I can certainly be a sucker for cocktails that play dress-up, but I’ve come to accept that a drink’s promise is not dictated by its packaging. But I can’t help but be seduced by the gold-dusted and feather-adorned cocktails at Antique by Taste Buds, the relocated and reimagined Taste Buds concept from esteemed Shanghai bartender Daniel An, whose drinks are known to ravish both the eyes and the palate. Yet ripping off those wrappings can be hit or miss, and pricey AF.
Upon arrival, weave your way through the first floor antique shop to get to the speakeasy on the second, a cocktail loft brimming with period pieces that revive a 1920s social parlour for Shanghai’s gangsters and glamorous ladies, and a collection of forgotten classics and timeless flavours made new by An. The stiff Tyrant, for instance, offers brilliant peat-smoked sips of Laphroig and Chivas with dashes of elderflower liquor and bitter-sweet amaro.
For drinks with a bit of haipai style, The Tail’s champagne glass of cardamom and clove-infused Jameson with lime, black cherry marmalade and Angostura bitters, though more sour than expected, is the way to bring out your inner flapper girl, black feather included. The Mix Berry is like a deceptive, glittering film noir vixen: it looks sweet, but one taste unveils a tart that ensnares you with its sour, bitter gaze of Aperol, raspberry, peach liquer, lime and egg white. Again, more sour than anticipated, but sultry.
A pattern starts to appear: abundant sourness. Nearly every drink has heavy-handed pours of fresh citrus, and picks that seem safe turn out to be otherwise. The newspaper-wrapped Tale of Mulata, for example, promises a version of the classic cocktail with inspiration from spicy chocolate cake: pours of chilli and Sichuan peppercorn-infused rum, dark chocolate syrup and chocolate bitters turn out to be underling to a profusion of lime juice – a novice drinker would struggle to even identify their presence. The same goes for the Tom Yum, a frozen orb in a coconut shell – the mix falls victim to a lime overdose that wipes out the coconut. Plus, its spiciness is Chinese, not Thai, and the ingredients don’t stay evenly blended as they freeze.
I’m about to float away on an acidic river of citrus when YE lets down an alkaline anchor with its sophisticated, mellow herbal mix of sherry, sloe gin, Fernet Branca and apricot brandy that’s straight-up classy and sessionable. ikewise, Complicated Smoky is… well, quite smoky, a tipple of whisky, almond syrup, Fernet Branca, egg white and a thankfully small douse of lemon juice. Basically, anything with Fernet Branca – An’s favourite liquor – seems to be a sure bet.
I love the sentiment behind Antique, but not everything pans out. The ambience makes it feel reserved for a certain audience or mood – being nearly too dark to read the menu and somehow eerily hushed despite the steady stream of muffled swing tunes, it’s quite intimate.That said, it’s a unique setting for a drink, and a great hideaway to bring history buffs, antique hunters and out-of-town guests who’d relish a little peek into bygone Shanghai. While I can’t quite say that any cocktail you choose will be a winner, you’re guaranteed to leave with a reel of gorgeous Instagram shots, and An’s attentive staff will treat you right as you lounge on a velvet fainting couch.