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Farm-to-fork food and fair-trade coffee have become increasingly commonplace as ecoconscious lifestyle trends have gained traction in Hong Kong. But what about cocktails with a conscience? If Amir Javaid has anything to say about it, the next step toward sustainability might affect your nightcap.
Under the direction of the Manchester-born bar manager, Cantonese bar-restaurant John Anthony is going green. In fact, the eight drinks Javaid has designed for the bar's new spice trade-inspired menu might be the most sustainable Hong Kong has ever seen.
“I’ve been working in bars a long time, and I wasn’t always aware of the waste [I was producing]. We used to squeeze lemons for the juice and just throw them away,” he admits. Now, Javaid takes that leftover lemon to make his own falernum. When it has reached the end of its lifespan, the lemon goes into the compost machine he just bought and turned into fertiliser for local farmers. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
“So many bars and restaurants say they’re sustainable when they’re not, and that can put people off - Amir Javaid”
Each cocktail features locally sourced ingredients, from lemon verbena and figs procured from a farm in Fanling to honey, pollen and beeswax bought from an apiary in Sha Tin. Those ingredients are reused in other drinks: passion fruit features one cocktail, and its husk is used as a complementary piece in another. House-made infusions, cordials and tinctures are stored in the bar’s old gin bottles (with 400 kinds on the shelves, that’s a lot of glass that gets repurposed). Spent green tea gets turned into foam. Milk dregs get distilled with whisky, creating a smoky and lightly sweet infusion used to make a short drink called Discovery. A fitting name for a cocktail, considering Javaid’s own arc toward eco-consciousness.
"It took me a long time to figure out how to do this. I’ve changed the menu maybe three times," he admits with a laugh. “It’s been a journey over the past year and a half, becoming aware of what I’m using, how I can do more with my ingredients.”
If utilising the waste of every ingredient sounds too granola for your tastes, rest assured sustainability is understated, integrated neatly into the very fabric of the bar’s identity. John Anthony is the first venue from the Maximal Concepts group with sustainability as its driving force, from the initial concept to the detailed planning to the execution and opening. The uniforms are made from recycled fabrics, the murals painted with non-toxic paints, the floors made from upcycled plastic and reclaimed brick, but you wouldn’t realise it unless a staff member pointed it out to you. The new cocktails – a blend of sour, sweet and strong, all inventive, easy-drinking and delicious – are just as subtle.
“From the day we started, it’s been about making a good menu while keeping it sustainable. So many bars and restaurants say they’re sustainable when they’re not, and that can put people off,” says Javaid. “I hope we can not only change people’s perceptions but also change the industry by doing this.”