Legend has it that some time during the 13th century, monarch Alfonso X — “The Wise King” of Castille, Leon and Galicia — suffered from an illness that prevented him from consuming anything more than bite-sized morsels. Elated with the effect of pairing food and wine, the King decreed, following his recovery, that all drinks henceforth should be accompanied by a snack. And thus, so the story goes, tapas were born.
It’s a myth that hospitality veterans Joe Villanueva and Sandeep Kumar take seriously, so much so that the duo are opening their own ode to all things bite-sized and boozy later this month. Welcome to The Wise King, a “modern classic” inspired by the historical opulence of the Iberian peninsula, which soft opens in mid-July.
Swathed in plush tones of gold, brown and oxblood, The Wise King is a warm and intimate venue evoking the feeling of an Old World salon. Cocktails are similarly rich and brooding, drawing on interesting (oftentimes exotic) ingredients to provide a unique drinking experience. The Turrón Sour (HK$118) is the bar’s take on a whisky sour; made with Woodford rye and honey syrup, it’s inspired by the Spanish nougat confection of the same name. Then there are the barrel-aged libations, of which there will be two available when the bar opens its doors. One of them, the Pacharán Manhattan (HK$98) is a bracing concoction of Woodford rye, Blackthorn liqueur and Abott’s bitters, bringing together stone-fruit flavours with spicy rye whiskey.
Given The Wise King’s penchant for the apocryphal origin story of tapas, a substantial food menu is a must. Naturally, guests can choose from an array of well-portioned small plates that include culinary references to provincial Spain, Morocco and beyond. There’s scarpetta (a simple Italian repast of bread and tomato), patatas bravas (the Castilian take on fried potatoes), pollo kebeb and a variety of Spanish cheeses and charcuterie.
Co-owners Joe Villanueva and Sandeep Kumar are the reason for so much of the fanfare surrounding The Wise King’s imminent launch. Inveterate drinkers may remember Villanueva from his memorable stints at the Lobster Bar & Grill and as finalist for the Chivas Master Competition. His partner, Sandeep Kumar, has 14 years of industry experience and is well known as the the two-time winner of the Bacardi Grand Prix National (India) and former beverage director at fine Cantonese stalwart China Tang. Between the two of them, pundits can expect a bar that delivers contemporary mixology at throwback prices: guests can expect the bill for three cocktails and two tapas to run approximately HK$350–$420.