Hong Kong – Lin Heung Tea House 蓮香樓 (Dim Sum)

Restaurant: Lin Heung Tea House 蓮香樓
Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum
Last visited: October 1, 2012
Location: Central, Hong Kong (SoHo/Hollywood)
Address: 160-164 Wellington Street, Central
中環威靈頓街160-164號
Phone: 2544 4556
Transit: Sheung Wan Station
Price Range: $45-65HKD/per person – about $5.50-8CAD for dim sum, $10-20CAD for dinner

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 2.5 for dim sum, 3-3.5 for dinner
Service: 2
Ambiance: 3.5 (for what it is)
Value: 4
Overall: 2.5-3
Additional comments:

  • Since 1926
  • One of the oldest tea houses in HK
  • Classic for dim sum
  • Very busy/popular at all times
  • Local favourite
  • Line ups
  • Crowded/noisy
  • English menu available
  • Very affordable
  • Quick
  • Famous for mooncakes
  • Visa/MC accepted
  • 10% service charge
  • Dim sum/lunch/dinner
  • Dine in/Take out
  • Mon-Sun: 6am-11pm

**Recommendations: Go for the dim sum experience, but the food is quite average. I prefer dinner and the recommended dishes are: Steamed Meat Cake, Stuffed Duck, Sauteed Jumbo Prawns in Tomato Sauce, Braised Pomelo Skin, Razor Clams with Garlic and Vermicelli, and Lin Heung Special Pork Rib. Their moon cakes are also famous.

Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong kicks off with a classic! It opened in 1926 and it’s one of Hong Kong’s oldest tea houses. All the locals know about it and many still frequent it. It’s busy all throughout the day and it certainly has its loyal followers. I came here for dinner first which turned out to be pretty good and it’s what convinced me to come for dim sum.

Dim Sum literally means “touch the heart” and traditionally it is a style of dining where little bites of food come out on trolleys. Think of it as Chinese tapas or appetizers. It was never meant to be a main meal but more of a snack, however nowadays people treat it as breakfast, brunch or lunch. It originated in China centuries ago, but it’s just as popular today and it’s something you must do in Hong Kong.

Lin Heung Tea House is famous for traditional Chinese dim sum and the experience is worth recommending. It’s not for everyone, but there’s nothing else really like it in Hong Kong. You have to experience it at least once. It was the most intense dim sum I’ve ever had. It was a real life version of The Hunger Games. So are you ready to see it?

But, wait! Before I get to the madness I have to warn you that it’s very likely that you’ll sit with random strangers if your group is less than 4-6. I sat with randoms on both occasions. You don’t have to share your food (unless you want to), but it’s communal dining without the long wooden communal tables. The tables are small and round so you get comfortable with fellow diners quick.

Everything about this place is old school. From the staff to the dishes and even the method they pour the tea, everything about Lin Heung Tea House makes it an old fashioned classic. It’s loud, noisy and crowded (how tea houses traditionally are) and it doesn’t look like the cleanest place, but it is what it is. Take it or leave it.

In the olden days there were many versions of tea houses. They started off as casual places where the working class would stop and take a break and later they became more elaborate. Some offered live music and fancy dishes and eventually there were teahouses for particular classes. Having such an extravagant meal on a weekday would be a sign of luxury and for many it was, and still is, considered a weekend activity.

In the past Lin Heung was considered a “working class restaurant”. There were no white table clothes, limited service, and the food was inexpensive. The dishes were very traditional and not really gourmet, but still good quality for the price. Not much has changed nowadays, but instead of being considered a “working class restaurant” it’s more or less a Hong Kong institution. Although there are many other options for dim sum in Hong Kong, this is one of the very few still offering trolley service and it represents a very casual version of dim sum.

I had no idea what to expect. I’ve been going to dim sum all my life so the concept was not new. The trolley service at dim sum is becoming more and more rare all over the world, but I still knew how it worked. You sit and you wait for the trolley to come by, you listen to the Chinese lady shout out the name of the dish and then you say “yes” or “no”… right? Wrong. Wrong! Boy was I ever wrong. If I had sat there and waited I would have never ate. It took me a moment to absorb my environment and understand the process, and without another minute to waste I quickly rolled up my sleeves, grabbed my ordering sheet, and went to war!

And tada! I welcome you to dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House. It’s a freaking gong show.

So after karate chopping through the crowd I finally made my way to the front. Seriously the people were vultures and the food wasn’t even free! It took me a second to get used to and then I became one of these vultures. People were waving around their ordering sheets in the faces of these ladies in hopes that they would check them off faster. Everyone wanted to bring the dishes back to their friends and family and start eating ASAP.

Did I feel bad for this little Chinese lady having to deal with this? Yes, of course! But honestly you can’t be bothered for too long and you have to step outside of your cultural perspective. All over Hong Kong there are seniors working. They work until they can’t and that’s typically the mentality of the culture. Not only is it a hard working culture, but Hong Kong is a hard working environment. The most I could do is say my “mmh goi” (please and thank you) and get out of the way for the next herd.

So how does it work? Well you lift the stacked bamboo steamers up yourself to see what’s being offered. And if there is a lid on the dish? You open it. If you want something? You take it. If you don’t like what you see? You put the lid back on. It’s the most literal form of “self-service” that isn’t a buffet. There’s no mercy, common courtesy, or waiting around.

I was literally collecting food as fast as I could, running back and fourth from trolley to table and getting quite the work out. I took what I could get and most of the time I didn’t even know what I was grabbing, but I wanted to try everything anyway. You have to hustle and be observant because the food is gone in a matter of minutes and sometimes seconds.

 

I never thought I would be one to stoop to these levels for food… actually who am I kidding? Yes, I am. Hey, when it comes to survival of the fittest you’re going to do what you have to do. It might seem barbaric, rude and uncivil to run up to the trolley and just start grabbing stuff yourself, but it’s what is expected here. This is how it’s done at Lin Heung. If I did this in Vancouver I would probably get kicked out or yelled at by other diners for being so rude, but here? Here it’s fine. And to be honest… I got into it.

I started to think of other ways to get to the food faster since I didn’t seem aggressive enough at the trolley. So I decided to head to the kitchen… the source.

And how naive of me to think that I was the only one that was going to do this. There was a whole crowd waiting outside the kitchen. I can only imagine how pissed this would make the chefs in any other restaurant. I can’t even stand people hovering over me when I’m cooking, so this would drive me insane.

The staff try to shoo people away from waiting at the kitchen since they’re blocking the trolley entrance, but it’s so pointless it’s almost funny. Nobody cares and that’s just the style and mentality of dim sum here. I’m sure they go through this process every day.

I stepped away from the kitchen, but as soon as the trolley came out of the kitchen it looked like this again. Madness… which became part of the entertainment and true “Lin Heung” experience.

At times you can just go up to the kitchen and ask for a dish and depending on how nice they’re feeling they’ll send it out.

Okay now psst… come close… I’ll tell you my secret on how I got my food. Besides running around grabbing food off the trolleys, I actually made friends with the waiters. Smile nicely and ask politely and some of them are kind enough to help you get the dishes you want. They have authority and can get through the lines faster. I won’t guarantee this will work, but I had success.

Now after all is said and done, how was the food? I would recommend trying dim sum once for the experience, but if you feel uncomfortable eating like this then don’t bother. It’s not going to “improve” or change. It’s always been like this.

Lin Heung Tea House is good value and it makes for a very memorable experience, but the food was average and there is better dim sum in Hong Kong. There wasn’t much variety either and I felt like it was the same 10-15 dishes being rotated. Everything that came out was steamed and there were dishes I wanted to try on the menu that never came out. Usually at dim sum there are at least 50-100 dishes, so 10-15 is considered a very small menu.

The food wasn’t bad, but just a bit rough around the edges…. although the whole experience is rough in general. It was actually quite fresh but not gourmet or refined, however it is old style and traditional dim sum you might not find elsewhere. It’s a one of a kind place.

Personally I prefer their dinner service which was way less hectic, but just as busy. There is no self service or scrambling for food at dinner, but it’s likely you’ll still have to share tables. I also highly recommend going with 4+ people because it’s hard to try all their signature dishes with few people. They have more than a handful of dishes that are worth checking out for dinner and it’s been in business for 80+ years so it’s part of Hong Kong’s culinary history.

On the table:

Steamed Chicken Wrapped with Bean Curd (Fu Pei Roll)

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • I didn’t really know what this was until after. I was just grabbing what I could.
  • This is considered a delicacy because of the fish maw and Chinese mushroom or Shiitake.
  • The stuffing can range from restaurant to restaurant, but it is a traditional dim sum dish.

  • It doesn’t look appetizing, but it was dried bean curd wrapped with boneless skinless dark meat chicken, fish maw, Shiitake mushroom and I think some pig’s stomach and barbeque pork. A nicer version would have sea cucumber as well, but I don’t recall this having it.
  • If you’ve never had fish maw, it’s basically the gas bladder of a fish.
  • It’s an excellent source of collagen and it helps with blood circulation.
  • It’s considered a luxury product and although the quality can vary, it can be very expensive.
  • It usually comes dried and needs to be soaked for hours. It becomes very soft and almost sponge like and it absorbs its surrounding flavours.
  • It needs to be cooked in stronger flavours and this one just absorbed all the savoury chicken juices and oils.

Steamed Pig’s Stomach with Pork Liver

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • It was my first time seeing this dim sum dish.
  • Pig stomach is not to be confused with pork’s belly which is different.
  • Pig stomach is comparable to tripe (from a cow).
  • The pig stomach has to be cleaned well or it can carry an offensive smell. I would say this is acquired and it has a semi-chewy texture and meaty flavour.
  • The flavour can be gamey and pungent if it’s not cleaned or prepared well. Some people actually like this flavour, but I don’t.
  • I like pork liver, but I’m not keen on pig’s stomach. I still tried this though and it didn’t do anything for me.

Steamed Fish Head

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • With fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, green onion, and red pepper
  • It’s another old style Chinese dish. Again, nothing goes to waste.
  • They say only “real fish eaters know how to eat the head and tail of a fish”. They are typically the most flavourful parts of the fish.
  • If you can’t stand bones, then this might be tricky for you to eat.
  • The cheek, collar, lips and eyes can all be eaten and each one has a different texture.
  • This was mainly cheek which is my favourite part of the fish. It’s another delicacy and people fight over it.

Steamed Chinese Sausage Roll

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • I wasn’t keen on this and I found it dry and over steamed.
  • There wasn’t much sausage inside either and you can find these everywhere.

Pork Dumplings (Shao Mai)

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • Ah ha! And this was a recongizanble dish.
  • These were made with a mixture of pork and shrimp, but they weren’t too memorable although good.
  • They were plump and juicy with an equal amount of pork and shrimp, but they do get better in Hong Kong.
  • I actually like the ones I had at One Dim Sum.

Steamed Pork Meatball with Quail’s Egg

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • This was basically Shao Mai (Pork Dumplings above), but with a steamed quail’s egg on top.
  • I’ve had a version of this once, but it’s not a popular dim sum dish nowadays.
  • The flavour was very natural and it was almost like a pork shao mai with no shrimp and a mini hard boiled egg.
  • The meat was moist and the egg fully cooked. I prefer the egg on the runny/softer side, but I don’t think it’s authentically supposed to be like that.

Steamed Beef Meatballs

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • These were plump, tender and juicy with a good amount of fatty and lean beef.
  • I could taste a bit of orange zest in them which is traditional and it was served with Worcestershire sauce poured over top.

Steamed Shrimp, Pork and Chive Soup Dumplings

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • This was almost like the pork dumpling (shao mai), but heavier with the shrimps.

  • It was stuffed with a couple pieces of fresh shrimp, pork and chives.
  • It wasn’t that soupy, but it was moist and surprisingly not overcooked.
  • It was good, but nothing stand out.

Steamed Chicken & Fish Maw Wrapped with Chinese Yam

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • This was similar to the Steamed Chicken Wrap with Bean Curd (Fu Pei Roll) above, but a lighter version.
  • This is considered a delicacy because of the fish maw (gas bladder) again.
  • It was fish maw, boneless tender dark meat chicken, a big piece of Shiitake mushroom (another delicacy if good quality), wrapped with a thin strip of Chinese Yam.
  • This is a very traditional dim sum dish.
  • The Chinese Yam has a lot of nutrients and medicinal properties.
  • The herb is known to be good for people with diabetes. It strengthens the body and helps with the digestion of meats and richer foods.
  • The flavour of a Chinese Yam is almost like a potato. It’s quite neutral and it absorbs the flavours it’s cooked with. It’s starchier and almost chalky in texture compared to a Russet potato, but they’re comparable.

Steamed Phoenix Claws

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • Also known as chicken feet. This was standard.

Steamed Duck Feet with Taro Root wrapped in Bean Curd

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • This was my neighbour’s dish so I didn’t try it.
  • It was another bean curd wrap stuffed with fresh taro root, Chinese mushrooms and a bit of pork stomach.

Steamed Sticky Rice with Minced Meat

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • It was a big portion and I’m used to seeing this served in 2-3 smaller portions in one basket when I have dim sum at home (Vancouver, BC).

  • Ideally there should be a lot of ingredients in sticky rice and not just sticky rice.
  • If you can find dried scallops, shrimp, Chinese mushrooms and a salted duck egg yolk along with meat then that’s usually a sign of a good quality one.
  • This one had chicken, pork and Chinese mushrooms so it was quite standard which was expected.
  • The rice was a bit on the wet side and mushy, but it was well stuffed and the meat wasn’t too fatty.
  • The salted egg yolk is my favourite part so I did miss that.

Steamed Custard Buns (Lai Wong Bao)

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • Lotus seed paste buns are famous at Lin Heung, but unfortunately I didn’t see any come out. These are similar though.
  • These were a bit over steamed and dry and I liked them better at places I’ve tried at home.
  • The outside is supposed to be a soft white bun filled with a rich and creamy egg yolk heavy custard.
  • The custard isn’t like French or American custards, it is much richer and denser.
  • The custard is made with condensed milk and sometimes coconut milk as well as custard powder.
  • It’s considered a dessert, but like most Chinese desserts it wasn’t that sweet.
  • It’s a warm bun and it’s quite substantial.

Steamed Chinese Sponge Cake (Ma Lai Gou)

  • About $16-22 HKD or $2-3 USD
  • They used to make this in mini cupcake sizes, but they changed it now. It’s typically served in a big chunk like this.
  • Originally this is a Malaysian style cake, but the Chinese adapted it.
  • People have it for breakfast or as a light dessert.
  • It was a giant piece of fluffy and airy light steamed sponge cake. Since it’s steamed it’s usually very moist.
  • It’s a very lightly sweetened eggy sponge cake made with brown sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and sometimes vanilla or almond extract.
  • Sometimes people use evaporated milk or a little bit of butter which makes it richer.
  • This one had a natural mustard yellow colour which is better than the bright yellow versions that use yellow food dye.
  • It’s a very simple cake and it’s as popular as Chinese egg tarts at dim sum.
  • I considered this one good, but standard. One of my favourite Chinese Sponge Cakes I had in Hong Kong was from Tim Ho Wan.

Barbeque Pork with Rice

  • About $30-40 HKD or $4-5 USD
  • An excellent BBQ pork dish has good pork and rice. This was good, but not memorable.
  • The rice was standard white rice and the pork was decently tender with a good amount of fat and quite moist, but it does get better in Hong Kong.
  • Lin Heung is not particularly famous for their barbequed meats, but it’s still a popular choice and they have a small take out section for it at the entrance.
  • You can order the meats from their regular menu at dim sum along with other main dishes if you want something more substantial.

Although it’s not a full out bakery, Lin Heung Tea House does have a small bakery counter at the entrance of the restaurant. They are famous for their house made Moon Cakes which can range from $35-60HKD/each ($5-8USD/each) depending on the variety you get. Usually these are given as gifts especially during Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival).

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13 Comments

  • Linda says:

    o my! did anyone snatch any of your food while you were taking pictures?!

    wow, i think this place would be waaaay too intimidating for me… can you imagine if you didn’t speak a lick of cantonese? holy cow!

    the dishes look very similar to what we have here but the quail egg meatball and the steamed chicken & fish maw wrapped with chinese yam look quite creative – definitely something i’ll look out for for future dimsum visits here in vancouver :)

  • KimHo says:

    THIS is the type of dim sum I was used to before I moved to Vancouver. The one where you need elbow pads and be willing to be forceful to get what you want. Get in, get out. People in Vancouver… Well, people is more “civilized” on this part of the world. Several things you probably bypassed/overlooked:

    It is sort of customary they give you an extra cup for you to “rinse” all your utensils and cups. Sure, you can use them as is, but… ^_^;;;

    Also, the dishes tend to be more “traditional”. Roe in the siu mai? Scallops on some? In Vancouver, most likely. Dishes like the ones you took are what I got more get used to (again, before moving to Vancouver). Come to think about it, the one time I had dim sum in San Francisco, it was more on lines to the ones in your picture what you can get in Vancouver… (Then again, it wasn’t a high end place anyway).

    I have always seen the sponge cake like that. Usually steamed in a large bamboo container and cut into pieces.

    If you want the experience of “sharing” your table with strangers, go to Po King in Burnaby. I must mention that won’t be the only type of experience you will get: you will also face the wrath of the Dragon Lady!

    Finally, this is the place where Bourdain went for dim sum in his HK episode. What you capture in the pictures is pretty much the same experience he got!

  • Scott says:

    Besides doing a great job reviewing this “crazy” Dim Sum experience you really did an amazing overview of the options at Dim Sum. I learned a few new things and think I am going to have some Dim Sum this weekend. I love your writing I love your Blog thanks for sharing.

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – lol there were some non-Chinese people in the crowd and they were doing pretty good! I think you could do it! As long as you don’t care grabbing something you might not like! We have lots of fish maw options in Vancouver so if you see it on the menu, give it a try! You probably have before though?

    @KimHo – yes you need to rinse cups here for sure!! Yes Vancouver does a more elegant job for the most part… there are cheaper places serving it like Lin Heung, but they’re just okay in my books. And yes, exactly what i mean about the cake… it is usually served in a big chunk. i heard about Po King… not desperate to go lol.

    Bourdain came here?!? i didn’t see one photo of him on the wall or anything! Usually they would market this, but they didn’t… unless I missed it.

    @Scott – Aw thanks Scott! I really appreciate the feedback! Seriously it’s music to my ears when I read “I learned a few new things”… that’s the whole purpose of my blog. I love learning too and sharing these experiences is so rewarding for me. I don’t know who reads them so I never know how people feel about what I write unless they tell me so thank you so much for writing a comment. I have some dim sum posts in Vancouver if you need options this weekend :)

  • BonGateau says:

    Kudos to you girl! I was laughing so hard reading this post! Even I wouldn’t attempt to fight through tht crowd for dim sum! I don’t think they know who Bourdain is let alone posting his picture on the wall!

  • Bow says:

    Wow ! you sure had to fight for your food and you sure ordered a lot. Sorry, I hate huge crowds, I would’ve gone somewhere else. Nice selection of items though. Sharpenen your elbows to fight through the mass of humanity.

  • mimihui says:

    Awesome just like the old times…60′s…….

  • Jon Pong says:

    Hey Mijune, great post as always. Really love all the detail you put into reviewing everything! Here’s a small clip of Bourdain visiting this joint http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pEAPDMHx9A

  • Mijune says:

    @BonGateau – lol yeah I don’t think they really cared. Thanks for the encouragement Bonnie!! I think you would have handled yourself fine!! ;)

    @Bow – lol! yeah if you hate huge crowds you would hate this! BUT I think there were some dishes you would have appreciated!

    @Jon Pong – aww thanks!!!! This was considered a short post too! Thanks for sharing the clip too!! It’s cool that he came here!

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