Which Hong Kong restaurant has the best wine list? And which bar boasts the best bartender? 100 Top Tables 2022’s new drinks awards go to Amber at the Landmark

  • Amber’s wine menu has a focus on burgundy and the Rhone Valley, along with a friendly selection of glasses, half bottles and carafes for the curious
  • Antinori, beverage manager at Argo, oversees creative cocktail menus featuring everything from a gin created by an AI to ‘philanthropic and socially conscious’ drinks

Is it a coincidence that we introduced two new drink-oriented awards during our second year of Covid-19 restrictions here in Hong Kong? “We’ve got to do something!” is a go-to refrain for people who have been forced to substitute gyms, cinemas and other after-work experiences with drinks at home.

Alcohol has long been an escape, as well as a social lubricant, and while good times, celebratory events and other gatherings have been mostly consigned to the sidelines in the past 12 months, our enjoyment of a good glass of pinot or well crafted cocktail certainly has not. One might even claim that the restrictions on bars and restaurants have made the drinking experiences we’ve been able to have all the more enjoyable, and even important.

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And so we celebrate those people and the venues that have continued not only to provide for the thirsty Hong Kong masses, but that have also innovated and complemented their offerings, creating superlative experiences that have helped add a dash of indulgent colour to the bleak pandemic landscape.

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Our award for Best Wine List goes to Amber restaurant in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central. With more than 50 wines available by the glass and a focus on burgundy and the Rhone Valley, Amber’s list makes fine wine accessible. “The main consideration is to wow our guests,” says Jim Leung, assistant head sommelier at Amber. “But we want our guests to enjoy reasonably priced wines too, and so pricing is another key factor – we always want to offer value.”

Amber's wine list caters to curious diners looking for different styles with options smaller than a full bottle, including more than 50 wines by the glass. Photo: Amber

© Provided by South China Morning Post
Amber’s wine list caters to curious diners looking for different styles with options smaller than a full bottle, including more than 50 wines by the glass. Photo: Amber

This means including a large selection of wines by the glass, but also half bottles and carafes, to ensure your selections come sans stress. You can enjoy a glass of Ruinart Rose champagne for US$37 (HK$290), or a half-bottle of 2017 Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches for HK$1,600, all the way up to a magnum of ChAteau Lafite-Rothschild for HK$99,000 – the choice is there.

But a great wine experience goes beyond what is merely on the list, and Leung and his team have innovated here too. “We created offers like late lunch and early dinner, and have introduced a creative four-course Amber Discovery menu which includes a glass of our Amber house champagne,” Leung says. “We also do interesting pairings as The Best of the Best where we pair incredible seafood table-side with a zero dosage champagne.”

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Similarly, our new Best Bartender prize – awarded to Lorenzo Antinori, beverage manager at Argo in the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong and beverage ambassador for the Four Seasons APAC group – seeks to reward creativity. Argo the bar, named after the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts on their mythical adventure to find the Golden Fleece, offers an exploration of spirits and their stories. “I try to create cocktails that can satisfy different palates,” says Antinori, “making them balanced and approachable yet always triggering people’s curiosity. It’s a fine line between simplicity and complexity.”

Argo's Single Origin Negroni is just one of the drinks Antinori has sourced from around the world. Photo: Four Seasons Hong Kong

© Provided by South China Morning Post
Argo’s Single Origin Negroni is just one of the drinks Antinori has sourced from around the world. Photo: Four Seasons Hong Kong

The drinks menu – which they call a field guide – tours the world of spirits in their various guises, from Modernist Spirits, which celebrate the rule breakers of the drinking world, to Philanthropic & Socially Conscious drinks. Among the discoveries Antinori invites you to sample is a gin from England created by AI, and the world’s first molecular whiskey from San Francisco.

Antinori appears to see his role through traditional eyes, however. “Bartenders are somehow like doctors or confessors, we have to listen and understand our guest’s needs to prescribe the correct remedy,” he says. A minute later, he also describes himself like a chef: “Bartenders are mainly driven by their instincts: taste, smell, touch. Making cocktails is a craft which combines creativity with aesthetics and also chemistry.”

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As we cross our fingers and dare to hope that the Covid-19 restrictions in the city will be eased and the drinks will flow freely again, Antinori offers a vision for Hong Kong’s bar scene: “I foresee a major shift towards all-day venues with extensive offerings and a focus on spaces that champion sustainability, as well as an interest in niche concepts, celebrating provenance and regionality.

“Although in the end, the most important thing will be to entertain our guests, creating fun and elevated drinking experiences.”

Read more about this year’s 100 Top Tables winners.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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