As part of the ground-breaking restoration of Hong Kong’s historic judicial house, The Magistracy, Black Sheep has opened the first two dining destinations: the Dining Room and the Botanical Garden.
The openings mark the beginning of a momentous multi-phase project, one which is set to reshape this piece of Hong Kong’s history through thoughtful storytelling. But perhaps we need to step back in time a little first.
Once an annex to Hong Kong’s Supreme Court, The Magistracy was the lower of the two main courts, with jurisdiction limited to minor offences and disputes. The Magistracy administered a form of summary justice and well over a million people were sentenced here between 1841 and 1941; thieves and murderers, kidnappers and rapists, hawkers and street boys, vagrants and drunken sailors, prostitutes and gamblers, the guilty as well as the innocent. Many went to prison for petty offences because they could not pay the fines, while others were flogged or exposed in the stocks as a warning. Even Vietnamese leader Ho Chi-minh spent time incarcerated there before it was decommissioned in 1984, lying dormant for four more decades.
Today, The Magistracy, part of the Tai Kwun complex, begins a new chapter. Helmed by executive chef Matthew Kirkley, formerly of Belon, The Fat Duck, Le Meurice in Paris, and Chicago’s L20, the Dining Room will present classic dishes that are laced with nostalgia but also the highest quality ingredients.
Highlights include a rotating oyster selection served on the half shell with mignonette, and Petrossian’s Tsar Imperial grade caviar, served with traditional garnish and toast points; Pacific Blue prawn cocktail, made with Osiblue prawns from New Caledonia; Petrossian Tsar-cut smoked salmon, finished tableside; Dungeness crab on homemade sourdough; and whole chilled Brittany Blue lobster served poached with green tabasco mayonnaise and lemon wedges.
Other menu classics include hand-chopped grass-fed Blonde d’Aquitaine steak tartare with egg yolk; double-baked Lincolnshire Poacher Souffle; pastry-topped French onion soup; and Brittany turbot roasted on the bone and carved tableside.
In collaboration with renowned designer Joyce Wang of her eponymous Joyce Wang Studios, Black Sheep has built a classic dining room rich in colours and textures. With vaulted ceilings, panelled walls and sumptuous banquettes stretching languidly across the restaurant floor in ox blood red, paired with inky blues and oversized, cushioned armchairs in warm amber tones, brass accent lamps, and hand-woven rugs. The interiors echo a kind of old London gentlemen’s club aesthetic.
Working closely with the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), the space was designed in a way that would protect the heritage of the building. Colours and accents were selected to enhance the architectural features that already existed. The only real structural change that was allowed was the installation of a spiral wooden staircase that leads up to what would have been the public gallery, now an intimate, semi-private dining mezzanine overlooking the rest of the main dining room.
The second opening at The Magistry is the Botanical Garden, located on a terrace situated alongside the Dining Room. A lush space also brought to life by Joyce Wang, one overflowing with green foliage reminiscent of British heritage gardens, here guests will find respite in the form of the city’s finest gin and tonics from afternoon to evening.
The space is awash with dusty rose pinks and muted greens, all complemented by the vibrant orange woven umbrellas casting shade over the outdoor oasis. Take a perch at marble tables with plush outdoor seating, and sample your way through the venue’s extensive gin collection, which celebrates the classic English gin and tonic, and pairs them with a range of comfort dishes, including The Beefeater, a hearty sandwich of sliced prime rib, caramelised onions and Gruyère served on French bread with a horseradish cream and beef jus for dipping; and a Welsh Rarebit with Lincolnshire poacher cheddar on house-made sourdough.
Beyond the food, it’s the attention to detail that will catch your eye, with dinnerware custom-made by Bernardaud, a luxury porcelain house that has been making porcelain and tableware in Limoges, France since 1863; cutlery in the Dining Room by Christofle, who once produced pieces for King Louis-Philippe I; and Sheffield Cutlery handcrafted steak knives, complete with handles made from water buffalo horn, for those lucky enough to order the prime rib. In addition, Raja Fashioned, which has been suiting gentlemen and women, including members of the White House, royalty and celebrities, for half a century, has created the staff uniforms.
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