It’s no secret that many secret gems of Hong Kong’s bar and restaurant world are hidden away among the city’s side streets. Our latest favourite? COA. Tucked down Shin Hing Street (just below Hollywood Road and up from too-cool-for-school Gough Street), this pared-back new space is giving the 852 a real taste of Mexico.
We stopped by on a Wednesday evening, and were greeted by a small team of smiling bar staff, and the main man himself, Jay Khan. Khan has spent the last decade working across some of the city’s best-loved bars – Dr. Fern’s and Foxglove spring immediately to mind – and now he has finally opened his own digs to showcase his true love: mezcal.
So, to the space. A micro sign lit up outside is both obvious (who isn’t doing that these days) and also strangely cool (it all feels rather un-Mexican), and we have to give a quick nod to the amazing mural on the inside wall, but walking in really tells you what this place is about. The bar to your left is well-stocked with a unique range of bottles that even a mezcal amateur knows is the real deal, while the sparsely decorated seating space to your right is neat, without excess and so perfectly lit it made us want to drag every manager from a bar with spotlights straight over to see good lighting done right.
Immediately, we’re asked if we’d like to hit the bar or pull up a chair in the open room. Bar, please. Settling in, a rather ferocious looking piece of flora to my right is quickly introduced as the star of the show: an agave plant, in the flesh. Elsewhere, a coa – the tool used for harvesting the agave – is hung. The space makes sense; not showy or flashy, just exactly what it sets out to be: honest and without pretension. So far, so good.
And the drinks? Khan is a master of sales; he talks us through the easy-to-navigate menu, explaining away the bad reputation of mezcal, tequila and raicilla and giving us what we’d wager was the briefest and yet most interesting history of the spirit. Without a doubt, Khan knows his stuff. With homemade guacamole and delicious cheesy jalapeño quesadillas in hand (there’s no chef here, only five bartenders that also man the small kitchen – this stuff is fresher than fresh) we’re taken on a tour of the carefully laid-out cocktail list.
I shan’t try to explain the unique flavour profiles of what we sampled, get down there and find out for yourself. It’s enough to say it blew our preconceptions of what a mezcal cocktail might be out of the water, in no small part due to the incredible attention to detail the team have in terms of the ingredients used – many of which are made in-house. There’s a small selection of vodka and gin if you’re feeling cautious – but seriously, branch out and try the good stuff, you’re bound to find something you’d never have known you’d like.
Here is an evening spot built on passion, on knowledge and on the certainty that quality is king. We loved that, while the space may have been mostly empty on this chilly Wednesday evening (no doubt due to a combination of Dry January and the fact that it only soft-opened in December so it’s yet to make it onto the masses’ radar), a number of people popped their heads in and were warmly welcomed with an explanation of the bar’s MO. Hello, great service. Oh, and the prices won’t make you baulk – what a treat.
After more cocktails than we cared to count, plus an impressive sip-session of some of the other mezcal and tequila options on offer, we left with rosy cheeks and a new-found appreciation for what we now consider a rather hard-done-by drink.
Will we be back? Absolutely.