|Posted on April 23, 2012 at 3:20 PM|
From the doorway, Lin Heung Tea House looks like complete and utter chaos - a sparsely decorated den of buzzing conversation and cluttering pots, pans and dishes, a place where old fans swing and hum from the ceilings and where metal trolleys clunk noisily through the aisles.
In Hong Kong, there are more refined places to enjoy yum cha (tea-drinking) and dim sum (a Chinese tapas-style nibble fest). But Lin Heung, at 160 Wellington Street (Central), has a charmingly shabby allure.
My Hong Konger friend German and I soon discover that you have to be willing to fight not just for your food, but for a table as well. Only people with no real desire to eat would stand and wait to be shown to their seats – especially during 'rush hour' (Sunday brunch time).
After ten minutes of stalking around, looking – and failing – to find somewhere to sit, a kindly middle-aged man waves us over to a pair of vacant spaces.
“Try not to rush around too much – that way you won't get scolded,” he says. Right on cue, a waiter arrives with a teapot loaded with jasmine leaves and a steel kettle of boiling water – plus a piece of paper with a grid of numbers and elaborate Chinese characters that I have no hope of deciphering.
Handing it to me, German suggests that I, being the male, go hunting for food. Scouring round, it dawns on me that I'm the only foreigner in a restaurant full of locals (many of whom seem to be smiling or sniggering at my presence).
I gravitate towards a poker-faced old lady, who's at the helm of a trolley laden with teensy-weensy steaming bamboo baskets.
I can't see what's in them, but, like the throng of people whose arms are doing a mad dance in front of my face, I want some.
After serving three people in our tangle, the old lady grabs my paper, scribbles something on it, lifts the lids off the baskets – pork dumplings and beef balls are the hidden treats - and hands them over.
Shoulders squeezed in, I hunker back to my table, where German has struck up a conversation with five strangers. They're sipping tea and munching on an assortment of dishes, including lotus paste buns, rice dumplings and cow's lungs.
We agree that this is one of the coolest places we've ever had yum cha/dim sum. Lin Heung is loud, atmospheric and very old-school (it's been around since the 1920s, apparently), while the food is varied, filling, tasty and unbelievably cheap, too.
We head off two hours later, stuffed, having paid just HK$88 (about $11, or £7) for a stack-load of dishes (including fried wontons and steamed pork buns) and enough tea to ensure I'll be spending the rest of the day in and out of Hong Kong's public toilets....