Cover Chef Shun Sato (Photo: Courtesy of Ki No Bi)

Japan's first craft gin meets Censu, the much-anticipated venture of ex-Fukuro chef Shun Sato, at this immersive pop-up in Sake Central

Once international travel resumes again, there's little doubt that Kyoto will be one of the most coveted destinations within Asia; until then, Hongkongers will have to resort to transporting themselves to the former Japanese capital through their tastebuds at the House of Ki No Bi, the first overseas pop-up of Ki No Bi's Kyoto guest experience venue taking place at Sake Central from today until May 31.

The Ki No Bi brand (translating to 'beauty of seasons') is known as Japan's first craft gin, and is in many ways responsible for kickstarting Japan's artisanal gin boom. Founded in 2016 by two Kyoto-based British expatriates, the gin broke with established distilling conventions first by using a rice-based neutral spirit for the base, and more importantly, by drawing botanicals distinct to the island nation to lend an unmistakably Japanese character to the finished product. 

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At the House of Ki No Bi, guests can sign up for the '6Elements' masterclass every weekend between May 15 to 31, where Bar Buonasera's Ayako Miyake will lead a fine-grained breakdown and tasting of the six distillates that are blended to create the final gin profile of Ki No Bi. These include the woody base of juniper, orris and hinoki, the peppery herb element of sansho pepper and kinome leaf, the savoury tea element of gyokuro green tea; the citrus element of yuzu and lemon; the spice element of ginger; and the fruity and floral element of bamboo leaves and red shiso.

As House of Ki No Bi manager Marcy Sakuma explains, the gin derives its name from the respect for the seasons embedded throughout Japanese culture, which is reflected in the distillation process. Unlike the traditional pot still method where all the botanicals are distilled at the same time, Ki No Bi instead creates six separate distillates before blending them together, allowing each botanical to be harvested at the peak of its respective season.

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Once distilled, the distillates are put together in the blending tank, then reduced to bottling strength with the underground Fushimi water of the renowned sake-brewing district. Distinctive from other gins, Ki No Bi gin is solera-aged, with the youngest gin fractionally blended with the oldest so that the finished product is of a mixture of ages, overall giving more consistency.

Former Fukuro head chef Shun Sato has been brought on board to tease out the flavour nuances of Ki No Bi gin under the banner of Censu, his much-anticipated restaurant opening on Gough Street in June. The eight-course tasting menu Sato has devised offers a sneak peek of Censu's guiding ethos of sampling the length and breadth of Japan's terroir. The drink pairings have been masterminded by Sake Central co-founder and accredited Sake Samurai, Elliot Faber.

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Standout dishes include the Tohoku oyster with sanbaizu dressing paired with a Ki No Bi yuzu "shot"; hamachi in whey tomato ponzu paired with Tsukino Katsura sake (chosen for its use of the same Fushimi spring waters as The Kyoto Distillery); beef tartare with sesame oil and ichimi togarashi, paired with a Ki No Bi Sei "Snowgroni"; and sawara, or Spanish mackerel in coriander miso sauce, paired with Ki No Tea mizuwari (gin topped with water). Weaving a deft dance between seasonal flavours and exacting provenance, Sato and Faber's collaboration is a self-contained journey to Kyoto that powerfully stokes one's wanderlust.

For readers looking to be immersed in this coveted dining experience, Tatler Unlisted is offering the opportunity to reserve an evening seating at the House of Ki No Bi on any day until May 31 for HK$1,388 per person; as well as an exclusive tasting of one of the 6Elements distillates, which are not for sale and rarely found outside of Japan. The offer is valid only until Monday, May 10 at 12pm. To book online or to learn more, head now to Tatler Unlisted.

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