DarkSide at the Rosewood Hong Kong, which overlooks Victoria Harbour and the refurbished Avenue of Stars, took home the coveted New Bar of the Year at the recently concluded The Bar Awards Hong Kong 2019 – highly impressive for a bar that opened less than six months ago. They were also the first runner up in the Hotel Bar of the Year category, and honestly, we’re not surprised as the luxury hotel’s Director of Bars is Arkadiusz Rybak, who was Bartender of the Year at the awards’ inaugural edition in 2016.
The name of the bar comes from Kowloon (the island on which it is located). It has long been referred to as the ‘dark side’, mostly for being ‘too far’ for Hong Kong islanders and nefarious triad activities, as portrayed in one too many locally made gangster films.
Rosewood Hong Kong turns that notion on its head by conceptualising DarkSide as a sophisticated cocktail and rare spirits lounge. You’ll find all the hallmarks of a posh spot – sleek dark wood, plush materials, and even designer uniforms for the staff – but it’s done without being pretentious. They only take reservations of parties of 8 or more (private seating available) and cocktails typically range from HK$120 to HK$130 – the average of a craft tipple in the city. Surely, that’s an incentive to visit the dark side?
Cocktails are split between signatures and DarkSide riffs of the classics. The signatures weave the fascinating history of Kowloon; for instance, 40 Square Feet (HK$125) puts forward the experience of living in the Kowloon Walled City, where the population density averaged a mere 40 square feet per person at its peak. Bittersweet, it sees Plantation dark rum, Campari infused with bitter chocolate, and Mancino Vermouth Rosso stirred down and served short over ice. The ice block was cut higher than the glass, which makes a prettier photo with the pickled plum garnish, but it might hit your nose in the first few minutes. So go ahead and take that photo, it still tasted great.
Guests will find another reference to the Walled City, which purportedly had 77 Wells (HK$130) for potable water. Indeed, the white vermouth-based drinks was fragrant on the nose with jasmine and aromatic cubed pepper that’s native to Indonesia, and exceedingly refreshing – like drinking fresh, clean water.
Another signature worth trying is The Yamen (HK$130), if not for the unique mouthfeel then for its focus on the classically Chinese osmanthus. Named for the administrative office or residence of a local bureaucrat, osmanthus-infused Pierre Ferrand cognac is left in beeswax for 24 hours to achieve a richer, greasier texture. Throw in raw honey, bee pollen, and frankincense, and the result is an atypical sweet-sour cocktail that might be challenging for some.
Of the classics, we’d highly recommend the Delicious Sour (HK$130), which uses calvados and peach brandy, and the Martini vs Vesper (HK$120). The latter offers a choice between T&T vodka or Widges gin, shaken or stirred with two types of vermouth, peach bitters, and garnished with wakamomo – unripe baby mountain peaches from Japan that can almost pass for green olives. This super smooth martini is also incredibly palatable by being fruity but not juicy.
Our first visit to DarkSide can’t conclude without trying anything from its whisky and spirits library. The whisky selection is extensive enough, with bottles from the now defunct Karuizawa (starting from HK$2,000 per shot) and vintages of the Glenfarclas The Family Cask Sherry Oak from the 1960s and 70s, to fine Pappy Van Winkle bourbon from the U.S. The best part? The marbled surface in front of the library is a chocolate bonanza; a selection of confections will be presented with guests’ drams for luscious pairings between dark spirits and chocolate. Think chocolate dipped dehydrated orange wheels, raspberry pralines, almond bars, and more.
The team at Rosewood Hong Kong are also barrel aging DarkSide-exclusive cocktails in the library. For now, choose between the Grand Champagne Cognac – Blend (HK$100) where Pierre Ferrand Grande Champagne cognac is aged in a Sauternes oak cask from four to 12 years. We appreciate the richness and the balance, but we much prefer the resulting in a smooth, rich and balanced experience Tawny Port – Single Harvest (HK$390). The initial barrel brought in was a 1969 vintage that proved to be too popular, so the current liquid in the barrel is from 1982. Though we’ve never tried the ’69, the ’82 is lovely with raisin and caramel undertones. Not too sweet, the finish is short to medium, and was heavenly with the chocolate treats.
Feeling peckish? DarkSide’s snacks are, as expected, a lot more refined than your usual bar grub, and to be frank, whoever thought of put together the Wagyu Beef Cheek Tempura (HK$120) is a genius. I usually avoid beef cheek for its texture, but paired with light and crunchy tempura batter and mustard aioli, it’s a bar snack I’ll go back for. The Bikini Sandwich (HK$160) is probably more filling, and a decent whiff of black truffle with Emmental cheese and Paris ham justifies its price. Lastly, the small outdoor seating space mostly caters guests wanting to indulge in their curated collection of cigars, but one still does get a pretty good view of the harbour.
Address: Rosewood Hong Kong, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong Phone: +852 3891 8732 Website:https://www.darkside.hk Opening hours: Sun-Thu 6pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am. Jazz every evening from 8pm.
Top Image: 40 Square Feet
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