Old Bazaar Returns (8.5)

I am far from being a connoisseur of South East Asian food, especially of the Singaporean and Malaysian variety, but I do know whether I enjoy a meal. Old Bazaar Kitchen was a genuine surprise, not in a spectacular and aesthetically dazzling way, but in its execution of mostly ordinary dishes with a touch of imagination. The character of the dishes are distinctively mellow, as though tempered by the chef’s maturity and experience; flavors are homely and mild, and dishes are simple with no frills. A splendid choice for family gatherings.

The head chef and also partner of the restaurant, Billy Chung, is a well-known figure in Hong Kong for having run a thriving trading business before the Asian financial crisis and several F&B projects (beginning in 1999 in Shau Kei Wan) that eventually closed down due to a host of misfortunes. This time round, Lai Sun Dining, the group behind China Tang, is backing the reopening of Old Bazaar Kitchen in Wan Chai. Stories behind the rise and fall of restaurants and their owners are always stirring, and they make the dining experience all the more multifaceted and meaningful for me. Perhaps even thought-provoking.

A quick glance around the dining room and you’ll see mainly returning and ageing clientele that have a penchant for traditional flavors. I wouldn’t recommend this place for a young couple on a date or a group of post-95’s to catch up, but if you have an occasion to celebrate and love fresh seafood, this would be a pleasant option with plenty of seasonal Chef Specials to pick from (many of which would need to be pre-ordered). If there’s one complaint, it would be the service. Waiting staff are mostly in their 40s and 50s, yet they are not particularly experienced or friendly. The air conditioning is also blasting at about 15 degrees (although it was turned up upon request), so do bring along your Moncler if you tend to feel cold quite easily.

Food Rundown

Chilled Drunken Foie Gras in Chinese Yellow Wine, $150/half portion ($290/full portion)
The star of the meal. The foie gras was so buttery and bursting with flavor. It’s the first time I’ve had foie gras in combination with Shaoxing wine, and I must say they’re a match made in heaven. The bittersweet taste of wine balances with the fat perfectly.

Beef Tendon and Brisket Yellow Curry (part of a $250 lunch set)
A simple yet umami packed dish. Tendon was super soft and melt-in-your-mouth and brisket easily pulled off into shreds. The turmeric in the yellow curry instantly powered my body up to fight against the air conditioning.

Stir-Fried Prawn in Thai Tom Yum Dressing, $260
Prawns were juicy and fresh. The crispy and sweet batter had a refreshing and herb-like sourness that is distinctive of a Tom Yum dressing. Quite a tasty dish.

Sweet and Sour Grouper Fillet with Pineapple (part of a $250 lunch set)
This was OK. A typical Hong Kong way of cooking meat.

Curry Samosa, $88/8 pcs
This is good as an appetizer if you like samosa. The skin was very thin and crisp.

Boneless Hainan Chicken with lemongrass rice casserole (part of a $250 lunch set)
I found the chicken here to be tender and delectable, although it still wasn’t quite the standard found at Grand Hyatt or Causette (which is fine if the dish wasn’t a signature thus leading to high expectations). We were also quite intrigued about why the chicken was still boned when the name of the dish included the word “boneless”. Lemongrass rice pot was more of a gimmick, although if you like burned rice (at the bottom of the claypot) this would be a treat.

Steamed Tofu with mushroom and dried shrimp, $180
Superb. Tofu was silky smooth and the mushroom and dried shrimp lent it an earthy and briny tang that together turned out to be much more of a surprise for the palate than the eyes would have guessed.

Poached Vegetables (part of a $250 lunch set)
Sweet and fresh. It was supposed to be stir fried but I requested for it to be poached.

Sabah Mango Ice Cream Sandwich, $45/slice ($450 for a 7″ whole cake)
A bit hard if served immediately but otherwise incredibly milky and divine. It’s also quite special as I’ve never had something quite like it. Definitely go for it if you like to end your meal with dessert.

Vietnamese Coffee, Iced, $35
Although this comes with cream and sugar pre-mixed, you could still taste the boldness and bitterness typical of Vietnamese coffee. I would have preferred to have it straight to be able to better taste the coffee.