Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Contemporary Old Bailey

We had a strong preference as in our favorite Shanghainese restaurant in town, so guess that’s the reason we never came around to try the food at Old Bailey, a chic restaurant (not far away from our go-to place) specializes in Jiangnan cuisine, which essentially encompasses Shanghai and its proximity (though we did find it to be a nice place for a quick drink in the neighborhood with its quiet setting)

But I did have a chance to sit down for a meal there recently, courtesy of our PR friend G who took on the restaurant as a client, and I promised him I will try to keep an open mind instead of making comparisons. The restaurant was hidden away in the Tai Kwun complex, the former Central Police Station gentrified to become a “cultural hub” completed with museum and retail spaces. Décor was lovely done in modern style with elements of classic Chinese.

The a la carte menu was as wide as you could imagine, essentially capturing most classic dishes in all of central coast of China, known for its delicate flavor and mixed use of ingredients from sea, river and land. We began with a few cold appetizers, all of which delicious, especially the house-pickled radish marinated with a light dark vinegar sauce and the refreshing yam cured with preserved plum juice. Both made great starter with the salivating flavor. Salted duck is perhaps the most famous dish from the city of Nanjing, and here, their version was slightly less brined and more tender with a touch of floral fragrance.

We then curiously moved on to Xiaolongbao, a steamed soup dumplings usually served either as snacks or course towards the end of the meal. It’s a platter of dumplings in three different flavors – all with pork fillings but done slightly differently. My favorite was the one with spicy flavor, with a slight kick from the Sichuan peppers. All of them were juicy and well-wrapped, with the wrapper skin slightly thicker than the ones I am used to see.

Three main courses were than served. My favorite was the tea-smoked pigeon, with the pigeon brined in soy sauce, baked and then finished with smoking using Longjing tea leaves. It’s of perfect texture and with rich flavor. The other two, which were sautéed grouper fillet with pickled Shanghainese cabbage, and the braised cabbage with ham, didn’t stand out but were nonetheless right on par of what I expected with good flavor.

I was surprised by the bowl of noodles served as our final savory course. It’s sautéed hand-pulled egg noodles served with clams mixed with chili soybean sauce. Everything just worked well together and the noodles taken in all the flavors from the ingredients. I wouldn't have thought of picking that dish myself but turned out I enjoyed it a lot. And I loved the dessert of the sweet Osmanthus syrup with sweet dumplings - many places would have held back on the sweetness but this one was done just the way I wanted. And after that the off-menu Suzhou mooncakes in both savory and sweet versions were served, reminding us of the upcoming moon festival in less than a month. A different style than the traditional Cantonese mooncakes with a flaky texture and a different filling (pork inside the savory version and red bean paste in the sweet one).

If I have to be honest, while Old Bailey didn’t make it to the top of my list, it’s a place we didn’t mind coming back especially when we wanted something different and a more comfortable and stylish place to hang out for food and drink in this neighborhood dominated by western restaurants and bars.

When? August 15 2019
Where? Old Bailey, 2/F JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Old Bailey Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Longjing Tea Smoked Pigeon

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