Those familiar with Ashley Sutton’s brand of painstakingly elaborate bar concepts might have discerned by now that the Australian-born designer possesses a certain fascination with entomology: first, he brought us the 10,000 butterflies suspended above the mysterious mines of Iron Fairies; next, we encountered a kaleidoscopic swarm of shiny scarab beetles crawling up and along the curved ceiling of Central speakeasy, J.Boroski. Now, it’s a nest of dragonflies that have found their home inside Sutton’s latest bar and lounge concept in Tai Kwun.
Dragonfly is the sixth collaboration with local hospitality group Dining Concepts (after The Iron Fairies, Ophelia, Yojimbo, J.Boroski and Dear Lilly); and while the bar is on a much smaller scale than the likes of Ophelia or Dear Lilly, Suttons’ intricate handiwork and attention to detail are just as evident here. At Dragonfly, Sutton pays homage to the artistic genius of Louis Comfort Tiffany (son of Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Tiffany), who’s best known for his stained glass work and iconic mosaic lamps. First produced in the 1890s, many of the Tiffany lampshades were adorned with dragonflies — one of the brand’s signature design motifs.
Located along a passageway on the western fringe of the Tai Kwun courtyard, Dragonfly seems at first glance like a depository for vintage wares — with a clutter of glass vintage mosaic lamps, antiquated bar stools and rough cast iron everywhere you look. The latter forms the backbone of the materials used; that and stained glass, which Sutton has used to fashion the 120 vintage mosaic lamps which hang upside down at alternating lengths from the ceiling to mesmerising effect.
Special Edison light bulbs have been sourced to create a distinct shade of sea green as the yellow light filters through the (blue-coloured) glass; while each lampshade has been intricately painted with gossamer-winged dragonflies facing upwards to echo the 500 cast iron dragonflies which are attached to the walls in precise, upright rows.
While full-fledged dragonflies are creatures of the sky, they spend most of their life cycles underwater; at Dragonfly, you have the similar feeling that you’re submerged under sea, with the canopy of luminescent blue-green above resembling the sun breaking through the ocean’s surface, and the circular mosaic pattern on the floor mimicking the movement of the waves. The focal point of the space is a large bronze statue behind the bar: an enlarged rendition of an iconic jewellery piece by French glass designer, René Lalique.
As for the menu, drinks and nibbles follow in the same vein as Dining Concepts’ other establishments: There’s a handful of crowdpleasers to suit all tastes, with the bar menu (led by chef Ignacio Elizonda) incorporating culinary influences spanning from East to West, while the global-inspired cocktail list ticks off classic concoctions from Mexico to Japan. “The menu is designed around four different cultures. Each drink is meant to represent the unique spirit, culture and flavour profile from the region it represents,” said head bartender, Brent Flowers.
The Wisteria (HK$128), for instance, is a riff on the Mexican Paloma, with tequila, homemade grapefruit soda (infused with salt instead of stuck to the rim), and a fresh hit of coriander. It’s a refreshing thirst quencher, arriving with a small dish of pounded guacamole and blue corn tortilla chips on the side to reinforce the theme.
Meanwhile, the Dragon Pearls (HK$138) takes inspiration from Southeast Asia: a playful take on bubble tea (in a reusable tumbler) complete with tapioca balls, jasmine tea imparting a light floral essence, maple and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) for a hit of lush fruit and acidity. While seemingly innocuous, the gin and cognac base is strong, cutting through the sweetness of traditional milk tea for a well-balanced tipple.
You’ll find several other variations on familiar cocktails: the Bloody Caesar twists on the Bloody Mary with clamato juice and a splash of horseradish-infused vodka, served with a fresh oyster shooter on top; while the Roman Helmet plays on the Negroni with European pear-infused cognac. Currently there are eight signature cocktails on the menu (the list will continue to grow and evolve), in addition to Old and New World wines, champagnes and a range of gins, whiskies and rum.
The food comprises small bites that should provide ample lining for the stomach, if not a full-fledged meal. We try the Spanish prawn croquettes (HK$118), which are well-battered with a bright saffron aioli for dipping; and the foie gras terrine (HK$178), arriving with a quenelle of quince paste and a few triangles of toasted brioche bread (make sure you request another serving to scoop up the moreish pâté). Our favourite dish is the short rib buns (HK$158): the fall-apart meat in a jammy hoisin glaze comes stuffed between pillowy steamed mantou, with pickled onions, crispy wontons and a generous smear of Sriracha mayo.
What we’re most looking forward to, however, is the outdoor extension of Dragonfly. Occupying the length of the stone-paved passageway outside the bar, the alfresco lounge will open soon with nightly live music performances. While still under construction, the space is set to be adorned with floor lamps boasting the same dragonfly lampshades, with the idea for guests to enjoy alfresco drinking while evoking the decadent, bohemian-style hangouts of the late 19th century. With most of the other drinking spots within the compound restricted to indoor areas, it’s a safe bet that Dragonfly’s alfresco music lounge is sure to become one of Tai Kwun’s major attractions for evening entertainment.