Natalie Lau is the Bar Manager of The Old Man, in Hong Kong. She makes two cocktails for us, one with Absinthe and Cointreau and the second with Gin and Gruyere Cheese.
Natalie introduce yourself
My name is Natalie Lau, and after I graduated university I became a teacher and and worked with the auxiliary police, but it was more for my parents than myself. I discovered the cocktail world when I tried a mojito with fresh mint in Riga and it was the best one I’d ever tested. In Hong Kong they usually made mojitos with mint liqueur and not fresh mint, so this drink changed my perspective. When my mother passed away I thought it was time to do what I really wanted, even if my father would not approve, so I started to study at a school of bartending and had a great mentor who taught me all about using fresh products and how to craft cocktails, which landed me a job at Aqua. I wanted to move to the UK to work, because if you like cocktails you should go to cities like NewYork or London, but I told my father I would be working in a restaurant. So I left with £3000 in my pocket to find a job and an apartment in two weeks. I was hired by the Savoy, I presumed as a barback, but it was to replace Joe Schofield, a role which involved navigating between the American Bar and the Beaufort Bar. On one hand it was tough because they have two different menus and the cocktails are different in their specifications and garnishes, but on the other, I learnt so much in two years. I came back to Hong Kong when my visa expired and started here at The Old Man as head bartender. What I learnt at the Savoy was not only about technique, but service, how to deal with various situations and manage brand ambassadors and bartenders.
The classic you want to show us
Corpse Reviver N°2
Glass rinsed with Absinthe
20ml of Gin
20ml of Lemon
20ml of Cointreau
20ml of Cocchi Americano
The bar you dream of
My dream bar would be in an apartment because Hong Kong is very small. I would also be able to do masterclasses in the apartment for my friends who would like to try their hand at making cocktails. It would be a place for friends and industry people who want to try classic cocktails. Drinks would be free, but they have to bring food like stir-fries or chicken wings. I just want to make people discover and fall in love with cocktails and spirits, because here in Hong Kong the knowledge is lacking.
What do you do in your time off
I normally go on dates with my boyfriend because we live separately. He likes gaming so I try to dive into that, because he tries cocktails for me. Otherwise, we spend time with our families. When I have more time I do yoga and read to stay updated on what’s happening in the industry.
The spirit you like the most
I like gin because of the taste in a martini or a gin and tonic. Gin is so well balanced you can do a lot of classics where you switch the spirit with gin and it works perfectly. I like to work with a Martinez to convince people who like whisky that they can drink gin. I prefer London Dry Gin and my favourite is Sipsmith VJOP (very juniper overproof).
What makes a good cocktail
I would say fresh ingredients, technique and your smile. Hospitality is a whole package, not just your passion for drinks.
What ingredient do you enjoy using in cocktails
I like Campari because the bitter taste is great and has good balance. Asians are still learning about bitter flavours as there is a quote in Chinese that says: you can only like bitter after half of your life has passed.
The signature cocktail you want to show us
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
30ml of Gin infused with Marshmallow
30ml of Macro-Fermented Raspberry
20ml of Lemon
1 Egg White
Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender
You should go to visit my mentor Joao Balzani at the Avant-Garde Cocktail Bar, which is his bar in Mauritius. In Hong Kong go and see Jay Khan at COA, he is so knowledgeable on agave and he is a superstar in the industry right now. In Paris go to CopperBay and chat with Julien.