Peppa Pig is now the subway police. Whatever, we just want some booze. This week: Ossidiana at The Zuk Bar.elcome to our column where we look at what’s good to drink around Shanghai. And because it’s Friday. And also because
Can a high end hotel bar also be your local watering hole? That’s what Vincenzo Pagliara is trying to achieve at The Zuk Bar with his menu of high brow cocktails served simply, like this drink called Ossidiana.
It’s a trend the Italian bartender has observed around the world and in his previous stomping ground of London, where he worked at the prestigious Connaught Bar and Claridge’s Hotel before coming here. “In Europe, bars are going back to the roots,” he said. “They’re trying to be a neighborhood bar with fine cocktails.”
It certainly helps to have a good location: The Zuk Bar is on the ground floor of The Sukhothai Shanghai hotel, and the bar’s main entrance opens up to bustle of Weihai Road. The interior is lush and slinky, with white and forest green tiles that form a leaf pattern, walnut trimmings, and a brass bar counter.
Nature also dictates the direction of the cocktail menu. There are 16 original drinks divided evenly into four sections – Rocks, Flora, Water, and Oak – in a supple, leather-bound book. Many ingredients are made in-house from fresh plants, spices, flowers, and fruits, and Pagliara uses a vacuum distillation system called a rotary evaporator to extract certain flavors. Syrups are made from natural sweeteners such as honey, stevia, and agave, and the bar doesn’t use plastic straws in a bid to cut down waste.
The complexity, however, doesn’t spill over into the presentation. “We want to do simple, clean drinks with a maximum of one garnish,” Pagliara said. Cocktail prices currently run between ¥95 to ¥110 without service charge – it’s a hotel, after all – but Pagliara plans to lower the prices slightly. “I don’t want people to have one martini, [pay] ¥150, and leave,” he said.
All these characteristics can be seen in the Ossidiana (¥105), a drink under the Rocks section that the menu sums up as “mineral, sharp, complex.” It’s essentially a Milano-Torino, a classic cocktail made with sweet vermouth and Campari, but Pagliara plunges a charred log of wood into the vermouth to oxidize it. He then ages the cocktail in a claypot for about two weeks with fresh passionfruit and mango balsamic vinegar, and serves the drink with a dried slice of the same passionfruit and a slim chocolate stick.
OK, the passionfruit and chocolate make two garnishes, but don’t let pedantry stop you from enjoying this lightning bolt of a drink. Pagliara recommends you first have a sip, then have a bite of the passionfruit, have another sip, before nibbling on the chocolate, and it tastes like sea spray and tropical fruit caught in a Negroni. The first sip is bitter, but the sourness of the passionfruit smooths it out. A saltiness reveals itself in a second sip, and the chocolate adds a velvety, nutty richness to the end. It’s smart without being smug, intricate yet still approachable, just like how The Zuk Bar feels.
The Zuk Bar
The Sukhothai Shanghai
380 Weihai Road