We talk culinary concepts and innovative cocktail pairing with Singular Concepts co-founder and beverage director Gagan Gurung.
Since setting up in Hong Kong just last year, F&B group Singular Concepts has launched a string of intriguing bars and restaurants, including rum joint The Daily Tot, Bianco & Rosso for fortified wines and Mediterranean plates, and Filipino restaurant Barkada. Then there’s Tell Camellia, a tea-inspired cocktail bar that made Asia’s 50 Best Bars List, and now Yurakucho, an izakaya with high balls on tap and classics straight from Tokyo’s Ginza district.
And one common theme across these great venues is the even better drinks, which are the domain of celebrated mixologist and Singular Concepts co-founder and beverage director Gagan Gurung (we just love this guy).
What sake and food pairings should we try at Yurakucho?
Try our best-selling sake, Tosa Shiragiku Deep Sea Ginjo, with our signature Kobi oysters topped with Yuzu pearls. It’s a must try pairing you don’t want to miss.
Local customers appreciate light, fruity sake choices while expats usually prefer dry and more complex sake so we have both options on our menu. Japanese people love sake but they prefer shochu so we also have a good selection of shochu, too.
Menu items include katsu sandos and chicken kaarage. What is your approach to izakaya food?
Our dishes focus heavily on the izakaya culture of sticky, sweet and fried dishes, and our robata grill is separated into vegetarian, seafood, beef and chicken yakitori. We use teriyaki seasoning, dashi-brined miso butter and a sukiyaki glaze among other seasonings for the skewers. Our signature chicken kaarage, meanwhile, is a perfect bar snack pairing with the Takoyaki tater tots with nori and mayo katsuobushi. More refreshing dishes include the mazesoba, onigiri rice ball, and paitan ramen, which features a chicken broth and BBQ pork.
You offer highballs on tap. What prompted that decision?
We are an izakaya, so you can’t go without highballs! Highballs are a very simple drink: it’s just spirit, CO2 and ice. The reason we have them on tap is to increase the CO2 in our highballs, which gives them crisp bubbles. For our signature Peach Highball, we use whiskey, Japanese peach liqueur and C02, then garnish with fresh white peach. It’s best paired with some crispy tempura or robatayaki yakitori.
You also recently opened Barkada. Tell us what to order, and your relationship with Jen Balisi, who developed the menu.
My favourite dishes are the Chicken Adobo and Spicy Funky Coconut noodles, which pair perfectly with our Barkada Sour (pandan and guava gin, citrus glutinous rice foam) and Tito Mojito (basil-infused white rum, calamansi, lemonade, and Lyer’s prosecco). These dishes are great for an after work hour vibe and are light, yet refreshing for this unbearable heat.
Working with Jen has been, in a word, fun. When we first approached her to do a partnership I knew it was going to be a rollercoaster ride – but in a positive way – experiencing flavours and pairing Filipino food and ingredients that I’d not previously been exposed to. It gave me more creative inspiration to work with new ingredients when I came to design the drinks menu with our bar manager Rolf.
You opened Bianco & Rosso last summer. How are things going there and what drinks are locals enjoying?
Bianco & Rosso has proved popular with locals and tourists alike since we opened. Our Whole Yellow Chicken has gone down best with diners so far, and we recently launched our new summer cocktail menu, which is inspired by the bike tours of European bodegas and towns. The cocktails most popular with customers are the Adonis (Vermouth, Tio Pepe and maraschino cherries) and the B&R Negroni.
Tell us what’s going on with Barcode, which recently relocated to Cochrane Street.
Barcode is a unique concept, as it’s a bar with coffee and desserts and now we are back at a new location with much more minimalistic coffee, desserts and cocktails. Our coffee is a locally roasted blend, and the brews and ‘coffee-tails’ are designed to pair with our desserts, which include matcha mousse cake and banana crumble.
Tell us about the trend towards low ABV drinks and no lo drinks
It’s a healthy movement that is trending upwards with people who like to go out while embracing more of a healthy lifestyle. We try to cater to this with low abv and non-alcoholic spirits and wines at all of our venues. As mentioned, we use Lyre’s Prosecco at Barkada, for example, in the Tito Mojito. While the cocktail has rum in it, using an alcohol-free prosecco keeps the alcohol content down.
At Tell Camellia (above), we have our non tea-tails, which include the Japanese Garden made with non-alcoholic gin, cold brew sencha tea, yuzu and cucumber.
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