Not everyone might have heard of JIA Group, but many will be familiar with the restaurants under its belt. They are known for sophisticated surroundings and fantastic contemporary cuisine, and many diners wait weeks to book a table for brunch at Duddell’s, or have spent a breezy afternoon at PMQ’s Aberdeen Street Social.
Old Bailey is the latest jewel in this dining group’s crown, and it’s set to shine. Situated in the JC Contemporary building in Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s most anticipated revitalisation project, the restaurant is poised to get the best of both worlds – being positioned at the hottest address in town for visitors and locals, but not constrained by the necessary though cumbersome rules and restrictions that come with doing business at a heritage site.
After a bit of navigation we get to the back of the Tai Kwun complex and enter a modern space designed by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, with views of Central from its floor-to-ceiling windows.
We begin our meal with a One Rice Thousand Gold cocktail (HK$120), a mix of hojicha, Chivas whisky, rice milk and tonka beans – among other things. This drink sets the tone for the evening to come, as the Asian flavours are complemented by the western ingredients. The smoky hojicha introduces the fragrance of whisky while the vanilla notes of tonka beans round off any alcoholic bite.
First to arrive is the Longjing tea-smoked pigeon (HK$188). The presentation in a copper birdcage glass cover is dramatic, and the smoke fumes released by lifting the cover are a little overpowering. However, this notion is thrown to the wayside when you bite into the succulent meat, with its fragrant and crispy skin. The addition of deep-fried tea leaves as garnish enhances the tea flavour and ensures it’s not lost to smoking. This item is delicious and as well-balanced as a perfectly feng-shuied house.
Next up is the wok-fried mud crab with Ningbo rice cakes (market price). Old Bailey boasts cuisine from China’s Yangtze River-bound Jiangnan area, and this crab dish lives up to the reputation. The shellfish itself is thick, meaty and full of flavour but the best part is rice cakes that have absorbed the crab, but also the huadiao jiu wine and the chef’s special bean sauce. The only thing stopping us from taking the sauce home to mix with rice is our self-respect – but we are tempted.
We anchor our meal with hairy crab and scallion oil noodles (HK$138). While the scallion oil noodles are a favourite comfort food of the area, the addition of crab roe elevates the luxuriousness of what’s on the table. We love the aroma of the oil, and using vinegar to reduce the richness of the fat makes the dish appetising instead of heavy, so we finish every bite.
We opt for eight-treasure rice (HK$88) to end our evening on a sweet note, but unfortunately, we are a little disappointed. Old Bailey’s version of the northern Chinese dessert switches the usual lotus seeds and dates with what seems like candied fruit that includes mango, kiwi and peach. Your own experience will be the luck of the draw depending on the quality of the fruit. The bite of kiwi with the sweet rice is too tart, although the slice of peach isn’t bad. Unfortunately, the accompanying osmanthus syrup doesn’t do anything to abate the savage sourness in some bites.
We are bowled over by the drinks, and the mains here at Old Bailey, and the so-so dessert hasn’t ruined our experience. We saw some cool cakes in the bar area on our way in. Perhaps they could’ve made a better impression? However, we do know we’ll be back, so next time we’ll make smarter choices with the sweet stuff.