For most of us in Australia trolley service for dim sum is pretty much standard fare, so it is a surprise to find that in Hong Kong most modern dim sum restaurants have long forsaken trolley service in lieu of the order form system whereby the diners place their orders on a slip which is then handed to waitstaff. There are great benefits to the order form system. Firstly, without needing to allow space for trolleys you can fit even more tables into the room for greater capacity. Secondly – and this is something I greatly appreciate – by having everything cooked as you order it, food can come to the table at the correct temperature and texture meaning you don't have to eat tepid, rubbery fried items, or har gao that has gone around the room so many times the casing has become soggy and falling apart. Still, there is an old school charm to trolley service and there are a few places in Hong Kong that stick to the tried and true formula. I did my research and found such a place that was on many 'must do' food lists and located in close proximity to the Central station of Hong Kong's MTR.
By the time we arrived for breakfast at about 8am Lin Heung Tea House had already been open for two hours, but 2 hours might as well have been 80 years. The city around it has changed greatly, but at Lin Heung things are done much as they have been since they opened in 1928. We walked up the stairs to the already busy dining room, and were sat down at a large table that we shared with another group of diners. As we sat down it felt like everyone was looking at us, wondering who these non-Chinese people were and what we were doing in a place that seemed entirely designed with no consideration for anyone other than a local audience.
The first trolley around came close to us, and we got the chee cheong fun with char siu. This was one of the best items we had at Lin Heung, good silkiness with a good char siu filling.
Part of the Lin Heung Trolley Service Experience is that you don't wait for the trolley to come to you – if you want something, you've gotta get up and suss out the trolley yourself or risk not getting all the good stuff. I had no problem with this and was happy to jump into the fray for the sake of the culinary experience.
The steamed bean curd roll was excellent, similar to quality of the dish I've had at the better dim sum restaurants in Australia.
In Hong Kong the siu mei is often smaller and less impressive looking than what you get in Singapore and Australia, and the Lin Heung version was no different. Flavour-wise it was of above average quality, though I've had better in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
As everything was in Cantonese and not all the staff spoke English, some of our next few choices were mystery lucky dips. One such example was what I think was some kind of jiaozi filled with pork and cabbage. This was not my favourite, but then I'm not much of a fan of the cabbage filled dumplings.
Alissa and I can't remember what this one was, some kind of pork something? Whatever it was, it was obviously not particularly memorable.
I've not had a lot of Teochew-style dumplings, but these were amongst the better dishes from our selection. We both really liked the peanut bits and mix of pork, shrimp and chive flavours – something we should definitely order more often.
I try to avoid beef as much as I can for environmental reasons, but with the slim pickings we decided to try what we assume were beef balls. This dish definitely did not make me want to eat more beef – it had a strange flavour we could not put our finger on, and with its pinkish colour inside we even questioned whether it was fully cooked. Probably my least favourite dish of the lot.
Perhaps fearing we were tourists who would find it weird or disgusting, the servers did not offer us the chicken feet, which is a shame as its actually amongst our favourites. I saw some go to a table near us and tried to chase down some for us to try. One of the staff tried to help us source some, but they had run out. By this point our choices were becoming a bit limited to dishes that did not look appetising or the same as things we'd already ordered, without a har gao in sight.
As a final dish, I got the fried turnip cake. Sadly, this was far from the best I've had and I only ate half of it before deciding it was probably time to go.
The Verdict: Good
I've read a few guides calling Lin Heung an essential part of the Hong Kong experience. While it was nice to order from trolley service and the raiding of the trolley was fun, I can't say the food was the best dim sum I've had – I've had better in Singapore, and I'd even say our local in Australia is better. Perhaps it was just that Lin Heung's dim sum was so utterly geared towards an old school Cantonese taste that it simply did not translate to our more contemporary palate. If you're looking for something fun to do, Lin Heung certainly fits the bill, but when you can have Tim Ho Wan for roughly the same price, its hard to recommend doing anything other than multiple Tim Ho Wan visits instead.