Opened in November, closed in December. Sandip Gupta and Navneet Kumar dish on how surviving the fourth wave made their Buenos Aires-themed bar stronger than ever before.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Boticario was a new opening for summer; even we had to hype it as a top spot to try something different this past June.
That’s because this bar, like all of Hong Kong’s bars, endured a pandemic shutdown in response to Hong Kong’s ever-changing regulations back at the end of November. Worse for Boticario, that shutdown came only three weeks into soft opening.
Instead of risking another premature opening just to close up shop again, S&S Hospitality took their time – six months, in fact – perfecting recipes, streamlining service and getting everything in top shape to reopen for summer. This, too, was a risk; Hong Kong rent isn’t cheap. But the strategy paid off, giving time for leadership and staff to perfect their vision of 1920’s Buenos Aires along the TST waterfront.
Okay, full disclosure: I wasn’t in Buenos Aires in the 1920’s, and likely neither were you, so we’ll just have to take their word for it.
That being said, the drinks are strong, the vibes are high, and the snacks — including house-made chips and guac — are on-point, enough to have me considering that the Argentines may have been onto something special all those decades ago.
Lifestyle Asia reached out to S&S Hospitality founder Sandip Gupta and group beverage manager Navneet Kumar about surviving the shutdown, what excites them when creating a new menu, and channelling the spirit of old world Buenos Aires.
What is the story of Boticario in your own words?
Sandip Gupta, founder of S&S Hospitality: Boticario is themed around the boticas of post-World War 1 Buenos Aires, where traditional herbs, flowers and roots were often prescribed alongside modern medication by the pharmacist. Our venue takes its origins from age-old practices where herbs, spirits and other fortified wines were lauded for their medicinal qualities. The innovative and visually appealing cocktails, the indulgent-yet-accessible food menu curated by Chef Edgar Vigo, together with a lively, carefree ambience, is guaranteed to offer revellers some respite in this fast-paced city.
You were opened, and then, you weren’t. Describe that experience, and then what led you to keep the doors closed until now?
SG: The pandemic hit the city right after we opened and pretty much swept the world off its feet. We, like everyone else, had to face some of the most challenging times in recent history. There was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in the air. It was frustrating having to close Boticario just three weeks into soft-opening, and we were closed for almost six months, as we did not want to introduce a unique concept such as Boticario and watch the place lose its momentum and charm amidst the “start-stop” arrangements, given the restrictions in place. It was a tough decision, given the financial implications, but we thought it was necessary to do justice to the concept. And I am glad we did that.
What developed or changed during that period that wasn’t there for the initial November launch?
Navneet Kumar, Group Beverage Manager: Hong Kong has coped well with the pandemic; there is an air of optimism with the vaccine programme in place. While we were closed, we worked on our menu daily by learning more about ingredients and flavour profiles and learning more about the equipment and methods we are using in our cocktails and food offering. We also got time to plan our seasonal menus for the entire calendar year.
What was Buenos Aires in the 1920’s like? How do you capture that spirit in Hong Kong?
SG: Buenos Aires was the capital of a country hungry to assert its place as a global power. It was thriving and upbeat with remarkable similarities to the Hong Kong of today regarding the energy, the cosmopolitan feel and the uniqueness. With that in mind, we sought a vintage, timeless vibe that permeated through our interior design: earthy brown and dark timbre hues, antique metal ceiling panels, botanical floral wallpapers and much more.
What was your process when it came to developing the drinks?
NK: “Multisensory” was the key focus when we were creating the menu. We were focused on taste, looks and feel. Secondly, we were also looking at the elements of ingredients to justify the drink. For example, while creating a cocktail with smoke element, we tried to focus more on the balance of fruits and herbs to ensure the in-depth aroma and flavour profile. Also, using the technique of fat washing, clarifications and slow-cooking, redistilling the spirits with unique ingredients allows us to simplify the complex flavours more straightforwardly.
Which ingredients get you the most excited when creating a menu?
NK: I got a lot of them, but to name a few, using toasted brown rice and aromatised wine, also known as vermouth like Manchino Kopi, these are my favourite. Making house-made cordials was also exciting, as we found out we can make them in smaller batches to maintain the cost-effectiveness, freshness and quality of our drinks.
Can you describe the Serendipity, Sanguine, Melancholy and Nostalgia categories?
NK: “Serendipity” drinks offer a taste profile that’s refreshing and fruity with a touch of tartness, easy to drink. In contrast, the spirit-forward cocktails under the “Sanguine” section give courage and stiffen one’s spine with bold, decadent and spiritous cocktails. “Melancholy” cocktails provide great cheer; these are generally in-dept fragrant and aromatic with a touch of effervescence. Last but not least, The cocktails of “Nostalgia” are meant to give comfort, with the focus on playfulness, sweetness and richness.
The glassware is incredibly unique. Where do you even find a bullhorn-shaped glass?
NK: Searching for creative cocktail glassware for Boticario was one of my favourite experiences. The bullhorn-shaped glass was inspired by warriors who drank water or wine from those horn-shaped vessels back in ancient times. That was in my mind while hunting glassware across the city until we saw a vintage shop displayed with bullhorn-shaped glassware, but it wasn’t for sale. So we have to tailor-make it from our trusted supplier, Global Hotelware and it took three months to have it custom-made from Europe.
Do you have a personal favourite drink off of the menu?
NK: My all-time favourite drink is a well-made Negroni. From the Boticario menu, I will go for Coffee Under Plum, made with Plantation 3 Star rum, kopi, plum wine, and orange Curaçao. It is based on the Caribbean classic cocktail the ‘El Presidente’, first created in Cuba and a popular drink going back as far as the 1910’s. This twist is based around Plantation 3 Star rum, combining diverse styles of rums from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. Mancino Kopi is Italian vermouth blended with Indonesian coffee beans to create a subtle touch of depth and complexity. Umeshu is a Japanese plum wine, which gives a touch of sour and herbal elements to the cocktail.
Let’s talk about the food as well. Could you offer some pairings?
NK: The beef empanadas go well with the Smoke Bomb with Diplomatico Planas rum, pineapple and almond, lime, sherry, cacao, bitters, pop; while red snapper ceviche with lime juice and avocado will taste great with the refreshing Green Aura, made with Tried & True vodka, pandan and lemongrass, cachaca, green apple, lime and topped with soda. For something a little heartier, the Asado grilled meat platter with chorizo, chicken, sirloin steak and smoked lamb shoulder matched well with Stoned Dreams, made with Ferrand 1840 Cognac americano, vermouth, stone pine and wormwood.
What do you want people to take away from their Boticario experience?
NK: Memories of good times. We want Boticario to be “The King of Good Times”, one of the places where everyone comes together to unwind and share a few good drinks to go with comforting, good food.
Boticario, Shop G5, Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, 66 Mody Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, +852 2765 0800