BEST BAR NONE

Hong Kong’s drink­ing dens may have per­fected the art of the cock­tail but they’ve lacked imag­i­na­tion when it comes to craft­ing bar snacks—un­til now. Char­maine Mok takes a bite at five wa­ter­ing holes where the food is as big a draw as the booze

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life - Pho­tog­ra­phy edgar ta­pan Styling jo lorenz

Mitte is one of a se­lect group of Hong Kong bars serv­ing up in­creas­ingly in­no­va­tive gourmet bites to ac­com­pany their drinks. We chart the trend on

ind­ing the per­fect bar can be more dif­fi­cult than find­ing a great res­tau­rant. When were you last ex­cited by a cock­tail bar’s op­tions for lin­ing your stom­ach? How of­ten have you cho­sen from a smart-look­ing venue’s salu­bri­ous list of al­co­holic elixirs only to be let down by its sad se­lec­tion of dressed-up fast food or, worse, stale side dishes? Many own­ers give lit­tle thought to their non-liq­uid of­fer­ings, as­sum­ing pa­trons will be happy with any­thing to nib­ble on, or that they’re merely drop­ping by on the way to or from a proper meal.

But with the rise of se­ri­ous mixol­ogy has come a de­li­cious de­vel­op­ment: killer bar snacks. The new breed of op­er­a­tors re­alise two things. First, not only must they stock a long and im­pres­sive list of high-qual­ity liquors and liqueurs, they must fash­ion them neatly and cre­atively to con­sis­tently ex­act­ing stan­dards. Chefs may have some lib­er­ties when it comes to culi­nary sub­jec­tiv­ity, but mess up a mar­tini and you won’t be see­ing the same guest twice. Sec­ond, the bar snacks should com­ple­ment the cock­tails and be good enough in their own right to keep pa­trons com­ing back.

In Soho, where there’s no short­age of rau­cous venues to prop your el­bows, VCNCY (short­hand for va­cancy) epit­o­mises the trend. A hy­brid, half­way be­tween a res­tau­rant and a bar, it serves big flavours on a tiny patch of real es­tate. You’ll spot its strik­ing royal blue ship­ping con­tainer tucked just be­low the tiny Pak Kung Tem­ple on the Peel Street stair­case. The open fa­cade of­fers invit­ing stools where pa­trons can perch for a vi­brant Mak­ge­olli Sour (a cock­tail fea­tur­ing the clas­sic Korean fer­mented rice liquor) and a plate of roasted pork belly served with crisp let­tuce leaves, kim­chi gar­lic shoots and chilli sauce.

Founders Justine Lo and Joseph Ba­clay wanted to cre­ate a venue for show­cas­ing qual­ity cock­tails and ex­pertly ex­e­cuted Korean dishes with a New Amer­i­can twist. “We saw real growth for Korean food—it’s just so flavour­ful, it’s fun, goes with drinks,” ex­plains Lo. So there’s a wagyu beef tartare

CHEFS MAY HAVE SOME LIB­ER­TIES, BUT MESS UP A MAR­TINI AND YOU WON’T BE SEE­ING THE SAME GUEST TWICE

on the menu—ten­der chopped beef paired with a scin­til­lat­ing com­bi­na­tion of re­fresh­ing Korean pear, toasty sesame oil and spicy gochu­jang that’s served with a bowl of crisp lo­tus root chips. It goes per­fectly with the equally punchy Kim­chi Bloody Mary, which has a house-in­fused gar­lic and cel­ery soju in place of vodka. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Lo and Ba­clay are keep­ing mum about the ex­act in­gre­di­ents.

Asian flavours also abound at another Soho new­comer, The Wal­rus. It’s the sec­ond open­ing by the Chow sis­ters—vic­to­ria, Juli­ette and Regina—whose first pro­ject, Cen­tral bar The Woods, blazed new trails in pair­ing in­no­va­tive food and cock­tails with its sea­sonal tast­ing menu. The Wal­rus fea­tures pre-mixed cock­tails, served con­ve­niently in bot­tled form, with sug­gested ac­com­pa­ni­ments. For ex­am­ple, the Tom Yum Me pairs per­fectly with an un­con­ven­tional snack of tiny Ja­panese crabs sea­soned with a

home­made Old Bay spice blend and nori-miso chips. And the Rhubar­barella cock­tail shines with the Oompa Loompa oys­ter (the bi­valve is topped with a salmon and cu­cum­ber tartare, and a quenelle of blood or­ange sor­bet).

Just min­utes from The Wal­rus are two other new ar­rivals, both spe­cial­is­ing in Euro­pean flavours. Neo is a play­ful cock­tail club on the Shin Hing steps with a tonguein-cheek at­ti­tude where pa­trons can play vintage ’80s pin­ball and foos­ball. The Euro­cen­tric snack menu in­cludes a Neo take on the croque-mon­sieur (the Mr Croque) and beau­ti­ful bro­chettes such as the Beef Provençal (skew­ered pieces of filet mignon, onions and pep­pers). The lat­ter is paired with the Con­corde No. 2 (a blend of vodka, ver­jus, Dram­buie and truf­fle honey), whose gar­nish of fresh thyme is a clever bridge be­tween the drink and the dish.

A short walk away is Mitte, an “os­te­ria Ber­li­nese” that ac­com­plishes a lot in its lim­ited floor space. Inspired by Ber­lin’s vi­brant dine-drink-and-dance scene, it’s a triple threat: strong cock­tails, classy Ital­ian bites, and a killer arts and mu­sic pro­gramme. The in­dus­trial space is rough in its de­sign, but the food is sur­pris­ingly el­e­gant. Take, for ex­am­ple, the dish ti­tled Buff, a pared down

cos­mopoli­tan ver­sion of a clas­sic Caprese salad, with sweet straw­ber­ries in place of toma­toes. Add one of Mitte’s Ne­groni cock­tails and the com­bi­na­tion is more than the sum of its parts.

The Con­ti­nen­tal in Pa­cific Place is another hot spot where the bar menu is strong. Best known for its brasserie cui­sine and lan­guorous Sun­day brunches, the Ter­ence Con­ran-de­signed space also fea­tures a much un­der­rated bar where com­plex snacks are paired with clas­sic cock­tails. Our favourite is brioche buns with fried oys­ters. The res­tau­rant is renowned for its sup­ply of fresh bi­valves, and this dish is al­ways on point, each mouth­ful burst­ing with the umami qual­i­ties of the ocean. Paired with the Green Beast cock­tail (Pernod Ab­sinthe, lime and cu­cum­ber), it’s as close to na­ture as you can get in the city cen­tre. Those fa­mil­iar with con­sult­ing chef Row­ley Leigh’s orig­i­nal Lon­don res­tau­rant will also know to place an or­der for the parme­san cus­tard with an­chovy toast, a gen­uine clas­sic bar snack that alone is worth the visit to The Con­ti­nen­tal.

SEOUL FOOD

At the newly opened VCNCY bar-res­tau­rant in Soho, own­ers Justine Lo and Joseph Ba­clay up­date Korean dishes—such as wagyu beef tartare and pork belly wraps—with cock­tails to match

EURO­VI­SION

At Neo, a play­ful cock­tail club on the Shin Hing steps, pa­trons can try Mr Croque, a con­tem­po­rary take on the croque-mon­sieur

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