Hong Kong’s original Tim Ho Wan location was awarded one Michelin star back in 2010, making them the most inexpensive Michelin starred restaurant in the world. Since then, Tim Ho Wan expanded into six locations in Hong Kong and one location in nearby Macau, and some of those locations were also awarded one Michelin star. Beyond that, Tim Ho Wan Group was born with locations opened around Asia and Australia. Tim Ho Wan USA was also created, opening two locations in New York, one location in Honolulu, and now a location in Irvine (with a location opening up later this year in Las Vegas).
Irvine’s Tim Ho Wan (which has taken over the location that was previously Capital Seafood and next door’s Capital BBQ & Dim Sum Express) had its soft-opening for the last two weeks and just had their Grand Opening yesterday evening, just in time for dinner service. Realizing that, my group and I remained open-minded without high expectations, especially with the complaints posted on Yelp by customers about the preparations of some of the dim sum dishes, the length of time some had to wait for some of their order to arrive, and the service.
Wait times have been reported to be anywhere from one to two hours plus for a table, so to insure that my party of 10 did not have to wait much for a table, I showed up at 7:45am with one of my dim sum mates, set up a folding chair in front of the main entrance, sat and read a newspaper to pass the time. Unfortunately, it rained steadily this morning, making the wait a little wet and very cold. While their social media person (as well as some news articles) stated that you can reserve a table for parties of 8 or larger by phone, the employees at the restaurant say that no reservations are taken at this time.
While they do have 2 private rooms for large parties (seating for up to 16 in the larger of the two rooms), the rooms have small rectangular tables set inside, which they can seat parties of 2 and 4, as well as pushing them together for parties of 10 or more. No big round tables with a lazy susan. However, we were not seated in the private rooms but were seated at the back of the main dining room with four 2-tops pushed together for our party of 10.
On the order sheet, 2 items were crossed off, indicating that they were not available. It wasn’t until our server took our order sheet that we were informed that they were out of the Steamed Beef Meatballs (though they have the minced beef for the steamed rice dish) and Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimp and Chinese Chives (though they were able to serve the Steamed Dumpling with Shrimp and Chinese Chives). In addition, we were told that the rice rolls will take 30 minutes to prepare, which was fine since we know we would be there for over an hour for brunch.
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf was pretty sizable piece that’s big enough for up to 4 people to share, which each person getting at least a couple of bites. Filled mainly with dark chicken meat, Chinese sausage, peanuts and, perhaps fatty pork. I didn’t get a good look inside and my serving contained just chicken and peanuts. Unfortunately, the sticky rice was on the dry side.
The Baked BBQ Pork Buns is their signature item. The bun itself is thinner than the traditional baked bbq pork buns you find at other dim sum restaurants, and Tim Ho Wan’s feature a sweet “white cloud” crust that makes the buns light, crispy and flavorful. These came out early and were still hot in the interior. However, there was more sauce inside than chunks of BBQ pork.
Pricing for dim sum here is more expensive than most places in the San Gabriel Valley and in Orange County, and the one complaint that most people have is the size of the dim sum. Many are accustomed to Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and Siu Mai (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings) that are plump and are 2-bite dumplings. Here, you can easily pop the entire dumpling into your mouth.
A couple of issues a couple of dim sum items shown below: Pan Fried Turnip Cakes are thinner than other dim sum palaces, are not pan fried enough to develop a nice crispy crust on both sides, and do not have enough binding to keep the cakes from easily breaking apart when you pick them up. The Steamed Rice with Spare Rib and Chicken Feet was served without the chicken feet. We were told by the runner who served us our order that they didn’t have any chicken feet available (though as we left the restaurant, I noticed tables with orders of Braised Chicken Feet with Abalone Sauce and Peanut).
Sweet Sago with Grapes needs a little work as some of the tapioca pearls were either clumped up in chunks, or they were not fully cooked (ones that are still white in color).
For the most part, the dumplings were prepared well with relatively thin rice flour wrap, and a good amount of filling. Plus, they were not overly steamed to the point where the wrap would swell up with moisture or fall apart when picked up. The deep fried dishes were well prepared, being crispy. They are a bit greasier than I would have like them to be.
The rice noodle rolls are made to order, so they can take 30 to 60 minutes to prepare, depending how many orders are being placed. While the flavors were good, and the preparation was solid, the Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls with Beef were rather small — smaller than the ones made with BBQ Pork. Unfortunately, while a runner was serving us the Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls with BBQ Pork, he lost control of the tray he was carrying and dropped the dispenser filled with sweet soy sauce onto our table, the sweet soy sauce splattered. I felt sorry for him as he panicked and apologized feverishly to my group, while our server who witnessed the accident walked off without a word after dropping off a stack of napkins on the table to absorb the spilled soy sauce. Management remedied the situation by apologizing for the accident and gave us 20% off our bill.
The most disappointing dish was the Steamed Rice with Minced Beef and Fried Egg. These rice bowls are served with a dousing of sweet soy sauce on the top. However, the runner who served this rice bowl was not generous enough with the soy sauce, so the dish ended up being dry and not as flavor forward as it can be.
While there is an area next to the host station that is for take out orders, this option is not currently available. It will be available perhaps in a month or two when the running of the restaurant smooths out.