Can you tell us briefly about your background and your journey into the F&B industry?
My background is in event marketing and branding, but F&B has always been on my mind. I lived above a brewery when I was in university in Berkeley, California, which was also a convenient 40-minute drive away from Napa Valley and Sonoma. Hence, I spent my free time learning about the beer and wine offerings at my doorstep. When I moved back to Hong Kong and started work at an event agency, my dad encouraged me to keep up with my passions. So I studied and took my WSET certification up to Level 3. I guess you could say that wine was my first love, not cocktails!
I have been lucky in that things came together for me in the right place at the right time. I saw the immense potential of growth in the drinks industry in Hong Kong (which up until recently only pined after first growth Bordeaux). I got interested in the art of mixology, throwing stuff into drinks whenever I picked things up in the wet market whilst shopping for food. When I went on about my vision of a cocktail bar to everyone I met, some crazy people (including my sisters) believed in it, and we came across a perfect location for it. With the help of my sisters and their respective expertise (one owns her own finance firm and the other an architecture firm), combined with my own experience in branding, marketing and forage into drink development, the ball started rolling and here we are!
It’s been a year since The Woods opened its doors to consumers in Hong Kong. How’s business so far?
Business has been wonderful. We were so excited we have been able to attract consumers young and old, local and expatriate, boozehounds and first-timers to try out our venue. Part of our mission has been to educate on and introduce the world of spirits and cocktails to our guests, so they develop a greater appreciation of the art. We believe we have achieved that every day. We try to drive home the idea that as much care and attention is put into making a great cocktail as it is cooking a great dish. Hong Kong people already know how to appreciate good food – now they can appreciate good drink!
What do you do to ensure that your venue stays up to date and on trend?
That has always been a part of our plan and creative vision. It is already in our calendar to change our menu seasonally (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and our cocktail pairing ‘Prix Fixe’ menu every 8-10 weeks according to new themes. That way, we keep experimenting with new ingredients and techniques. We encourage creativity and exchange of ideas within the team – everyone from the floor staff to the chef is involved in each new drink. We also keep an email chain where we send each other inspiring articles, photographs and videos so we’re always continually learning.
We understand that The Woods is a seasonal cocktail bar known for its fresh ingredients and experimental mixology. Can you share with us the inspiration behind this concept?
Farmer’s markets have always been my happy place when I am in California. I love the idea of using fresh produce at their peak, when their flavours really shine through and not too much needs to be done to alter them but just complement them. Our cocktail style is quite simple – show off the seasonal ingredient and the featured spirit – which is why we choose to use high quality and often artisanal brands in our drinks. We also take a lot of cues from kitchens and culinary methods in our flavour combinations and production techniques.
Tell us about your cocktail list and food pairing menu. What’s your best-seller and favourite food and drink combination?
Our 8-seater ‘Prix Fixe’ experience is where we can really be creative – we can make very labour-intensive cocktails and use fancy glassware that we normally wouldn’t for the volume we usually do. It works like a chef’s table at a restaurant where you have a 4-course cocktail-focused meal and can watch the action happen right in front of you. The bartender walks you through everything he’s making so it is a very interactive and personal experience, and customers love the engagement. Developing these menus are really fun for the team as they can care less about cost and efficiency, and get really wild with flavours. It is also a fun challenge for our chef who comes up with the food pairings to match the drinks!
My favourite food and drink combo is definitely one for our “Into The Woods” themed menu: a mushroom-infused bourbon cocktail paired with escargot. The earthiness of both the drink and the dish come through and match perfectly, and certainly a surprising flavour. There’s no best-seller per se as the guests don’t get to pick what they drink from the set menu.
What’s next on the radar for a place that changes before the times?I
Victoria Chow can’t predict for sure, but these are what she would like to see more of:
- Culinary influences from restaurants – from techniques to operations to flavours and ingredients
- More ‘terroir’ impact on craft spirit production and styles
- High-end bottled cocktails