A traditional dim sum experience at a Hong Kong institution
Vintage dim sum
There are not many places left in Hong Kong that do dim sum the way dim sum used to be done. In fact, with its steamer-stacked trolleys and a setting that seems to have remained unchanged in decades, Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香居) could very well be the last of its kind.
Perched on the corner of Wellington Street and Aberdeen Street on the western edge of Sheung Wan, Lin Heung is one of the oldest and most traditional Hong Kong dim sum joints out there. Having opened its first Hong Kong restaurant in 1926 after its founding in Guangzhou in 1889, Lin Heung moved to its current premises in 1980 and has been a local favourite ever since.
Indeed, entering the fray at Lin Heung Tea House, you almost could image yourself stepping back into any year from the 1920s onwards. The crowded tables, the steaming food; the fans and vintage bird cages hanging from the ceiling above. There’s a certain timeless, old Hong Kong feel that is hard to define but unmistakeably there. Some of the regulars look like they’ve not missed their Sunday morning yum cha for the best part of fifty years. Even the waiters seem like working at Lin Heung has been their life-long occupation.
There may be an extra iphone or two on the tables these days, but rather than following the trend, Lin Heung has stuck resolutely to its traditional style. While most modern dim sum restaurants follow the menu/table service format, usually in large, chandelier-ceilinged dining rooms, Lin Heung has retained its trolley service and strip lights, making the battle for the good stuff half the fun.
Sharpen those elbows
The way it works is this. Dim sum is served between 6am and around 3:30pm daily. There is a regular menu from which you can order regular dishes such as roasted chicken, stir fried noodles, and some of the best Cha Siu Rice (叉燒飯) in all of Hong Kong. Anything you order from this menu will be brought to your table as usual. The dim sum dishes, however, cannot be ordered. Instead, they will be wheeled out, stacked up on trolleys, by the aunties and grandmas that work there, upon which a dozen or so card-waving customers will descend, trying to get their hands on their favoured dish before they disappear.
It’s fun to watch but stressful to participate in if you’re wanting to eat something in particular. With some dishes being more prized than others, (the Lotus Paste Bun (蓮蓉包), Steamed Chicken Bun (雞球大包) and Liver Siu Mai (豬膶燒賣) are particular favourites), you are either going to have to sharpen your elbows or make do with what’s left after the old ladies have had their fill.
The Lin Heung regulars seem to have a sixth sense about when the next trolley is about to leave the kitchen and what dishes are likely to be on it. This is most likely thanks to the lookouts they have posted by the kitchen door, checking what the chefs are up to and pouncing on it before it has barely had time to leave. A couple of decades of practice has also probably helped keep those reflexes sharp, so if you do manage to get there before the old geezers and come away with something tasty, make sure you enjoy it, because you may not get the chance again.
Lin Heung signatures
The Lin Heung trolley dash certainly isn’t everyone’s idea of a relaxing lunchtime. If your Cantonese isn’t up to scratch and you plan to rely on the point-and-gesture approach to ordering, you may have to discover sources of patience and composure that you never knew you had. An English menu may be available if the staff are willing to locate it and dust it off for you. But you would be best advised to take a local friend to do the hard work for you.
One of the things that keeps the locals coming back to Lin Heung is the availability of dishes rarely found elsewhere in the city. The dinnertime signature Braised Stuffed Duck (八寶鴨) is especially popular. So too is the equally hard to come by, but slightly less delicious-sounding Egg Baked Fish Intestines. If the thought of that turns your stomach more than tickles your taste buds, there are plenty of regular Cantonese dishes to choose from, lots of seafood, and a slightly less hectic atmosphere than the dim sum crowd brings.
Some complain that the food is hit-and-miss. Some complain that the service is poor and the place could do with a makeover. But for those that realise Lin Heung is not the Ritz-Carlton, it’s a dim sum experience unlike any in Hong Kong. Sure, you can get better dim sum elsewhere in Hong Kong, at places where you don’t have to battle old ladies to get it. But where’s the fun in that?
How to get to Lin Heung Tea House
Lin Heung Tea House is located on Wellington Street between Sheung Wan and Central stations.
160-164 Wellington Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 2544 4556
MTR: Sheung Wan Exit E2
Bus: Bus 10 travels from North Point through Causeway Bay, Wanchai, and onto Central and Sheung Wan. Get off after making the turn onto Queens Street Central from Jubilee Street, just after The Center.
Dim sum: 6am – 3.30pm daily
Dinner: 4pm – 11pm
Related Posts: For more Hong Kong food posts, click category: food.
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