If Hong Kong could be represented by a single cocktail, what would it taste like? We spent two days with 21 of the city’s best bartenders to find out
An impromptu supermarket sweep. Ice balls being carved in the bathroom. Endless streams of liquor and a karaoke reworking of a Ronan Keating classic. A lot happened over two days in September at Tatler House, our penthouse suite at The Upper House in Admiralty. After months of bar closures and uncertainty in the air, for a brief moment in time this haven in the heart of Hong Kong provided a group of top mixologists with a way to forget about the outside world and focus instead on the possibilities of creating an original cocktail inspired by the city they love.
Their mission was simple: they would form four teams and, armed with an impressive arsenal of spirits, take part in an intensive yet liberating session to come up with a drink that would represent Hong Kong. After all, New York has its Manhattan; our neighbours in Singapore, the Singapore Sling. For a place so rich with history and points of inspiration, it is truly baffling that the closest we had ever gotten to a cocktail to call our own until now was the Gunner, a low-alcohol drink made by mixing ginger ale with ginger beer or lemonade and a dash of Angostura bitters— hardly a thrilling proposition or an accurate representation of this crazy city.
The need for something a little stronger, both in kick and symbolism, inspired The Hong Kong Cocktail concept, one that will, this winter, come alive in bars around the city as part of Tatler Dining’s United We Dine campaign. From November 11, 2020 to January 31, 2021, you’ll have the chance to try the four original cocktails created by leading mixologists at their bars as well as others listed at unitedwedine.hk. Then you’ll be able to cast your vote to decide on the final recipe that best represents Hong Kong, the winner of which will be announced in 2021.
For the 21 mixologists from 20 of our favourite Hong Kong bars, the challenge was swiftly accepted. Teams were drawn by coasters (rather than straws), with everyone taking the task more seriously than we ever would have imagined. Each day, the rooms at Tatler House erupted into hives of activity as Post-It notes filled with ideas peppered the windows, pens flew across paper and the hundreds of bottles of spirits, mixers and vials of bitters went under stern, professional inspection. Should our cocktail be inspired by an ingredient? Or a concept or a feeling? Should it be a long drink or a short drink? “What is Hong Kong?” asked Tell Camellia’s Sandeep Hathiramani, taking the role of brainstorming facilitator-slash-philosopher among his group.
Flashes of inspiration came thick and fast; the bartenders assembled came from all around the world, though many were born or raised in Hong Kong, and all have a soft spot for the city they now call home. For Chanel Adams of Doubleshot by Cupping Room, who arrived from the US the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, life in Hong Kong has been characterised by an openness within the community to share and learn.
Simon Kong of Red Sugar suggested using Lion Rock as a starting point; someone else reminisced about beef brisket noodles and their star anise-tinged broth. “I really wish snake wine wasn’t so inappropriate, otherwise I’d totally use it,” mused Beckaly Franks of The Pontiac, as she surveyed the array of spirits spread across the table before her, settling on a bottle of dark rum that presumably had less of a bite (snake wine is rice wine or grain alcohol infused with an entire snake, preferably venomous). In another room, Arkadius Ryback of Darkside started speaking animatedly about bubble tea, but Antonio Lai of Quinary quickly steered the conversation towards Hong Kong’s love for salted kumquat and 7Up, a cha chaan teng classic, instead. In a similar vein, John Nugent of The Diplomat proposed a milk tea fat-washed liquor as the base of his team’s creation.
Another group proposed sweet-and-sour pork—it’s a family favourite of Jay Khan from Coa, and they started thinking of ways to turn its flavour profile into a drink. Ketchup was vetoed; vinegar was approved. By the end of that day, they managed to convince the incredibly accommodating Upper House kitchen to juice a couple of pineapples and bell peppers and, after creating seven iterations of the sweet-and-sour cocktail (pisco and vodka emerged victorious after tequila, cachaça and various gins were tried), settled on a final recipe at sundown.
At the end of each session, the teams naturally unwound with rounds of drinks and caught up. Given that social distancing measures had kept their bars shut for extended periods, this was a rare opportunity to flex their creative muscles as well as reflect on their relationship to the city. As Antonio Lai, who led a rousing—albeit modified—chorus of Keating’s When You Say Nothing at All, sang: “You say it best ... when you say I love Hong Kong.”
Try all these original cocktails at participating bars all around Hong Kong from 11 November 2020 and vote for your favourite on unitedwedine.hk.
The Hong Kong Cocktails
By Lorenzo Antinori (Caprice Bar), Jay Khan (COA), Sandeep Kumar (The Wise King), Oscar Mena (Ozone), Samuel Kwok (Quinary)
Pisco, vodka, pineapple juice, bell pepper syrup, lemon juice & sesame oil
Inspired by the flavours of the iconic dish of sweet-and-sour pork, the Bauhinia Sour is a tart, refreshing and aromatic cocktail that is designed to make your mouth water.
By Sandeep Hathiramani and Gagan Gurung (Tell Camellia), Chanel Adams (Doubleshot), Bryson Rivera (Q88), Devender Sehgal (8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo) and Tony Hui (The Poet)
Black tea rum, rosso vermouth, dark soy sauce, orange and cardamom bitters
Inspired by Hong Kong, Double Happiness celebrates the unique diversity and the city’s heritage by marrying flavors and ingredients like tea, which celebrates the joy of togetherness and sharing. Soy sauce adds richness and caramel flavors to compliment the rum blend. Orange and cardamom bitters evoke the herbs and spices of the city.
By Beckaly Franks (The Pontiac), Ajit Gurung (Mott 32), Mandeep Ghale (The Old Man), John Nugent (The Diplomat), Simon Kong (Red Sugar)
Scotch whisky, sugarcane juice, ginger syrup, lemon juice, absinthe, soda water
This drink is inspired by a walk down Hollywood Road, where you’ll pass many of the city’s most iconic bars as well as local sugarcane legends Kung Lee.
I Love Hong Kong
By Arkadiusz Rybak (Darkside), Kervin Unido (PDT), Antonio Lai (Room 309), Bob Louison (Lobster Bar), Lok Gurung (Stockton)
Salted plum gin, kumquat cordial, lemon juice, tonic water
This drink represents the five bartenders hailing from five different countries, bound together by their love for the city. Their search for the flavours of Hong Kong led them to on a journey where they found salted plums, kumquats and locally distilled gin to create their final cocktail.