New restaurant review: Old Bailey by JIA Group in Tai Kwun, Hong Kong
Contemporary Jiangnan food in Hong Kong’s newest arts centre
In Hong Kong, spacious public spaces are hard to come by. This is especially true in Central where even finding a spare bench is difficult. So I was surprised and extremely excited when the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts opened last year. It’s a short five minute walk from Central MTR, right off of the Mid-Levels Escalators. Just walking around the large courtyard makes me feel like I’m seeing an real-time example of what makes a city so great: live music, heritage buildings below skyscrapers, free exhibitions, unique shops, and of course a diverse population of people enjoying the sights and sounds on the way to one of the centre’s many restaurants.
There’s a restaurant everywhere you look at Tai Kwun but Old Bailey is a hidden gem. It’s located on the second floor of the JC Contemporary Building, a not-for-profit art centre with rotating exhibitions, in the heart of Tai Kwun’s maze. There’s an elevator that takes you right up to the restaurant’s entrance but the walk up is nice too as you’ll go up this cool spiral staircase. While the opening buzz has died down, the restaurant was maybe three-quarters full on a Friday night creating a nice, lightly buzzy vibe. There was a live band playing in the lounge area and a few tables eating outside as it was one of the first 24 degree days of the season. Most guests though, including us, were sitting in classic, simple-yet-refined dining room.
Old Bailey specializes in Jiangnan cuisine, known for its delicate flavours, fresh produce, and traditional cooking methods.
We primarily ordered from the Chef’s Recommendations section. The dough of the Mala Iberico Pork Xiaolongbao ($108 for four pieces) was just right, the meat was flavourful and not overly fatty, and the broth was flavour-packed yet mild. I would order this again but see it as a solid but not mind-blowing option.
What did blow my mind was the Double-boiled Lion’s Head Organic Pork Meatball with Hairy Crab Roe ($168). I’ve had various versions of this dish from homemade to high-end and this is one of the best I’ve ever had. It was one of the heaviest dishes we ordered with the meatballs made from pork-collar-butt and fat which gave it a soft, almost wobbly texture, but one that somehow still held together. A must.
The Longjing Tea Smoked Pigeon ($188) was also awesome. Very meaty with quite a strong smoked tea flavour infused throughout. Don’t forget to eat the sweet bitter deep fried tea leaves too.
I was probably most excited for the Osmanthus-scented Jinhua Ham with Crispy Bean Curd Sheet and Mantou ($78 per piece) as it was one of my favourite treats growing up. But I found this version a bit too mild.
And then it was time for carbs. The description of the Village-style House Made Handkerchief Pasta with Organic Seasonal Greens ($188) was quite poetic. Apparently the Executive Chef cooks it from memory as it’s one of his favourite dishes from childhood. It is quite a rustic, home-y tasting dish with the simple, pure flavours shining through. I thought it was a bit like a noodle version of spring onion pancakes.
The Hairy Crab Roe Hand-Pulled Noodles ($168) were basically the opposite. What an intense dish! The sauce was incredibly rich, fatty and gingery, and the noodles were perfectly chewy. Noodles are my favourite carb and I can eat a lot of them, but I still needed to take breaks while eating this dish. Whoa!
Then, because I think we were still hungry (somehow?!), we also ordered the Shredded Chicken and Mung Bean Sheets with Sesame Dressing ($88) from the Appetizers section at the recommendation of our server. This looks like a standard dish but the mung bean sheet noodles were crazy smooth and slippery, and the sesame dressing was strong - good things in my book.
We ended with the “Rolling Donkey” glutinous rice rolls with red bean paste and toasted peanuts ($68). I loved it ... so smooth!
Overall we were really impressed by Old Bailey. The majority of the dishes we tried were very good; we loved the uniqueness, creativity, and quality. Unfortunately they don’t have a private room so it’s not as good for large groups. But for a date or a small group dinner, it’d be a great choice given the food quality, noise level, central location, refined ambiance and attentive service.
2/F JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Old Bailey Street, Central, 2877 8711