How long are you prepared to queue for your favourite food?

A long queue outside usually means good food inside. But how long are you willing to wait, asks Keira Lu Huang

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 10:42am

Hongkongers will get in line for a few things: a toy that comes with a McDonald's Happy Meal, a new iPhone or a chance to buy an overpriced flat. Some are prepared to wait hours for a seat in a popular restaurant. Here are five hot spots. 22 Ships, 22 Ship Street, Wan Chai, tel: 2555 072 2

Owned by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social in London, 22 Ships is a 30-seat tapas bar that had waits of two hours or more when it opened last year. It doesn't take reservations, and everyone in the group needs to be present before a party is seated. It's less busy now, but during peak hours on weekends, waiting time can be as long as 40 minutes, according to receptionist Marnie Quiambao. If you have a big group, this might not be the right place.

Summer is a slack season for the restaurant because many families are away. But this month, 22 Ships welcomes chef, Lee Westcott, previously of the Michelin one-star Tom Aikens in London, to head the kitchen.

Westcott says he was taken aback by Hongkongers' enthusiasm for the restaurant. He says that their willingness to queue is "brilliant", but admits that it also stressful for him. "I wouldn't use the word nervous. It's more like an excitement. When I see the queue, it makes me excited and gets me in the mood to be ready for service," he says.

Tip: get there before 6.30pm with everyone in your party, or by 6pm if you have a large group. Monday to Wednesday is quietest

Kau Kee, 21 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2850 5967

Kau Kee has existed for about 70 years and people still line up for the variations on the beef brisket with noodles in broth. Waiting time can be up to 20 minutes, and the busiest time is just before it opens at 12.30pm. Now, because of the internet, tourists from all over the world crowd the small space. Second-generation owner Pun Kwok-hing has printed menus in Chinese, English and Japanese to accommodate the tourists. But the flavour of the broth and the quality of the beef, cooked in two enormous pots, remains the same, according to Pun. To control the quality and keep the recipe a secret, he refuses to open branches.

Jenny Mak always orders beef brisket with rice noodle in broth. She's willing to wait up to 20 minutes, but if the queue looks like it will take longer, she will pass. But Vivian Xiao, a tourist from Taiwan, didn't think the food worth a 10-minute wait as she prefers Taiwanese-style beef noodles.

Pun doesn't mind hearing criticism: "It's OK, everyone has different tastes. I can't satisfy every customer. As long as I uphold the quality standard, I will be fine."

Tip: avoid lunchtimes and go after 2.30pm

Tim Ho Wan, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, tel: 2788 1226

When it comes to food, nothing better represents Hong Kong than dim sum, and thousands of places specialise in it. But Tim Ho Wan is special. It has a Michelin star (first awarded in 2009), and chef Mak Kwai-pui worked previously as dim sum chef at the Four Seasons Hotel. But it's the long waiting line that has made its reputation.

Tim Ho Wan has expanded to four branches, and the Sham Shui Po location is considered the most authentic. Customers start filling the restaurant after 10am, and a line starts to form around noon. On Sunday, the waiting time can be more than an hour if you arrive after noon.

Because it provides good food at cheap prices, it's attractive to families, many of whom are willing to wait for 40 to 50 minutes, despite having their children with them.

At the 150-seat restaurant, practically every table orders the signature dish, bo lo char siu bao, or baked bun with barbecue pork. According to the restaurant manager, they sell at least 2,400 buns a day at that one branch. And the price of these popular buns? Only HK$17.

Other popular dishes include rice flour roll stuffed with pig liver (HK$18) and pan-fried turnip cake (HK$12).

Tip: get there before noon, when the waiting time is less than 15 minutes

Coffee Alley, 1/F Dragon Rise, 9-11 Pennington Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 2493 3033

This has had no advertising, no celebrity endorsements, and very little media coverage. But since it opened at the beginning of the year, the Taiwanese cafe in Causeway Bay has become one of Hong Kong's hottest afternoon tea spots. Be prepared to wait. If you don't make it there by 11am - it opens at noon - then you'll probably need to stand in the hot stairway for a minimum of two hours.

Coffee Alley is located on the second floor of a residential building with a very small sign outside the window. To find the cafe just look for the line. It starts on the staircase and goes out of the building, and occasionally stretches to the end of the block.

Coffee Alley, which has six branches in Taiwan, offers a Taiwanese style afternoon tea experience. The Mandarin-speaking staff serve popular dishes such as waffles with fresh strawberries and ice cream, baguette with beef curry sauce, and iced fresh fruit tea, with fruit from Taiwan.

Amy Fung and Kris Cheung tried Coffee Alley in Taiwan and wanted to see if this branch is as good. They're pleased to find the quality is the same.

Another customer, Macy Tang, tried it a month ago and returned with her six-year-old daughter. "I've been here since 11.20am. I think after two hours, we will get in. I want my daughter to try the waffles here," she says. The portion sizes are large. Fresh fruit and mango ice cream waffle costs HK$56, and includes a scoop of mango ice cream, four thick, crisp waffles, a variety of fresh fruit with blueberry jam and whipped cream. It's large enough for two, and often, up to four people share one dish.

Tips: 11am is a good time to start queuing up, or you will wait for hours and miss the limited-quantity dishes

Tonkotsu Ramen Ichiran, Lockhart House, Block A, 440 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2152 4040

There was a buzz about this famous tonkotsu ramen restaurant from Japan even before it opened its first Hong Kong branch, in July. The wait here can be up to three hours. Nina Lue and Kevin Fong waited for three hours in muggy weather when Ichiran first opened, and several months later, they are back for more. "Three hours is OK," says Fong. "It is the real Japanese taste. It's delicious and authentic." Another customer, Rachael, who's visiting from Shanghai, agrees, declaring the food was worth the long wait. "I had Ichiran in Japan. And here, it tastes exactly the same as it did in Japan," she says.

Instead of having traditional dining tables, the customers at the 36 seats are isolated from each other by wooden boards. Manager Iori Hanai said this arrangement can provide more privacy for female customers, and also blocks any distractions. The restaurant is open 24/7, even if a typhoon signal No 8 is raised.

Hanai says that before it opened, he expected queues, but didn't think they'd be so dramatic. Ichiran plan to open another branch in the next few months.

Tip: to avoid a three-hour wait, visit from 5pm-8pm, or 3am-5am on weekdays. Remember to bring some water and an umbrella