David Ellis On the Sauce at Lucy Wong: Late-night haunt inspired by a Hong Kong hooker

A glow to tell secrets by: the main bar   (Press handout)
A glow to tell secrets by: the main bar (Press handout)

Lucy Wong’s backstory is not its own. It riffs on The World of Suzie Wong, a Fifties love story between a golden-hearted Hong Kong hooker and an expat Brit: she’s kept by other men and he fancies a nurse. Inevitably, er, they marry. When it opened, owner Eric Yu said the bar was a tribute to his mum which… I dunno. Is that sweet? Mother Ellis wouldn’t be too happy.

Still, Yu knows what he’s doing, having been at this game for 30-odd years. “He has a brilliant place called Opium,” I explained to a pal. “It’s tiny, up a million stairs, and pretty seedy.”

“Just like your flat, then,” she said. We drank in silence. Lucy Wong is not of this ilk. Instead, it is a Fitzrovia basement of marble, brass and polished wood. Chinoiserie is everywhere. The effect is elegance, though the size feels unwieldy — you wish it were divvied up into nooks and crannies: there is glowing lamplight to tell secrets by, but the echo is a worry.

Yu’s foil is Dré Masso, who spends his life circumnavigating the planet putting together cocktail lists (“You there, Australia! Try something new!” is the sort of thing I think he says). Here, the menu is thoughtfully laid out for inexperienced types — two pages patiently explain what goes into the likes of a margarita — but for adventurous sorts too.

The signatures are where to find the fun. There are easy riffs on the familiar, like a Dragon Old Fashioned, which trades in bourbon for Japanese whisky, and adds a splash of Baijiu coffee liqueur, and of 5 Spice bitters. The impact is faintly medicinal, which is not unwelcome — it’s always nice to imagine a bar is good for you. Sakura vermouth and goji berries both give a Cherry Blossom Manhattan a lift of sweetness and, fittingly, a floral touch.

The kowloon krush (Press handout)
The kowloon krush (Press handout)

The menu is more effective in some places than others: the Kowloon Krush (Baijiu, kumquat liqueur, falernum, kumquat) makes my pal’s eyes flash in alarm. “It tastes like the yellow bit in a fruit pastille lolly,” she says. Lollies are not something I’m personally scared of, but I took the point — “artificial” is hardly a tasting note to aspire to.

It would be cruel to say this bar’s best feature is its opening hours, but in a city that often feels like it’s shutting early, they serve until 3am on the weekends. Food is available late, too. I know because they mentioned it so often that I half expected to find our man waiting at my door when I got in (“Is sir sure he wouldn’t care for some dim sum?”). It’s a minor quibble. To really be a winner, what this bar actually needs is people. Go on, help ‘em out — where else would you be at three in the morning?

Cocktails from £13, 33-34 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JN, lucywong.co.uk