Old review, September 17, 2019: There’s been a veritable whirlwind of hype in recent months surrounding the new brainchild of accolade-heavy bar team Sandeep Hathiramani and Gagan Gurung. After a litany of unfortunate setbacks delayed the bar’s opening, the swell of anticipant whispers from thirsty patrons has now given way to bums on seats, as Tell Camellia finally opened within Central’s stylish H Code complex in late July.
The mission of the bar is to fuse tea and cocktail culture in a way that challenges all who drink here to abandon preconceived cocktail notions, and to steep themselves in the unknown. Of course, challenging staid notions with something seldom seen (or indeed drank) before is never going to be an easy task, especially considering the perennial popularity in Hong Kong of more traditional cocktail styles. However, true to form, the duo seems to be succeeding in their quest here, purveying a delicious selection of cocktails (or Teatails, if you will) that pair well with the bar’s inviting ambience and very personable customer service.
Let’s start with the menu which, much like the bar’s interior, is outwardly simple yet impressively attentive to detail. The lineup is split between signature Teatails, all of which are infused with exotic teas and local spices from particular world regions, and house gins that have been lovingly redistilled with different flavoured, you guessed it, tea. The entire experience here has been designed to be gratifyingly thematic, so expect some extra touches like, say, having the Japan ($95), which is crafted using Japanese staples like matcha, fermented soybean and shochu, delivered to your table levitating in a traditional Japanese yunomi, or finding a ready-to-munch-on kimyon leaf sticking out of your delectable, Raki-loaded Turkey ($95).
As with the drinks, the interior of the bar is an ode to fusion, with traditional British furnishings and regal greens paying homage to the international proliferators of tea culture, whilst light wooden beams and chasen (bamboo tea whisk)-shaped light fixtures contribute a decidedly Japanese touch. Upon close inspection, many more of the world’s tea-loving cultures are represented here, all within a motif that births an open yet intimate atmosphere ripe for relaxing or enjoying a good chat under thoughtful lighting and over refreshingly quiet music.
A particularly welcome aspect of Tell Camellia, who’s name is a nod to Camellia Sinensis, the shrub from which tea is made, is the personalised service one can expect upon entering. Not merely trying to get through as many patrons as possible, Sandeep and Gagan practice what they preach, taking time to ask the right questions in order to guide the most suitable of their concoctions to the lips of each customer while earnestly imparting their knowledge of various teas in the process.
As for value, the servings generally aren’t the biggest, but at $95 across the menu, this is excusable and in fact, considering the location and quality of experience offered, the drinks are far from overpriced. Overall, Tell Camellia’s provision of an experience that is importantly novel and horizon-broadening is well-done, and their cocktails are executed down to a tea. – Sam Evans