We’re no Hemingway, but every good cocktail deserves an even better story behind it, and Zuma’s sexy Bushido cocktail menu ($120 each) fits the bill. With a new cocktail bar seeming to open weekly in Hong Kong, we were pleasantly surprised to see a sophisticated standby like Zuma offering a refreshing alternative to fruity, date-safe drinks yet still packing a substantive experience for time-worn cocktail drinkers.
Inspired by bushido, or “way of the warrior”, this adventurous cocktail line is the brainchild of Zuma Hong Kong Bar Development Manager Arkadiusz Rybak. Featuring cocktails named after real-life samurai heroes from the 11th–19th centuries, the Bushido cocktail menu takes its name from the collective term for the codes of honour and ideals that the samurai lived by and celebrates the lives of four male and three female samurai (there were female samurai?!).
Each drink presents a twist on a classic cocktail with distinctly Japanese flavours, and all are paired with custom-made ceramic-ware to complete the flavour profile and distinctive narrative of each samurai hero. With each cocktail also representing a Japanese interpretation and re-envisioned spin on a traditional tipple, we couldn’t help but sip, ooh and aah as each drink was lovingly prepared and served.
Though a few were a bit off the wall for our comfort level (we like our martinis shaken in the glass, not stirred, please), delectable favourites at the table included:
- Honda is a deliciously refreshing take on a negroni, with reported skin benefits to boot. According to Rybak, in addition to adding an interesting and earthy element to the taste, the Japanese believe the clay elements from the ceramic cup offer health benefits. We can’t attest to the claims, but we’ll definitely never look at a negroni the same way again.
- Margarita-inspired Takeda is made with Don Julio tequila (of course), along with intriguing ingredients of burnt Japanese aubergine and yuzu sake. This paired well with Zuma’s izakaya-style bar menu or would work fine on its own as a stand-alone liquid meal.
Hojo is a reimagined take on the old-fashioned as a unique alternative for gents who consider this their go-to drink or ladies who want to venture outside the world of fruity cocktails. There were hints of yummy plum from umeshu balanced with whiffs of tonka bean and leather.
And if you really can’t decide, we recommend going whole hog and getting the Mad Men version of an after-school snack: the Uesugi, an upscale version of cookies and milk in the form of Bulleit bourbon mixed with tamarind, yuzu, egg white and biscuit goodness. This would be perfect for colder evenings and was a lovely way to end our night (with a sweet and delicious cocktail!).
Zuma Bar Development Manager Arkadiusz Rybak gave us some more deets on Zuma’s newest cocktail series:
As a master of creating off-the-wall concepts, how do you find sources of inspiration?
Travelling, visiting places, studying and researching books, taking inspiration from the chefs, artists, perfume industry, life experiences – I like to soak up information from everything and anything to find inspiration for my cocktails. Drinks should reflect stories and memories, so past experiences also provide the inspiration for my drinks.
How should people approach selecting a cocktail in the Bushido series?
You can be really flexible on choosing the drink from the Bushido menu. Either choose by your favourite spirits or interesting ingredients or be adventurous and select the cocktail that matches your favourite samurai story. If you do want to pair with food, here are my suggestions:
- Hangaku – most kinds of sashimi, fried squid or tempura
- Takeda – dishes from the robata like skewers, from meat to Japanese vegetable like aubergine, or the Zuma tomato salad
- Honda – most kinds of sashimi, fried squid or tempura
- Hojo – dishes from the robata like skewers
- Futaba – dessert or ice cream
- Takeko – dessert or ice cream
- Uesugi – fried squid or tempura, dishes from the robata like skewers
What kind of impression do you want your cocktails to leave on your customers?
That they’ve been adventurous and tried something new. I want them to have had a new experience.
What makes a good bartender? A good vs excellent cocktail?
Hospitality and service I think are the most important things when it comes to bartending. These days, almost everyone can make a good cocktail, with easy access to information, but it’s being able make a cocktail that really makes someone say wow. I also like to build relationships with customers, so sharing stories and inspiration with customers is a great way to make them feel welcome.
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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.