingredient is precisely measured and all dumplings are made from scratch each day. Because they don't sit around in dim sum carts, the steamed dishes stay perky and fresh, as they are intended to be. As our table's Hong Kong experts, my parents are impressed with the authenticity, explaining some dishes such as steamed egg cake and glutinous rice in lotus leaf demonstrate old school techniques, more than some respected Sydney yum cha specialists.
We finish our meal with a quintessential Hong Kong dessert of mango pomelo and sago soup, with the silky texture of a creme anglaise. It's a close cousin of the beloved mango pudding, and we would have ordered another round, had we not already had a second round of pork buns, which – judging by most patrons' smiling faces – are well worth sacrificing a weekend morning for.
Tim Ho Wan
The District, corner Victoria Avenue and Railway Street, Chatswood
Baked bun with barbecue pork, pork and prawn siu mai, spinach and prawn dumpling, vermicelli roll with sesame sauce (dai pai dong cheung faan), mango pomelo sago
Bright, buzzy, mall-style Hong Kong eatery
Fast and on the ball, vigilant with orders and tea refills
Fantastic. Michelin-star dim sum from $5.50-$8.80