You know you’ve arrived at Uncle Ming’s when you enter a subterranean bar on York Street and the smell of incense hits wafts to your face. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and take a look around – you have just entered an opium den-style drinking parlour straight out of downtown Shanghai.
For a small bar there are plenty of cosy nooks and with all this lantern-red lighting it’s probably hosted a few first dates. Ornamental lamps shed light on the walls covered in pictures of Asian pin-up girls while random tunes including anything from Ray Charles to Frank Sinatra play in the background.
Take one look at the drinks list and you’ll realise this isn’t just a Chinese-themed bar. There’s ale from Japan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, plenty of sake and soju, and umeshu (a Japanese plum liqueur). But the real focus at Uncle Ming’s is whisky. They’ve got more than 90 different types, with 60 from Japan alone.
Try the Hattori Hanzo cocktail, a refreshing mix of Japanese whisky, spiced honey, apple and fresh lemon topped with soda. Ask the bartender to freestyle and you may get a Campari, Japanese whisky, Ardbeg and Pedro Ximenez concoction. It’s good but strong and after one of those and a James Hong Blazer you’ll need some food – especially if you’re on that date.
As far as bar snacks go, the offerings are impressive and you could be forgiven for assuming this hidden bar is more of a food destination. Order a tower of steaming bamboo baskets filled with assorted dumplings including pork and chive and chicken and coriander. The steamed duck buns are more onion than duck – we’d suggest ordering another round of prawn dumplings instead.
You can easily lose track of time at Uncle Ming’s, and with this much food on offer, no hints of the outside world, and the woody aromats of incense lulling you, why would you want to leave?