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LIFESTYLE ASIA

Secret libations: 5 best whisky bars in Hong Kong

Small and intimate, Nocturne wine and whisky bar offers 150 varieties of Japanese, Scotch, Taiwanese and Bourbon whiskies off their drinks menu — some of which are rare discontinued labels. The ambience is casual with dimly-lit candles and a refreshingly minimalistic and unassuming interior. They even have their own wine cellar with over 250 labels and a variety of Scottish and Japanese ales.

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What to order: If you’re looking for a blended whisky to start the night off easy, a glass of  Ballantine’s Limited (HK$190) or Royal Salute 100 cask (HK$190) is a great way to start. You can then move onto sample some Yamazaki or Hakushu whiskies.

Nocturne, 35 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2884 9566, www.nocturnehk.com

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Cathay Pacific Discovery

Japanese whisky is a speciality at Nocturne

Open secret: A discreet wooden sliding door marks the entrance to Nocturne, a champagne, fine wine and whisky haven in the Soho entertainment district. More than 50 labels, mostly from Japan and Scotland, are available, or, if whisky isn’t your thing, try the bar’s sake-based cocktails.

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South China Morning Post

Bar review: Nocturne in Central

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The vibe: Nocturne is based on the tiny "secret" bars that are so popular in Japan. While these places are wonderful in Tokyo, when transported to our shores they often suffer from stuffiness or even obnoxious self-importance. Not so at Nocturne. SoHo's largely unknown Japanese whisky bar manages that difficult balance of being a serious, quality-obsessed drinking hole while still being friendly. At 11.30pm they even started playing Biz Markie. Nice.

The drinks: Nocturne does two things extremely well: whisky and wine. Our party was made up of devoted whisky drinkers so we gave the wine a miss. The expert server explained the menu reads regionally from Japan's north to its south - the northern whiskies are more peaty than their southern counterparts. We tried one at each end of the spectrum: a strongly smoky Yoichi 12-year (HK$138) and a floral, almost creamy Hakushu 18-year (HK$178). Both were excellent, but the Hakushu was the crowd favourite. A bourbon Old Fashioned (HK$125) was fine, although a bit on the sweet side.

The verdict: we will definitely return. Although it's not a great place to socialise, and certainly not the kind of bar for a rowdy night out, Nocturne would be an excellent after-dinner stop off to impress a date.

Or, better yet, go by yourself and enjoy a great glass of whisky in the company of your own thoughts.

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Plus / Minus

“Serene, minimalist sidestreet sanctuary of whisky and wine”

Unreasonably reasonable prices for a bar in Soho.
Within Hong Kong, its Japanese whisky selection is probably only surpassed by Ronin, but even Ronin never told us that there are three types of Karuizawa Asama.
You like their wine? They'll deliver bottles to you.

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Sassy Hong Kong

Nocturne is an understated, Japanese-inspired whiskey bar tucked away quietly on Peel Street – if you’re looking for a bit of privacy, this is the place to come! The bare concrete walls and minimalist decor only further add to its mysterious vibe and hidden gem appeal, whilst the whiskey selection is as enormous as you’d expect; with over 50 different types on offer, from Japanese to Scottish and everything in-between, simply take your pick! Soft jazz music and dimmed lighting make for a relaxing atmosphere – the perfect place for a good old catch-up with friends into the twilight hours.

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Timeout Hong Kong

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll have probably stumbled across a hidden bar or two. They’re part of the nightlife culture in the Land of the Rising Sun. A single, unassuming door in a back alley of an old suburb like Ginza, Tokyo, opens into a dimly lit, beautifully chic world of gorgeous surrounds and fine spirits. You usually need to know a guy who knows a guy to get in one of these.

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Thankfully, the new Japanese hidden bar-inspired Nocturne needs no secret code or friend-of-a-friend for admittance – however, it still retains the country’s secret spots’ look and ambience.

Okay, it’s not Ginza. Nocturne is in Central – and is by no means sitting in a dusty back alley. In fact, it’s not out of sight either, halfway up the fairly quiet Peel Street. But it still retains that hidden bar feel with its grey concrete facade and wooden sliding door which has its name lightly etched on the front. No shouting. No neon lights. Many would just pass without a second glance. And, once inside, the atmosphere is minimalist. It’s relaxed, it’s refined and has a Zen-like feel which puts you at ease instantly. There’s a cement bar counter top, an array of candles and easygoing jazz music flowing softly through the speakers.

Once inside a Japanese concept hidden bar, you’re usually treated to fantastic whiskies and wines, with skilled bartenders remaking classic cocktails with surgical care and precision. It’s all here at Nocturne. We’re immediately wowed by the comprehensive whisky list that features more than 50 selections – more than a lot of hotels in town – and there’s also a fine range of Japanese and Scottish ales to choose from. You can also journey upstairs to the humidity and temperature-controlled wine cellar to browse the vintages. We’re taken aback by the prices. Some top bottles of champers go for just $740, which is almost unheard of when it comes to bubbly in Central. Even more surprising is the added discount on all bottles if you’re buying to take home.

We insist on trying the whiskies, though, only because we have our eye on the 18-year-old Bowmore from Islay, Scotland ($150) – hard to come by in Hong Kong. We take it straight and it’s served expertly with a small glass of water to smooth out the sting. We’re told that, if we’d had it on the rocks, the ice-ball is actually hand-carved by a staff member from Kyushu. The Bowmore is smoky, smooth and pairs well with a platter of cured ham ($120).

The signature cocktail at Nocturne is actually an old fashioned, using a choice of Japanese whiskies ($125). We go for the 12-year-old Yamazaki, and it gets a star. Though light on the palate, the citrus and sugar play to the strength of the spirit and leave a lingering aroma of malt.

It’s definitely all about the chill factor and the quality drinks at Nocturne, shown by the salarymen in smart suits who enjoy quiet tipples here. We’re already fans – and we love the whole Japanese hidden bar-inspired concept. But we kinda didn’t want to write this review. Now everyone’s going to know about it… Lisa Cam

Nocturne 35 Peel St, Central, 2884 9566.

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