It is called dim sum, but the hungry hordes descending upon famed Hong Kong restaurant Tim Ho Wan's new branch here hardly make for, well, dim sums.
On Wednesday, what is touted as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world opened its first outpost here and sold more than 3,000 of its famed char siew buns to diners. That, and more than a thousand as takeaway orders within just four hours, from 11am to 3pm.
The queue at Tim Ho Wan: it can take two hours to get a seat at the Hong Kong eatery's first overseas location. PHOTO: ST
Sales have been so brisk that the eatery has implemented a "no takeaway" policy, said its spokesman, until staff are better equipped to handle the volume of orders.
Yesterday, the feeding frenzy showed no signs of abating at The Atrium @ Orchard, Plaza Singapura. By the time Tim Ho Wan's doors opened at 10am, eager patrons had been queuing for an hour. By 11.30am, the 96-seater restaurant was packed to the rafters, and a long queue of about 60 people snaked around it.
Some of them had sampled Tim Ho Wan's food in Hong Kong and were back for more. Most had learnt about the restaurant by word of mouth. All had been told by restaurant staff that they would have to wait up to 90 minutes for a seat.
Retiree Mark Ho, 59, indeed waited that long yesterday just to sink his teeth into one of the Four Heavenly Kings. Unlike the four Cantopop stars of Leon Lai, Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, these are signature dishes: char siew baked buns ($4.50 for three), steamed egg cake ($3.80 for a square), three rolls of vermicelli with pig's liver ($5.50), and pan-fried carrot cake ($4.50 for three pieces).
Said Mr Ho, after eating lunch with his daughter: "I'll definitely come back again. But perhaps a few months later, when the queue has died down. The Four Heavenly Kings are totally worth it."
Tim Ho Wan, which means "to add good luck", was founded by chef Mak Kwai Pui, now in his 50s, in 2009. He had once been a dim sum chef at the three Michelin-starred Lung King Heen restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, and his humble venture in Mong Kok earned its Michelin star in its first operational year.
With an average cheque of HK$50 to HK$80 (S$9 to S$13), the dim sum eatery became the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. The first outlet relocated to Olympian City, in West Kowloon, two months ago. Today, there are also three other branches - in business district Central, North Point near Victoria Park and Sham Shui Po in Kowloon.
The Singapore branch is Tim Ho Wan's first overseas venture. There are plans for another outlet near Toa Payoh.
One customer cooling her heels in line at Plaza Singapura, 40something banker Charmaine Soon, said: "In Hong Kong, it's the same kind of queues. The char siew baked bun and glutinous rice are really good, so I'm willing to wait."
Others, however, baulked at the wait. Taiwanese cabin crew member Chiu Hsin-yin, 28, wanted to try the eatery with her boyfriend, but gave up after seeing the line. "My boyfriend's lunchtime is only an hour long, and I'm not willing to eat alone," she explained, resigned.
The restaurant, which does not take reservations, said in previous reports that an SMS system will be used, whereby a staff member will text patrons when their tables are ready. However, as of press time yesterday, the system was not in place.
"We are still finding it hard to estimate the eating time of patrons," said the spokesman. "Within the next few weeks, when we are able to better judge and handle the demand, we'll bring in the SMS system."
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on April 12, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.