Hong Kong has no shortage of incredible dining experiences and Michelin-starred restaurants. But there are a relative few that are down-to-earth, affordable and as generally approachable as Tim’s Kitchen. Chef Yau-Tim Lai opened Tim’s Kitchen in 2000 in a surprisingly un-flashy part of town. In the Sheung Wan area, before it was up and coming, Tim’s Kitchen started churning out utterly remarkable Cantonese food. And in 2009 Michelin came knocking and awarded 1 star, and in 2010 awarded 1 more for a total of 2 Michelin stars. Chef Tim has expanded with locations in Shanghai and Macao, but the Hong Kong location on Bonham Street is the first, the original and many consider the best Tim’s Kitchen.
Today Tim’s Kitchen is loved by locals and foreigners alike. And because if it’s unassuming location, it has the feeling of an intrepid foodie find. I must admit I was a bit surprised upon first walking in and find on appearance a very ordinary looking Chinese style restaurant. Given that Michelin bases it’s starring approach on the overall dining experience, including ambiance, I was a bit puzzled…but then it occurred to me that in this case the food must be spectacular!
And it was. We had pre-ordered the Deep-fried Whole Fresh Crab Claw with Peppercorn Salt. Pre-ordered? Yes, because Chef Tim uses classic Cantonese cooking techniques, some of which require several days of laborious preparation, some items have to be ordered 24-hours in advance. I had taken my family who was visiting from the US to this restaurant and this was their first meal in Hong Kong / China. They were a bit skeptical about the pre-order since none of them were big fans of crab. Ooops, perhaps I should have checked. Then again, what is a proper Cantonese meal without local crab, and Chef Tim sources all of his ingredients locally. The dish did not disappoint – actually everyone loved it. I, of course, was expecting it and had been slightly drooling days before thinking about it. But even I was surprised by the combination of the crisp / tender texture and the utterly simple presentation that belies so much of Cantonese cuisine where the focus is solely on the key ingredient. The peppercorn salt crust with a few chilies was spot on. And even my family became suddenly silent, mouths full of crab claw with only a few muted oohs and aahs. It seems suddenly there were crab lovers among us!
Next up was one of Chef Tim’s famous dishes, simply known as Crispy Chicken, prepared in the style of Peking Duck. It’s a perfect combo of the slightly sweet yet ultimately savory skin lined with a tiny bit of fat crisped over a perfectly tender bird. I hate to sound like a food cliche, but as I am recalling it I feel my taste buds activate and a slight watering of the mouth….
My family had never had pork belly before, but had heard it was a hugely important dish in Chinese cooking, insisted that we get the Roasted Crispy Pork Belly (as if I needed convincing!). Chef Tim’s pork belly was perfect – as one would from a chef with 2 Michelin stars. It might not be the most creative thing to order from the menu, but you definitely won’t be disappointed.
We followed it up with Fried Rice with Beef, Onions and Shallots. My family was happy to have the familiar taste of fried rice but I was excited about another fresh local Hong Kong seafood catch coming up next, the Sautéed Fresh Sliced Garoupa Fillet with Asparagus. I vowed to merely “taste” the rice to leave more room for the garoupa, but the salty, slightly oily fried rice with crispy, frizzled shallots on top was irresistible.
And suddenly the garoupa disappeared as my family’s waryness about seafood disappeared. I think a lot of Americans think they don’t like fish or seafood because of the way it is prepared in the US. Usually it is grilled or broiled (or in the case of shellfish boiled or steamed) and generally lacks any real appeal unless it is 100% completely fresh. However, in Asian seafood preparation, and especially in Cantonese cooking, the Chef generally works to bring out the amazing flavours of the seafood while delicately enhancing it with sauces and spices. I, myself, didn’t eat nearly as much seafood as I do today after having lived in Asia for 7 years.
All in all Tim’s Kitchen was the most memorable meal in this particular trip to Hong Kong. I often struggle between returning to old favorites like Zuma and The Chairman when I am in Hong Kong with visitors, versus doing what I would normally do which is trying new venues for a new experience….but in this case we were all rewarded handsomely with full bellies and rich memories of our amazing meal at Tim’s Kitchen. If you are looking for the pomp and circumstance of typical Michelin-starred dining then Tim’s Kitchen is not for you, but if you want seriously good Michelin-starred food where the rating is clearly over-weighted toward the food more so than the ambience, then you’ll want to go to Tim’s Kitchen when you are in Hong Kong.
Shop A, G/F & 1/F, 84-90 Bonham Strand
Hong Kong, SAR China
Telephone: +852 2543 5919