A first look at the sleek, 70-style Italian bar by Lorenzo Antinori that pays homage to Rome
At the Four Seasons’ ARGO, Lorenzo Antinori cemented his reputation as one of Asia’s top mixologists, with the cocktail bar making an incredible debut at number three on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2022. Now, we have a feeling that Bar Leone, Antinori’s latest (independent) venture, will be even more popular.
Nestled on the cusp of SoHo off Bridges Street, Bar Leone – which is named after the symbol (the lion) of the neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome, Antinori’s original stomping ground – celebrates Italian pop culture with a vintage, 1970s vibe. The bar’s drink-making elements are minimal; no modern machinery such as distillation equipment is used, and the ingredient-infused bottles and made-from-scratch bases are few and far between.
The cocktails & bar snacks
The bar’s landmark cocktail is Lorenzo’s favourite – the martini. The spirit-forward Leone martini (HK$130) is served in a short, small-stemmed glass on a dark wooden tray that has a design reminiscent of the 70s. The ice-cold drink is shaken with Ginepraio gin, vermouth, dry marsala and orange blossom water, garnished with olives stuffed with Spanish almonds and more olives on the side, this time stuffed with blue cheese. The marsala gives a savoury undertone to the floral-scented martini.
The smoked olives (HK$88) are a great complement to the martini. Most times, I would never order olives as a bar snack, but these olives are exceptional. They’re smoked in a meat smoker, so each bite has an intense smoky, meaty flavour, with zero brininess and the perfect amount of saltiness.
Alternatively, the giardiniera pickles (HK$78) topped with shaved Parmesan cheese are a delicious sweet-meets-tart snack to pair with the martini.
Many of the Italian cocktails at Bar Leone, such as the negroni (HK$130), are given a seasonal twist. For summer, the yuzu bianco (a riff on the white negroni) is served alongside the classic negroni and coffee negroni, with the latter made with coffee beans sourced from Nicaragua.
Containing yuzu sake and Suze (a bitter French aperitif), the yuzu bianco is stirred with gin and fortified wine to copycat the slightly bitter ending of the classic negroni, but it remains more refreshing owing to its citrus-focused base notes.
Before we move on to the rest of the cocktails, let’s go back to highlighting more of the Bar Leone bar snacks, which are authentically Roman and executed to perfection.
The polenta cacio e pepe (HK$68) features deep-fried polenta. Cut into mini squares, the polenta is topped with shaved Pecorino cheese and black pepper to mimic the classic pasta dish. I can foresee multiples of this order – it’s extremely savoury, earthy and sharp.
The chicken liver with peach vermouth jelly (HK$110) plays around with textures and flavours. As a spread, the parfait is light and smooth, with the peach vermouth jelly providing both slightly sweet and bitter flavours on the palate.
The Roman-stuffed pizza with mortadella (HK$130) is a Bar Leone signature and the heartiest snack on the menu. How can something so simple be so satisfying? Ribboned ham and mortadella are wedged between thin, crispy pizza crust, coupled with pickled banana pepper to balance the cold cuts’ richness. This traditional Italian street food is a takeaway favourite in Rome.
In terms of lighter cocktails, we recommend the olive oil sour (HK$130) from the seasonal section. This slightly sweet and refreshingly nutty tipple contains olive oil sourced from a 100-year-old tree in Italy blended with sherry, Michter’s rye whisky, Bacardi rum, lemon and honey. It’s set with frothy egg white and topped with an abundance of orange zest.
The Bar Leone apple martini (HK$120) from the “Friends and Fam” section is given a new look sans the martini glass and is instead served in a short glass with a rectangular ice cube before being sprinkled with black pepper. Frothy apple juice is mixed with Zubrowka bison grass vodka and The Glenlivet 12 whisky. This one has a pretty heavy booze content. Also of note, 10% of the cocktail’s proceeds will be donated to the More Good Foundation.
At Bar Leone, Lorenzo Antinori follows a traditional approach to deliver exceptionally well-balanced, Italian-inspired cocktails made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and specially sourced spirits. We love the nostalgic, old-fashioned feel of the bar… and those smoked olives!
Where: 11–15 Bridges Street, SoHo, Central
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This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.