Simone Rossi, head of bars at Rosewood Hong Kong, talks Mahjong-inspired cocktails, best cigar and spirits pairings and the importance of staying humble.
A self-styled cocktail parlour in Tsim Sha Tsui, DarkSide pays tribute to Hong Kongers’ playful moniker for Kowloon, but its stellar reputation is anything but dark, having made it onto the coveted Asia’s 50 Best Bars list more than once (it’s currently at #13) and the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2021 (it was ranked #49) since the hotel opened back in 2019.
Boasting an extensive library of fine rums, whiskys and calvados, its dark spirits selection includes an exclusive cask of Grande Champagne cognac aged in oak, while live jazz provides a sultry backdrop to such rare aged spirits. Its classic cocktails include the Cable Car (Nusa Caña spiced rum, dry curaçao, lemon) and the Anejo Highball (Matusalem 15 year-old rum, dry curaçao, lime, angostura bitters).
With ever-changing themed cocktail menus, the bar recently debuted The Art of Mahjong, with mixes reinterpreting the game’s bonus tiles and their associated Confucian plants onto base flavours including plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. A new cocktail menu will follow in the autumn.
How would you describe Hong Kong’s cocktail scene and how is it evolving?
The cocktail scene in Hong Kong is very dynamic, with everyone continually striving to improve their skills and keep up with emerging trends. The F&B community is very tight and strong in Hong Kong like one big family.
What trends are you noticing in Hong Kong F&B and how are those reflected on the menu?
I think many bars are shifting back to simpler concepts and drinks for guests to better understand what they are drinking. This shift moves away from extravagant ideas and towards more down-to-earth menus that prioritise affordability and an enhanced guest experience.
When we come to DarkSide, what would you recommend us to try that we might not find elsewhere in Hong Kong?
I’d definitely recommend The Art of Mahjong menu, a new cocktail menu inspired by Mahjong, the iconic tile-based game that’s integral to Hong Kong. The menu pays homage to Hong Kong’s local culture and craftsmanship. The execution and flavours of the drinks are kept easy for guests to understand.
You’ve taken part in bartender competitions. How has that helped hone your skills?
Competitions are great tools for challenging myself and networking. Your skills and creativity can be improved on a daily basis through consistent effort, seeking guidance from mentors, and collaborating with like-minded individuals. Competitions also provide an opportunity to showcase the results of your daily hard work and dedication.
DarkSide is not only celebrated for its vintage spirits but also for its cigars. Can you recommend some cigar and drink pairings?
While any whisky makes a good pairing with a cigar, I highly recommend Armagnac, Calvados and Cognac next time you light up. While they’re not as well known, the flavour profiles of fortified wines – like our Henri Giraud Ratafia Champenois or the Bourgoin Pineau Pineau Des Charentes – also make for good pairings with cigars.
You are currently ranked #13 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars. To what extent has this accolade helped raise your profile?
Receiving the accolade significantly raised our profile within the industry both locally and overseas. However, our priority is providing exceptional service and drinks to our guests, and being unique in the market.
What inspired your passion for bartending?
Watching bartending performances as a 14-year-old sparked my curiosity and fascination. I was captivated by the skill and creativity of the bartenders, and this interest led me to London, one of the world’s premier cocktail capitals, where I immersed myself in the culture and refined my craft.
You worked at Veranda and Quo Vadis and Aqua Spirit in the UK before moving to Aqua Hong Kong in 2015. Tell us how those experiences shaped you
All these places have a special place in my heart. Before I went to London and started in Veranda, I couldn’t speak a word of English. I was mostly doing barback jobs and cleaning, which taught me to be humble and hardworking. Quo Vadis was the place where I learnt the basics, the ABC of hospitality. Aqua is known for its high volume of guests and big team, and it was where I learnt how to manage a team of 20+ staff and accommodate large covers every night.
What is your approach to bartending and mixology?
My approach to bartending has always been simple: be consistent, do things right, and keep it simple. It’s important to have a strong foundation of knowledge and skills and to continually learn and refine your craft. Once you’ve achieved your own goals, then you can help others reach theirs as well. As the field of bartending and mixology is continually evolving, I try to stay current while maintaining the core principles that have guided me throughout my career.
What are your plans for DarkSide over the next few months?
We launched a menu inspired by classic cocktails from the 90’s this May and we’re also working on our next creative menu to replace The Art of Majhong, which will convey Rosewood’s guiding philosophy of A Sense of Place. We are expecting to launch it in Q4 2023.
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