Hong Kong has a well-documented love affair with speakeasies, but if the word doesn't conjure images of a parlour themed after late-19th century New York (à la Stockton), then it's likely a bolthole covered in mahjong tiles or lit aglow by a traditional Hong Kong neon sign, like Ping Pong 129 or the now-closed Mrs Pound.
What it certainly doesn't conjure is a tranquil desert oasis in the middle of the Sahara, a premise that is unique to newcomer to the Hong Kong bar scene, Zzura, now open in Soho, above Penicillin. Named after Zerzura, a mythical city that was white "like a dove" and believed to have been in the sandy expanse west of the Nile, Zzura brings together a number of veteran bartenders for its cocktail programme, including Tell Camellia co-founder Gagan Gurung and former Zuma bartender Princebir Singh, assisted by Santosh Gurung (previously of On Dining) and ex-Dr. Fern's bartender Matthew Law.
They will ply their trade in a dramatic and intriguing space designed by local outfit NC Design & Architecture, who are also responsible for the interiors of fellow speakeasies Foxglove and PDT. Guests pass though a nomadic Bedouin tent called the Bait-al-Sha’ar, before entering a low-lit space dominated by Persian arches, water fountains, and geometric volumes that would not look out of place in a caravanserai.
Certainly, spices that camel caravans have transported across the dunes for centuries underpin the cocktails of Zzura. Saffron is the star ingredient in the Saffron Milk Punch (rum, saffron, pineapple, cardamom, cinnamon, masala tea, milk); while in the Tabib Shepherd, turmeric-infused gin is mixed with clarified mango juice and goat milk yoghurt.