While we were starting to put together the idea of a trip to Japan late last year, Night Owl and I agreed that we would do a brief stop by Hong Kong. Neither of us have ever been but were intrigued by the idea of 24 hour yum cha and street markets selling counterfeit luxury goods. Japan was our ultimate destination, but we decided we would do a quick two night stay in what has been called by some as “the most thrilling city on the planet.”
The sheer oppressive nature of the humidity is the first thing that hits you as soon as you step out of the subway. We had caught the airport train over to Hong Kong Island, and it took us over half an hour of walking in the wrong direction to realise that we (I) was doing so – this is what happens when you’re a cheapskate and don’t get roaming! We decided to catch a taxi instead and checked into our hotel (Ibis Sheung Wan). The heat was too much that we didn’t even want to think about our original plan of visiting The Peak for the night view, so instead we had a quick freshen up and headed out to find a bar.
The thing about Hong Kong is that things look very close to each other on the map, but you don’t realise how many little streets, side-streets and stairs there are. Hong Kong Island is a city set into the mountain after all, and we had worked up a healthy sheen by the time we stepped into the welcome air-conditioned darkness of Quinary. Popular with young adults and ex-pats, it was surprisingly almost full on the Monday evening, but maybe it’s due to it being Monday that the staff seem a little disinterested. We don’t judge too quickly – I’m sure that the place has a rank among the World’s Top 50 Bars with good reason. We are plied with a seemingly-endless supply of complimentary sour cream and chive crackers, and I order the Truffle Fries (78HKD) as a semi-not-really-dinner-compromise as the heat is so oppressive that you don’t really get hungry.
I go for my regular Old Fashioned (120HKD) and Night Owl a Black Pearl (140HKD). The former made in the classic-style, while the latter is a fruity blend of Italian vermouth and Chambord, with drops of historic Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters for a classy touch. You can even have the option of having it “smoked” for an additional 20HKD. Both were nice, but nothing to really write home about. It was with my second drink that I was simultaneously blown away and amused.
The Earl Grey Caviar Martini (130HKD) is the bar’s signature drink. Absolut vodka with elderflower syrup, apple juice, Cointreau, lemon and lime, earl grey caviar and air up. For those who like their drinks more spirit-forward (aka Night Owl) this wasn’t the drink for them, but it’s impossible not to acknowledge that this is an amazingly textural beverage. The foam itself is lightly citrus-flavoured, while the “pearls” of earl grey caviar pop on the tongue with bursts of bergamont oil flavour; these are made with a calcium lactate bath in a very molecular gastronomy-fashion. It’s a very tasty-drink; although figuring out how to get to the main element of the drink without covering your face in foam is the real charm.
We wake up groggy the next morning and with the view from the window it looked like once again it was not going to be the time to visit The Peak. I had a whole list of potential yum cha places to visit for breakfast, but with the rain neither of us were in the mood to travel too far so we agreed to visit Tim Ho Wan in Central.
The decor looks exactly the same as the Chatswood branch and while we are a little squashed being squeezed into the centre communal table…should I mention that the bill came to about half the price of yum cha in Sydney? The thing about eating overseas is that the street and local food is ridiculously cheap when it comes to Sydney – such as this street egg-waffle we snacked on around the Ladies Market for about $1.50AU – but they also do luxury to a grand scale. I can’t for the life of me remember how much this box of Pierre Herme macarons were from the IFC Mall, but it was probably my biggest food spend during my very short trip in Hong Kong. Considering I’m not planning another visit to France soon, I thought they were worth it – and they were definitely some of the best macaron flavours I’ve ever tasted.
With the sensory overload of absorbing a new place, the humidity, and the rain, as well as an afternoon of me haggling at the markets we are exhausted and head back to our hotel room for a power nap so we are ready to hit the streets again in the evening. We decide on something simple for dinner, and around the corner we find a Chinese barbecue place with half ducks for $6AU. With a basic grasp on Mandarin I have a chat with the owner, who puts together a lunchbox of rice and succulent, juicy duck. With a 500ml can of chilled Asahi beer from the local 7-11 and had while sprawled on your hotel room bed – sometimes you can’t help but think fine dining is overrated.
For our last evening in Hong Kong, I had made a booking at Bar Executive. Ahh – Bar Executive. It’s one of those places I want to rave about but don’t really want to because it turned out to be one of the best experiences of our fortnight trip overseas and it will no longer be a secret! I had made a booking at this place two weeks in advance and had it confirmed by the owner. I had read online via Lonely Planet that if you didn’t make a reservation at this tiny little bar, you would not be served – so I planned ahead. We caught a cab over and made our way to possibly the most nondescript building on the block. The atmosphere of the side street and the lobby weren’t too promising, and I could sense Night Owl having doubts,
But we make our way up to Level 27 and are greeted at the entrance by a young lady who asks if we have a booking. “Yes,” I reply. “For 8pm?”
“Oh! Are you Catherine?” she enquires. On my confirmation, she ushers us in with a smile to a tiny, classically-designed masculine-style bar seating eight to ten overlooking the Hong Kong city skyline, and behind the bar is only the man and owner himself – Ichiro Hiidome.
Dressed in a three-piece suit complete with cufflinks, the man is an absolute dream to watch; the brief seven-second video does not even start to capture it. At 50-or-so years old, this Japanese gentleman has been a bartender for 30 years and was previously the head bartender at The Westin in Tokyo before coming to Hong Kong Island and opening his own bar. He is incredibly proud of his collection of whiskies, from Scotland, Ireland, America, and of course – Japan, and if you name a whiskey which he does not have, he will track it down for you. His flair and showmanship while he mixes, uncaps and re-seals, wipes, shakes and stirs is unlike anything I’ve ever seen – it’s almost as if his hands are dancing. As a simple drinker – I was in awe; with Night Owl being a bartender – she was absolutely besotted and stared at him the entire night with stars in her eyes. He is an incredibly friendly man as well, chatting to us about his visit to Sydney and attempting to find Baxter’s Inn while he doled out an Old Fashioned, a White Lady, a Manhattan, a Rusty Nail, a Salty Dog, and a Classic Martini for us. For Night Owl’s Rusty Nail he hand-chiseled an ice-heart for her; I think her own dear little heart was about to implode with joy.
I was astonished that in Japan and Hong Kong, being a bartender is seen as a career and almost an art-form if taken seriously; unlike in Sydney and other Western cities where being a bartender is more considered as something you do while studying. Mr Hiidome mixed all the drinks himself (I’ve heard he has a second bartender that comes in later during the week) but had two assistants who helped him with prepping garnishes and chilled glasses….. and the assistants called him “master”. It was not spoken in a submissive way at all, but with a reverence that befitted his level of expertise and grace.
He was either impressed we had out-drunk almost everyone or pleased that we had ordered so many drinks – simply because we can’t stop watching him – and he gifted us with complimentary tastings of jamon serrano, house-made whiskey-infused chocolates, and a half-serve of a Sidecar cocktail each, because we asked him what his favourite cocktail to make was.
It’s incredibly hard to understand why this bar is not on the World’s Top 50 list, but then it seems that Mr Hiidome is absorbed in cultivating his small bar and doesn’t enter the world competitions – which is how you get rankings and publicity. Maybe it’s better this way – to keep it quiet so that less people are in on the secret of how amazing he is at his art! An absolute gentleman and master at his work. It was the perfect end to our brief sojourn to Hong Kong and we will be sure to return to visit him again.
56-58 Hollywood Road
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2851 3223
Tim Ho Wan
Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall)
1 Harbour View Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2332 3078
Level 1, IFC Mall
1 Harbour View Street
Central Hong Kong
+852 2833 5700
Bar Executive Bar
27F, Bartlock Centre
3 Yiu Wa Street
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2893 2080