If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll have probably stumbled across a hidden bar or two. They’re part of the nightlife culture in the Land of the Rising Sun. A single, unassuming door in a back alley of an old suburb like Ginza, Tokyo, opens into a dimly lit, beautifully chic world of gorgeous surrounds and fine spirits. You usually need to know a guy who knows a guy to get in one of these.
Thankfully, the new Japanese hidden bar-inspired Nocturne needs no secret code or friend-of-a-friend for admittance – however, it still retains the country’s secret spots’ look and ambience.
Okay, it’s not Ginza. Nocturne is in Central – and is by no means sitting in a dusty back alley. In fact, it’s not out of sight either, halfway up the fairly quiet Peel Street. But it still retains that hidden bar feel with its grey concrete façade and wooden sliding door which has its name lightly etched on the front. No shouting. No neon lights. Many would just pass without a second glance. And, once inside, the atmosphere is minimalist. It’s relaxed, it’s refined and has a Zen-like feel which puts you at ease instantly. There’s a cement bar counter top, an array of candles and easygoing jazz music flowing softly through the speakers.
Once inside a Japanese concept hidden bar, you’re usually treated to fantastic whiskies and wines, with skilled bartenders remaking classic cocktails with surgical care and precision. It’s all here at Nocturne. We’re immediately wowed by the comprehensive whisky list that features more than 50 selections – more than a lot of hotels in town – and there’s also a fine range of Japanese and Scottish ales to choose from. You can also journey upstairs to the humidity and temperature-controlled wine cellar to browse the vintages. We’re taken aback by the prices. Some top bottles of champers go for just $740, which is almost unheard of when it comes to bubbly in Central. Even more surprising is the added discount on all bottles if you’re buying to take home.
We insist on trying the whiskies, though, only because we have our eye on the 18-year-old Bowmore from Islay, Scotland ($150) – hard to come by in Hong Kong. We take it straight and it’s served expertly with a small glass of water to smooth out the sting. We’re told that, if we’d had it on the rocks, the ice-ball is actually hand-carved by a staff member from Kyushu. The Bowmore is smoky, smooth and pairs well with a platter of cured ham ($120).
The signature cocktail at Nocturne is actually an old fashioned, using a choice of Japanese whiskies ($125). We go for the 12-year-old Yamazaki, and it gets a star. Though light on the palate, the citrus and sugar play to the strength of the spirit and leave a lingering aroma of malt.
It’s definitely all about the chill factor and the quality drinks at Nocturne, shown by the salarymen in smart suits who enjoy quiet tipples here. We’re already fans – and we love the whole Japanese hidden bar-inspired concept. But we kinda didn’t want to write this review. Now everyone’s going to know about it…
35 Peel St, Central