Bar review: J’s Bar Bistro, Tsim Sha Tsui East – relive Casablanca with cocktails We’ll Always Have Paris, It’s Complicated and more
It may not be Rick’s Café, but lovers of the classic Bogart/Bergman film will relish the references and the excellent signature cocktails, and the high-quality service and soothing atmosphere complement them perfectly
The vibe: occupying a large space on the second floor of The Royal Garden hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East, J’s Bar Bistro combines a retro, speakeasy-style look with an eclectic collection of colourful paintings reminiscent of Italian restaurants in London circa 1970.
Seating is comfortable and the place is intelligently laid out to offer both cosy booths around the sides for those who want to chat quietly and sofas and tables in the middle of the room for larger groups. Service is attentive and professional.
A range of international dishes, including Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian, is supplied from the hotel’s various restaurants.
The drinks: the main focus is on cocktails, with an excellent selection of premium spirits, plus a good choice of wines and beers.
We were intrigued to see that several signature cocktails have names inspired by Casablanca (We’ll Always Have Paris, Ilsa Lund …). Mixologist Stanley Au explained that the film was one of the references for the style of the bar and introduced the concept behind some of his creations – As Time Goes By includes thyme (of course) and elderflower; It’s Complicated, which refers to the love triangle between Rick, Ilsa and her husband Victor, combines gin, lime and maraschino with a syrup made from Thai butterfly flowers and lavender to give a “romantic” purple colour.
Breath of Fresh Air (HK$128, vanilla-infused Campari, secco vermouth, grapefruit, lime, coconut water and prosecco) was elegant, complex and refreshing. Cloaks and Daggers (HK$118, bacon fat washed bourbon, maple syrup, mescal, Angostura bitters, Himalayan pink salt) was a pleasant drink reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, but although the mescal added an interesting note, the bacon fat wasn’t detectable.
The barrel-aged J’s Negroni (HK$128) was an unusual take on the classic, with different ingredients employed to achieve the signature combination of sweet and bitter; the result was an unusually soft, sweet yet nicely balanced version of the drink (and, unlike too many barrel-aged cocktails, not overwhelmed by oak). On the purely classic front, a Vesper (HK$138) was beautifully made with just the right amount of Lillet.
The verdict: It may not be Rick’s Café, but lovers of Casablanca will enjoy the references and cocktail fans can rely on high quality drinks and service in a relaxed and soothing atmosphere.
J’s Bar Bistro, 2/F, The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, tel: 2733 2088
Open: 4pm to 1am
Happy hour: 4pm to 8pm
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