Hong Kong boasts one of the most dynamic dining scenes on the planet, filled with culinarians and tastemakers galore. In our Cheat Day column, we spotlight some of the top players in the kitchen and behind the bar, delving into their personal favourites during their days off. This week, we speak with Sabrina Cantini Budden of The Hari.
Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sabrina Cantini Budden kicked off her studies in Hotel Management in hopes of being able to go out and explore the world. Her journey started with high-end, five-star hotels, before the lure of working at an independent, creative venue caught her eye.
“I initially moved to Hong Kong in 2016 to open Ophelia [now closed],” says Budden. “It was my first time working for an independent restaurant and we pretty much had to do everything – from cleaning to paperwork. I missed the structure of a large company so I bounced back to hotels after a while. And then it yo-yoed a bit where I was caught between the two options. Thankfully, The Hari is a perfect combination of both. We still retain the structure of hotel groups, but I’m afforded a lot more freedom here to create new drinks and menus.”
“I always save some time of the day to be behind the bar, making drinks and socializing with the guests. It’s the best part of my job and one of the core reasons why I love this industry.”
What are the challenges of opening a new venue?
When you have the chance to open a new place, you’ll always have so many ideas floating around that are realistically hard to bring about. Bringing what you envision to reality by finding the right suppliers and teams, the structure of the bar itself, and having things look the way they look… they’re all challenging. Another point is to have a very strong concept. Having a story behind the concept is so important. Zoku [at The Hari] for example, if you look around you, every piece of this venue has a story.
How many bars do you run in The Hari?
We have two here. The first is Zoku, our Japanese concept where we have more creativity in the drinks, whereas our Italian restaurant, Lucciola, focuses more on elevating classic cocktails.
Where do you draw your inspiration for new menus?
I always try to remember what are things that bring up emotion within me, be it happiness, excitement or sadness. It’s important to challenge the team to draw from their own experiences, what were some life-changing events, for example, and from there, we start developing the menus.
Do you drink at home?
I only drink wine at home – and only if I’m cooking! I would never make myself a cocktail at home. I have a lot of bottles and samples and gifts and they’re all just decorating my place and piling up.
Do you have a mentor in the industry that you look to for guidance?
My mentor was the person who got me into bars in the first place. His name is Matias and he was my work colleague back in Argentina. He’s the one who brought me out to Hong Kong! We’re very good friends and he has an amazing palate. He’s been great not only on the beverage side but also on making big life decisions.
Cheat Day time! Which are five indulgent sips or bites you delight in during your days off?