Traditional Jiangnan cuisine goes contemporary at this sleek outfit at Tai Kwun
Since opening to the public at the end of last month, Tai Kwun has been hailed as a major success for Hong Kong’s art and culture community. But aside from the exhibitions, film screenings and theatre performances hosted within its historic walls, the former Central Police Station compound has also given us something else: a score of hip and sophisticated restaurants, among which stands Old Bailey.
The latest restaurant by JIA Group (also responsible for the likes of Rhoda, Duddell’s and Tai Kwun's jail-cell watering hole, Behind Bars, among others), Old Bailey boasts the kind of bright and airy roominess and stunning skyscraper views elusive to many space-starved, ground-level eateries in Soho. The 3,000sq ft space is a polished, contemporary take on mid-century modern, punctuated in the right places with tasteful pieces of furniture inspired by the Ming Dynasty. In the bar and lounge area, guests can enjoy speciality brews and cakes by Teakha throughout the day, while the main dining room serves as the backdrop for Old Bailey’s Jiangnan menu.
Dishes are based on traditional recipes, such as the homemade handkerchief pasta ($148), which is inspired by a rustic village dish. More like thin, floury pancakes, this ‘pasta’ is pan-fried until chewy, golden and blistered, and coarsely chopped and served with seasonal greens – brilliantly crisp, jade-green bok choy on the night that we visit. It’s surprisingly satisfying for something so simple. Another winner is the tea smoked pigeon ($188), which is served under a glass cloche that’s lifted at the table to release the grassy scent of Hangzhou’s famed Longjing tea leaves. The bird itself is tender and deliciously gamey and tastes even better when left to sit for a while. We also recommend the slow-braised USDA prime angus beef ($298). Seared and then slow-cooked with lemon leaves for three hours, the chopstick-tender meat is served with gravy that’s asking to be sopped up with the fluffy steamed mantou buns served on the side.
Every now and then, chef Wong Kwan-man and his team reimagine the classics, as is the case with the mala ibérico pork xiao long bao ($98/four pieces), one of the most memorable dishes of the evening. A subtle twist on the perennial favourite soup dumpling, these come in rose-pink skin with an umami meat broth that not only coats, but tingles on the tongue thanks to the addition of Sichuan peppercorns.
While most dishes are simple and nourishing, there are some that leave us wanting more. We appreciate the complexity of the 36-month Jinhua ham with crispy bean curd sheet and mantou, for example, where the ham is sliced, pressed and then steamed with homespun osmanthus syrup before being served with other ingredients as a mini DIY sandwich. It’s a subtle balance of sweet and savoury, but at $68 for a two-bite affair (minimum two orders), we’d rather spring for another order of xiao long bao. Likewise, the the lion’s head meatball, a royal banquet dish that traces its origins to the Sui Dynasty. Old Bailey offers two iterations – red-braised or double-boiled – both of which are shaped from organic French hand-minced pork collar and fatty pork. The double-boiled version is recommended by the chef and, perhaps more importantly, features hairy crab roe. At $198 a pop, though, it’s disappointing when the single sphere arrives, just slightly larger than a golf ball, with meat that’s tender without contrast and flavours that are delicate without depth.
That’s the challenge at the moment. With just shy of 100 dishes on the menu, it’s difficult to predict the disappointing from the delicious. Fortunately, we end our meal with the latter – a bowl of thick and chewy hand-pulled noodles dressed in scallion oil and topped with rich, ragu-like hairy crab roe ($138). The default serving size is a one-person portion, but it’s enough to feed two, providing you’re willing to share.
|Venue name:||Old Bailey|
10 Hollywood Road, Central
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm & 6pm-11pm|
|Do you own this business?|