Food and Drinks

Jimmy’s Kitchen closes to restore standards and traditional recipes as head chef and manager vows to burnish restaurant’s legend

One of Hong Kong’s oldest restaurants, Jimmy’s Kitchen has served Western dishes to film stars, businesspeople and homesick expats for 90 years. Its new chef says the food quality has dropped in recent years and needs fixing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 6:19pm

One of Hong Kong’s oldest Western restaurants is closing temporarily for a complete revamp – of its food. Jimmy’s Kitchen’s in Wyndham Street, Central, an icon from the colonial era, has been serving subpar food that has deviated wildly from traditional recipes and that has to stop, its new head chef says.

“Classics such as the steak and kidney pie were not being done in a correct way. I am not willing to serve it as it is. I am now in the process of refreshing the brand and the products,” says Adrian Kavanagh.

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Kavanagh was previously the senior head chef at Jamie’s Italian in Hong Kong and before that was senior head chef for the British celebrity chef’s restaurants in Scotland. He was recruited in November by the owner of the 90-year-old restaurant, Sherman Tang, whose Epicurean Group also owns the historic Peak Lookout.

He did not explain why the kitchen remained open, even though it was clearly winding down for the two-week shutdown, which begins on April 25.

When we went there for dinner last Tuesday, we were surprised to be told by waiters that the pie and many other classic dishes, including the roast pork special of the day, were not available “because of supply issues”. Former favourites such as coq au vin and ginger pudding have also disappeared from the menu.

A colleague who visited on a different evening this month said choices were also limited that day.

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The chef, who doubles as general manager, promises to restore standards and burnish the legend of a restaurant that has managed to survive Hong Kong’s challenging market for so long.

He has been speaking to clients who remember the food from as far back as the 1950s and enlisted the help of Cheung Kwok-wing, Jimmy’s Kitchen head chef from the ’70s to the ’90s, so that the team can learn how dishes were prepared in the old days.

Kavanagh says fans of the old-school restaurant, visited by the likes of Cary Grant and John Wayne, need not fear that it will be turned into a trendy “Jamie’s Kitchen”.

“We want to keep the Jimmy DNA. Senior businesspeople come and dine here because it is spacious, so we are going to keep the feel of the place. We will revive old standards and keep dishes that our long-term customers like, such as steak Diane and baked Alaska.

“We are not going to turn it into a gastropub. We are not a steak house either,” he says.

The menu currently has a large steaks section.

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Kavanagh wouldn’t say whether prices would have to be adjusted given the costs of operating a large restaurant in the heart of Central.

A certain Jimmy James opened the restaurant in Shanghai in 1924, and set up a branch in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district four years later with a local partner, Aaron Landau. The restaurant in Hong Kong moved to its current location in 1975 and had a branch in Kowloon for years.

In 2002, Tang bought the business from the restaurant’s then Western owners.

Jimmy’s Kitchen has always specialised in the “Western comfort food” that its original clientele – British and American military officers and later, the broader expatriate community – craved while living in Asia. Over the years, it has kept dishes that are no longer common fare elsewhere, such as the baked Alaska, and each table still has a bowl of its own pickled onions.

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Competition in a city where rent is sky high has become more intense, however, as a growing list restaurants owned by star chefs such as Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton have opened in Hong Kong in recent years.