Time Out says
Angus Zou and Antonio Lai bring drinkers together with excellent cocktails on tap
Antonio Lai set drinkers across the city abuzz late last year when he announced he was helping to launch a Hong Kong branch of Draft Land. A Taiwanese bar established by Angus Zou – also in the mix here – the concept is all about providing a wide range of cocktails on tap. Yes, you read correctly. Master mixologist Antonio Lai wants you to savour pre-made cocktails.
Upon arrival, we’re immediately invited to a stone counter where the menu hangs above the bar, almost like a fast food restaurant. On offer are two beers, two mocktails and 20 craft cocktails all served without garnish. Each is labelled with ingredients and strength. Unlike almost every other of our city’s bars, guests here can sample any cocktail that takes their fancy before ordering a full one for themselves.
With so many choices, we start with the Irish Gin Fizz ($90), a concoction of gin, whiskey, honey, pandan and citrus. Light and balanced, the sweet citrus and surprisingly rich carbonation cuts through the double whammy of gin and whiskey in pleasant fashion. We follow quickly with the Rum Stout ($90) which combines dark rum, pandan, black tea and porter beer for a supple, roasted flavour with an endearingly long finish. It’s a welcome addition in a city where espresso martinis are often the only known name in caffeine-based libations.
At first glance, the décor and atmosphere aren’t exactly what one might expect when heading a bar founded by two of the most brilliant mixologists in the region. Tables are simple and high. The walls are bare save for the painted phrase ‘cocktails on tap’. Though warm, casual and a great place to bring friends, this is a venue that our city’s cocktail purists, used to finer surrounds away from the chaos of Wyndham Street, may turn their noses up at.
Despite the casual, modern environs, we move on to a bona fide classic, a Saratoga ($110) which combines whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth and Campari. Delicately balanced, it’s hard to believe that the bitter, tart and smoky notes are successfully preserved in a keg. What probably sums up the bar’s raison d’etre best, is when a rather timid guest next to us saw our Saratoga, deigned to sample it, then ordered it in a heartbeat.
Regardless of the excellent drinks, some will no doubt complain that a place like Draft Land takes all the artistry out of cocktail making, that visiting here is a little like going to a sterile laboratory. When the drinks are this good, we don’t think it matters. Still, we catch Lai himself towards the end of our visit and ask why someone like him would open such a place. He tells us that he and Zou launched the venue in Hong Kong so that patrons could try a wide range of flavours with their friends and without much fuss. To underscore it all, Lai jokes of the spartan surrounds and no-garnish policy, “If you want to take pictures, you can always go to Quinary.”