Jamón ibérico, manchego cheese, and squid ink are mainstays of Spanish cuisine. But how about in cocktails? If you happen to be at Back Bar, quite possibly, yes.
This cosy watering hole hidden down an alley off Ship Street in Wan Chai is connected to its sibling Ham & Sherry, a tapas joint known for serving some of the best jamon in town. With easy access to quality ingredients, bar staff have been known to raid the restaurant larder for inspiration.
The jamón ibérico is used, not in a Spanish drink, but in a Chinese-influenced Dumpling Martini. The cocktail is based on popular pork and chive dumplings. “We collect the fat and wash the vodka with it to create iberico-infused vodka, says Laetitia Roudaut, Back Bar manager.
“When you sip the vodka on its own, you can really taste the iberico – it’s salty, meaty and fatty.”
Chive-infused gin, lillet blanc and soy sauce add complexity. It’s almost like a vesper martini for a new-age Asian James Bond on a liquid diet.
Roudaut enjoys creating food-based cocktails, but acknowledges it can be challenging. The Dumpling Martini, for example, captures the essence of, rather than replicates the dish, because “there’s no way you’ll drink something that tastes exactly like it,” says Roudaut.
“Sometimes I try something at a restaurant and I want to recreate it as a drink, but the alcohol completely changes the flavour,” she says, adding: “You try the cocktail and something is missing. I might give up because it’s not working and move on, like with the manchego.” Roudaut always keeps the recipe though, in the hopes she will resolve the problem and turn out a delicious cocktail down the track. “It’s not as easy as it seems, it takes trial and error,” she says.
Apart from the dumpling martini, successful combinations on Back Bar’s menu include Ink in the Skin, which features spiced rum, coffee cream sherry, fresh coffee and squid ink spray, and Sweet Potato Soup, based on a local dessert. Sweet potato is steeped in bourbon, red date and ginger to give it an exotic zing. And it packs a punch, too.
It’s a wonderful alternative for someone who likes a good Old Fashioned, according to Roudaut.
If this all sounds too exotic, Back Bar excels in the classics, too. Their biggest sellers are gin and tonics, Negronis and Old Fashioneds. For a small bar, they have a respectable spirits list, which includes small batch producers and a good selection of rum, bourbon, American whiskey, gin, vodka and agave.
Back Bar is a place for all comers. It’s a cosy venue that attracts plenty of regulars, some of who come almost every day. “It’s nothing fancy,” says Roudaut. “It’s the sort of place you want to bring your friends or even your family, it’s like your second home where you can feel comfortable. There is no need to dress up here, come as you are.”