Founded by two veteran bartenders, Joe Villanueva and Sandeep Kumar, The Wise King won Hospitality Team of the Year– Hong Kong at city’s edition of The Bar Awards 2019 for good reason. Hidden on Tsung Wing Lane off the famous Central Escalator, this cocktail bar serving up Spanish-influenced modern classics also came in first runner-up in the New Bar of the Year category this year. The cosy space fills up fast, but the warm service and hospitality never waned as the night progressed.
Taking its name from King Alfonso X of Castille who was dubbed El Sabio (the Wise), it’s no surprise that the bar takes its cue from the decadent era of the 13th century. Legend has it that the king was only allow small bite-portioned meals and wine, and he decreed that no alcoholic beverage should be served at all, unless it was served with food. This celebration of the tapas food and drinking culture is set in a cosy space adorned with gilded ceilings, elaborate wallpaper, dark red leather seats, and a warm glow.
The 10-cocktail strong menu operates amidst a storied Spanish backdrop; the drinks are classics that have been given a spin with Spanish ingredients. We start with perhaps one of the most important alcoholic beverages the Spaniards have given us – sherry. Sherry vinaigrette gives a tart and dry finish to the refreshing start of the gin-based Brined Rickey (HK$118). One of those cocktails that are entirely too easy to drink, it was perfect for the hot summer night I visited with the fragrant addition of basil, citrus, and strawberry brine soda. The balsamic vinegar garnish enhances the fruitiness of the cocktail.
The margarita gets the beetroot treatment at The Wise King with the spicy and sour Pickled Margarita (HK$118). The cayenne pepper salt and the kiss of smoke from the mezcal lifts the aromatic combination of bay leaves-infused reposado tequila, citrus, and pickled beetroot shrub.
If you love having ham with melon, don’t miss the Jamon Old Fashioned (HK$118), which sees bourbon infused with Jamón ibérico stirred down with cantaloupe syrup, and walnut bitters. Fruity and savoury, the tinge of nuttiness will probably leave you craving for this delicious Spanish cured meat.
We round off our night with the aptly-named Bliss Negroni (HK$128). In place of regular gin, Campari, and vermouth, the team here uses gin fat washed with black truffle oil and Nutella (yep, the hazelnut cocoa spread everyone loves), pleated Mancino Rosso, and a smooth blend of five different types of amaro. Smoky, complex, a hazelnut-caramel finish with a lovely truffle fragrance to boot – perfect for a nightcap.
For a bar celebrating the tapas drinking culture, The Wise King would be remiss not to serve any food. Look forward to a short list of hot small plates like the Patata Bravas (HK$ 78) and Pollo Kebab (HK$ 98), marinated chicken skewers with mint and pesto, as well as a selection of cold cuts and cheeses.