F&B journalist and drink enthusiast Gavin Yeung opens Kinsman bar in Soho, a tribute to Hong Kong’s overlooked yet distinct Cantonese liquor history
If you know Gavin Yeung, you know that he loves a cocktail. The Senior Dining Editor at Tatler Hong Kong is as uniquely zealous about upholding the great standard of dining in the city as he is about educating his peers on how to drink well.
The past three years have seen the food and drink journalist lead a successful foray into cocktail-mixing and hosting guest shifts at a litany of top Hong Kong bars, including The Aubrey, Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour, Woo Cheong Tea House, and CNY Bar.
The cocktail-hobbyist-turned-enthused-bartender is now preparing for the next chapter in his love affair with cocktails, opening Kinsman in Soho, a lively Cantonese drinking salon inspired by the rich history of Cantonese spirit-making and the motifs of film director Wong Kar-wai.
On a rushed Friday afternoon, Gavin laments over a phone call with me, “I never felt that there was a bar I could call my favourite in Hong Kong. There are bars that I love, but either the price point is too high, the lighting is off, or the music does not work.”
“This project came from wanting to create a space that I would want to visit every night and could call my favourite bar.”
The theme of Kinsman, which signifies a family relative by blood, points notably to the history of Cantonese distillery culture, which consisted of patriarchal operations and passing down recipes from father to son during the late 1800s and 1900s.
“I believe that Hong Kong would enjoy [a bar] that pays tribute to the history of spirits in the region, with a lot of really interesting liquors being made here, which were previously hidden, a blind spot to bartenders and myself.”
The concept of Kinsman, a watering hole that Gavin could call home, began in 2020 when the pandemic gripped Hong Kong. “I was working at Soho House at the time and got my hands on the internal bartenders’ handbook, a collection of 100 classic cocktail recipes. I had free time on my hands at home and gradually started purchasing ingredients and tools and making my way through the book, getting to know my classics and foundation.”
Gavin recounts how he fell into a rabbit hole of Japanese mixology videos during Hong Kong’s shutdown and became enthralled with the “precise art form” of creating cocktails. At his home bar, which is filled with dozens of spirit bottles, wines, champagnes, and bitters, he began infusing and substituting ingredients with shochu, yuzu, and other Asian touches.
His love affair with Cantonese spirits began when he stumbled upon the local distillery brand Wing Lee Wai in Sheung Wan and a rice wine called Yuk Bing Siu. With roots tracing back to the 1880s in Guangzhou, the ancient liquor brand has been located on Wing Lok Street since 1905.
“The label [of Yuk Bing Siu] was so beautiful and intricate. It piqued my interest, and as a result, I really wanted to learn more about the whole category.”
Research into modern adaptations of historic Cantonese drinks and liquors was disappointingly limited, with Gavin only discovering one drink that used Yuk Bing Siu or any Cantonese liquor at a Hong Kong bar. This cocktail was created by master mixologist Anthony Lai at Quinary.
“It was just one ingredient in this particular cocktail, but it stood out to me among all the other ingredients. I was captivated by that sensation.”
In the summer of 2023, there was talk in the bar scene and amongst F&B circles about Gavin’s imminent plan to open a bar that would pay homage to the living history of Cantonese liquor-making. Teasers were released in early October 2023 on Instagram, announcing the arrival of Kinsman on Peel Street later in November.
When I ask Gavin why Hong Kong needs a bar that embraces the traditions of Cantonese drinking, liquor, and cocktail-making, he replies, “Hong Kong has faced numerous challenges in recent years, and with many people leaving the city, a significant part of our collective memory has been lost. We have found this gem of Hong Kong history that people can experience and taste for themselves, and I wanted to make Cantonese liquor and the consumption of local culture accessible to others.”
“The liquor that is connected to this region, which has been completely forgotten by everyone, deserves to have a dedicated space.”
The opening of Kinsman follows a trend amongst venues in Hong Kong’s F&B space celebrating the city’s pickled history, including Starbucks’ bing sutt on Duddell Street, the opening of Magistracy Dining Room in Tai Kwun, and the renovation and rebranding of The Peak Lookout.
Kinsman, launched by restaurant group Singular Concepts with Gavin, opens its doors with a cocktail tasting menu, before expanding the bar programme to include signature cocktails that feature local liquors, as well as a food menu that complements the drinks.
According to Gavin, the design of the bar takes inspiration from the styles and atmospheres of Wong Kar-wai’s classic pre-handover films, especially Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love.
“[His films] have resonated with many people, not just in Hong Kong, but also with those living overseas who have ties to Hong Kong or even those who have never visited the city. The mood that he creates in his films is fundamental to the entire concept.”
Kinsman soft-opened on Nov. 21, and Gavin is excited to impress with a local touch. “I am feeling nervous about whether we can truly deliver to the best of our abilities and meet the high standards I have in mind. We have the fantastic bar manager [Nick Lappen] joining us, and the partners at Singular Concepts are providing their expertise so that I can focus on the creative side.”