Perched right next to the Mid-Levels Escalator and in the heart of Soho, it’s hard to miss the royal blue facade of Staunton's Wine Bar & Café. The airy design of the venue paired with its welcoming vibe makes it a popular stomping ground for weeknight drinks. Best of all, the happy hour deal means customers can come in Monday to Friday between 4pm and 8pm to take a breather while savouring an expertly poured Stella Artois for $66.
But what makes the Stella here different from the rest? Well, it’s a place where Hongkongers can witness Stella’s – the world’s (and Staunton’s) best-selling Belgium beer – signature four-step pouring ritual first-hand and savour a perfect pint. If you’re not familiar with the four steps, here they are: inspect, where the bartender holds the Stella Artois chalice up to the light to check that it’s pristine; pour, the simple-yet-precise method of filling the glass at a 45 degrees angle; skim, slicing away any excess foam with a knife; and present, serving the customer their pint on a coaster with the logo facing forward.
Staunton’s Wine Bar & Cafe head of bar, Manish Thapa, carefully inspects the chalice as his first step
More than 45 local bars and restaurants entered the Stella Artois Draft Masters competition, and each bartender has been judged on how well they execute Stella’s four-step ritual. Now down to five finalists, including Stauton’s very own head of bar Manish Thapa (aka Max), the participants have to be ready at any moment since designated ‘mystery shoppers’ from Stella Artois are making anonymous visits to sample a pint without warning. But what that also means is that every customer is served with a draught poured to the highest standards.
We sat down with Thapa, the man behind Staunton’s oval centrepiece bar, to learn what he loves about manning the bar and what he recommends as the perfect food pairing with a pint of Stella.
What do you love most about working at Staunton’s?
It’s just easy. Because most people come here for the beer and spirits, it feels like everybody knows each other here. You can say it's like a family bar.
What made you decide to take part in the Draught Masters campaign?
I first heard about Stella Artois when I just started drinking [laughs], but I first heard about Draught Masters back in 2014 when one of my friends took part in it. He didn’t win but he told me all about it. So now I'm here! This is the first time I'm taking part in the competition, so I'm really glad to represent Staunton’s.
What kind of preparation did you do leading up to it?
My director told the entire staff that I needed the practice, so whenever there's an order for Stella, they just let me do it. It took me around six or seven months to master it but I'm still getting there. As they say, practice makes perfect.
How do you feel about being a finalist?
I actually had no idea that I was a finalist but I'm really glad. It's a big surprise. But in the end, I'll just give everyone the same high quality of Stella. But I think I’ll be watching everyone closely for a hint of the mystery shopper.
Why is quality important to you?
For every customer, we try to give them the best and to treat them like family. When we give them good quality beer, hopefully, they want to come back. It’s great to have the customers actually enjoy watching us pour it and going through the different steps, and to enjoy a nice cold beer at the end.
Guests can order a roasted chicken grain bowl (gluten-free, $138) with a pint of Stella Artois
What’s good to go with Stella Artois from the Staunton’s menu?
The Roasted Chicken Grain Bowl. When you want to have something healthy, but still want to order a Stella, the chicken is a perfect choice. There’s a lot of flavours and a bit of everything: grains, quinoa, carrots and turmeric yoghurt.
What would it mean to win the Draught Masters?
I can tell my parents: “Look! It's more than just a job at a bar and drinking. Look what I've done!” I hope with it, Staunton’s will be more respected. I also hope to pass the technique on to all the other bartenders here. If I can do it, the other guys can do it too.