Adventures in Alcohol

Anyone for a Pawn cocktail? Be warned, they come with a twist

A Sidecar with no brandy, a mojito with no rum and a tiki without vodka - they're full of surprises at Wan Chai gastropub

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 2:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 4:40pm

This is deeply mysterious. Nobody at The Pawn is quite sure how the Oriental 1908 got its name.

Sure, there was a cocktail consultant who came in to create the drink and he named it for some kind of personal reason, but they’re not sure what that was. Something to do with Leyton Orient, a lower-division football club in unfashionable east London? Difficult to imagine the O's being celebrated by a cocktail in a Wan Chai gastropub. The Orient cargo ship capsized in 1908, leaving its cargo of salt at the bottom of the sea. True, but there’s no salt in this drink.

However the name came about, the drink is a highly tweaked Sidecar, but with so many tweaks it doesn’t resemble the original at all. Instead of brandy we have rye. The drink keeps the triple sec and lemon juice elements but adds dry vermouth. And it certainly doesn’t taste like a Sidecar.

It’s worth the HK$100 price - it’s creamy from the vanilla, it has an undertone taste of chilli  – the fruitiness without the heat – and has a sour balance. 

They seem to like tweaking their cocktails at The Pawn. Bartender Bikal Ghale tells me that new drink The Last Herb (HK$90) is a tweaked mojito, with tequila replacing the rum and a turmeric and fennel syrup and pilsner reduction added for extra flavour.  It’s called The Last Herb because the bar only has mint to use after the chefs have raided the venue’s rooftop kitchen garden and taken all the rosemary and basil.

Also new, the Cha Chi Chi (HK$90) is a tiki drink but one that mysteriously uses premium vodka instead of rum and is served in a tiki mug that wouldn’t look out of place on Homer Simpson’s mantelpiece. The drink itself is creamy and tropical, with lots of Christmas cake spice flavours.

How to make the mysterious Oriental 1908 at home

You need to start two days in advance by infusing your dry vermouth. Ghale uses two vanilla beans and a half or whole dried chipotle for a 750ml bottle, depending on the strength of the chilli. (Scratch the chilli with your fingernail and then lick the end of your finger to get a rough idea of how potent the pepper is. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.) 

Fill your cocktail shaker with ice and add:

45ml rye whiskey

25ml Infused dry vermouth

25ml Curacao

15ml lemon juice

Double strain into a martini glass or coupe filled with ice. Garnish with a star anise – have the whole spice floating on the top of the drink so you get the flavour and because it looks like a spider having a swimming lesson. At least it does after the second one.