The farm-to-bar concept reviving forgotten flavours in HK
Sohofama puts its focus on thinking local and cultivating its own ingredients. By Colin Peebles Christensen.
The vertically stacked, densely populated urbanity of Hong Kong seems an unlikely base for a bar that picks its produce on its own doorstep. Still, Sohofama – an organic, health-forward food and drink destination in the former police living quarters, or PMQ, in Central – has found a way to support its mantra of sustainability and self-sufficiency with an on-site urban garden, hydroponic cultivation and a collaborative program to support local farmers. The venue is a crossover venture, the offspring of organic restaurant Locofama and iconic Hong Kong lifestyle brand GOD (also a next-door neighbour in PMQ). Taking its f&b cues from Locofama founder Larry Tang, with GOD’s Douglas Young directing the venue’s throwback aesthetics, Sohofama extends its parents’ advocacy of preserving and promoting local resources. This philosophy spills into the glass, too. Working with local producers, bar consultant Kit Cheung, of Spirit of Spirit Ltd, has devised a drinks selection that marries Hong Kong wine and spirit traditions with plants grown within the city’s borders or by their own bar.
Cheung has over ten years of global bar experience, from Opium Bar and Bar 45 in the UK, to R9 Lounge Bar and Ozu in Hong Kong, as well as stints in Spain, Thailand and Taiwan. But the drinks at Sohofama are all inspired by his native city, Cheung explains, with local tastes that most young people in Hong Kong have never experienced, or perhaps already forgotten. “As far as I know, so far, no other places grow and use their own herbs in cocktails while incorporating local elements of Hong Kong.” The bar’s hydroponic set-up is not unlike an open kitchen, Cheung reckons, where “customers can see what they put into their body”. At Sohofama that includes organic chilli, lemon basil, aloe vera, sweet tomato, mint and roselle (from the hibiscus family), all grown in the bar in an earth-free, hydrocultural mineral solution, or outside on the patio garden. What is not harvested at the bar is sourced from the metropolis’s surrounding green areas. A lychee and longan honey comes from Mr Chiu, a honey-maker in the old Tsuen Wan village; organic perilla from the garden of one of Cheung’s green-fingered friends. In addition, Sohofama sources its rice wines from Wo Kee and a variety of local spirits carrying the Yuet Wo brand. The only surviving large-scale brewery in Hong Kong, Wo Kee still clings to Kwu Tung village and rice wine production after 70 years in operation.
At Sohofama, Wo Kee’s wines come by the glass, along with imported organic and sulphite-free red and white bottlings. The cocktails extend the locavore ethic with a stroke of Chinese medicine. “Alcohol was originally used as medication, and since the concept of the bar is to bring back the old days, it was natural to use Chinese herbal ingredients as well to complement the alcohol,” Cheung explains. In the Drunken Monk, siraitia, or luo han guo, an anti-cancer remedy in Chinese medicine, is mixed as tea with the Sohofama-grown roselle, Hong Kong-sourced honey and Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado tequila. For his Plum Sour, Cheung shakes local organic perilla tea, lemon and local honey with a plum-infused Yuet Wo triple-distilled spirit. Then, Orange Peel Porridge – Cheung’s first creation for Sohofama, styled in a Hong Kong ceramic bowl with an accompanying vintage newspaper – mixes local glutinous rice wine, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lime, honey, orange bitters, chia seeds and rice wine infused with five-year-old dried tangerine peel. Via Cheung, Sohofama also produces its own seasonal wines: at the moment, glutinous rice wine and one fermented from Chinese wampee fruit. Behind-the-bar infusions cover organic chilli, camomile and lemon leaf vodkas, plum and wolfberry wines, as well as a blueberry gin and vanilla rum. “What I do for Sohofama through cocktails is to create a place for people to be reminded of local culture,” says Cheung. “I hope to share this concept not only through the taste of the drinks, but also from their history.”
Sohofama / PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong / +852 2858 8238 / www.sohofama.com