A breath of fresh air to the Lan Kwai Fong bar scene serving fantastic cocktails with an exceptional dine-in menu to match.
Words Iris Wong Photos Samantha Sin
Lan Kwai Fong is hardly synonymous with speakeasies, but Employees Only Hong Kong manages to retain an air of mystery with its dark entrance and discreet logo. The largest of its four locations (the original is in New York, and there are branches in Miami and Singapore), the Hong Kong outpost has similar art deco-inspired aesthetics and a curvaceous bar designed for maximum eye contact and easy mingling. Beyond the bar, the main dining area runs into an oval space that can be curtained off for private functions.
We first witnessed principal bartender Owen Gibler’s speedy free-pouring skills at the launch party, where he concocted custom cocktails, one after another, for a full house. As well as the bar’s famed twist on the Manhattan, the EO Gimlet ($150) is a sure favourite: a navy-strength gin shaken with house-made lime cordial, agave and kaffir lime leaves. To get the party started, try a milkshake for adults, Thunder in Paradise ($140), a blend of dark, over-proof rum shaken with lime juice, orgeat (almond syrup) and Coco Lopez (cream of coconut) served tall on crushed ice. With the New York speakeasy’s many accolades for cocktails and bar service, it would have been easy to neglect the food and offer a menu of average pub grub. But that’s not how Employees Only rolls. Bite-sized bone-marrow poppers ($118) are buttery, flaky pastry shells filled with creamy bone marrow in Bordelaise sauce and topped delicately with microgreens. Neither heavy nor overly fatty, this is a perfect snack to go with the bar’s strong libations. Steak tartare ($188) is tender, hand-cut let mignon, topped with an egg yolk and served with three condiments – sea salt, fresh shallots and white truffled capers – a dash of lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and house-made hot sauce, all mixed tableside. We enjoyed its mild spiciness, although we found the crostinis a tad oily. Served on a bed of delicious lobster mash, the perfectly cooked pan-fried stone bass ($248) was the highlight of the meal. The fish flakes in firm, smooth chunks, which we use to scoop up creamy mash made with lobster bisque. The parsley velouté lends an herbaceous touch, and the wilted spinach offers variation in texture. We also enjoyed the extra dose of umami from the drizzle of lobster oil.
Lan Kwai Fong is a place we’ve actively avoided since reaching legal drinking age, but Employees Only may be reason to return. And not just for drinks (which are excellent, by the way), but for a proper dinner or late- night pick-me-up of steak tartare, mixed tableside, at the ungodly hour of 2am.
Spending: from $400pp for dinner and drinks
Highlights: Manhattan, pan-fried stone bass
What else: the entrance is rather nondescript except for its minimalist logo, so be patient if you can’t spot it immediately
Employees Only Hong Kong
19 Lan Kwai Fong, Central