Wuding Lu is now complete. The last resident to move on to the strip that begins with Enoterra and ends with new cheapo Vietnamese café Pho Tastic has arrived. Lab is a handsome, spilt-level whisky bar that wears its space well. Unlike some of its neighbours, it feels lived in already. The designer is Christina Luk, from Luk Studio, a former project manager of revered Shanghai architects Neri & Hu.
The bar itself is a joint venture between an anonymous Taiwanese owner (the money), and former Malt Fun manager Chris Wang (the talent), who has a ready, easy charisma, thick-framed glasses and an endearing, you-can’t-be-serious laugh (in fact, all the service here radiates warmth and charm). Her top bartender is a new arrival from Taiwan, Allen Hsu Chin (pictured left), formerly of Taipei bar Whisky Gallery. He compiled the cocktail menu which naturally centres on bourbon and single malt bases, a dozen of his own drinks buttressed with some more familiar players for whisky moderates or anyone averse to strong, fuddling cocktails at the back.
Due to its simplicity, the old fashioned (78RMB) is always a safe test drink for a bartender (more so, naturally, at a whisky bar) and Chin’s, which uses Marker’s Mark, is only let down by poor, low-grade ice (weirdly, sphere-shaped ice is available but saved for straight pours of whisky – they might want to reconsider that).
Otherwise, it’s a surefooted pass and enough to inspire a detour from the obvious. A Path to Autumn (68RMB) – which probably sounds better in Chinese – is a nice idea but the Prucia plum liqueur and passion syrup cut straight though the character of the Suntory whisky. There’s a pleasing, short bitter finish from grapefruit bitters that would probably work better backed with the thud of a juniper-y gin instead of a whisky. A Bamboo Shadow (88RMB) does the opposite: neither fresh mint or Cacao liqueur does much to the Hakushu 12-year, which is left so exposed as to not amount to much more than a whisky-soda.
Beer drinkers, so often flipped the birdie at cocktail bars, are happily given more than a faint nod: a few suds from Brewdog such as Trashy Blonde (55RMB) and 5am Saint (60RMB) are available. The whisky list is extensive, of course, and Wang says that peaty, Islay scotches, such as the Ardberg ten-year (80RMB) are in with the kids in her native Taipei right now (expats from which are flocking here; tables are already hard to come by).
Chin’s hit, though, is his hot Red Blood
(68RMB), with Grand Marnier, gin, red wine, lemon juice and sugar, which has a satisfyingly boozy buck and warming complexity. Not too rich that you couldn’t have two. Which is a feat of sorts; who ever orders a second mulled wine?
By Alexander Barlow