What if, rather than jet-fresh fillets of kinki and ōtoro, as in a traditional sushi omakase, guests were served a slew of cocktails tailored to their particular palates, with food taking a backseat? That is the premise of the new cocktail omakase offering at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong's The Aubrey, which takes place at a dedicated bar counter seating just four guests.
It's intended to be as much an educational experience as a savoury one, according to head mixologist Devender Sehgal. Rather than featuring well-known spirits from the West, Sehgal, a Japanophile, has instead committed The Aubrey's cross-cultural brand of Japanese gastronomy to heart with the use of base liquors such as sake, shochu, umeshu, and the lesser-known awamori.
But first, let's talk about that omakase bar. Both secluded and connected to the main bar area by virtue of a dramatically-lit wall of whisky bottles, the four-seater bar is intimate—maybe a little too intimate at times, making it a struggle to elegantly insert and extract myself from the high chair. Set up like the world's smallest stage, the space is the private world of Sehgal, a gracious host and a humble showman who quickly welcomes our party with a well-practised balance of professionalism and bonhomie.
The drinks start flowing. Our first of the night is the Rue de Vin Pomme d'Or cider hailing from the alpine prefecture of Nagano. Made using golden Fuji apples from the Tomi region, it is dry, light and pleasantly fizzy, and for all in our party, a first encounter with Japanese craft cider. From the kitchen of chef Yukihito Tomiyama, a starter selection of sashimi and nigiri arrives, including the Insta-famous hamachi topped with ants. A civilised start to the proceedings by any measure.
Then, we move into more familiar territory with the second "course", a tall drink that is something of a hybrid between a whisky highball and a chu-hai (shochu highball). The vanilla character of the Macallan 12 Double Cask is bolstered by the earthiness of the potato shochu and a welcome note of sweetness thanks to the addition of sherry, then lengthened with soda for an easy sipper. This is accompanied by a tomato, tofu and mixed greens salad that, paired with a long drink, left much to be desired—perhaps a more substantial dish to balance the cocktail would have been a better call.
Our first shaken drink of the night comes in the form of a yuzu daiquiri, a bright, zesty riff on the classic that uses a base of yuzu shochu. This makes for a natural pairing with a moreish chicken katsu sando—a one-two punch that hits all the right notes.