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January 14, 2010

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El Coctel perfects cocktails

PAIR exacting Japanese bar culture with vintage pre-Prohibition drink recipes, throw in a healthy bunch of the freshest produce and finish with a dash of Spanish style and you have a heady mix at Shanghai's newest cocktail bar - El Coctel.

Having established the city's landmark tapas restaurant, Spanish chef Guillermo "Willy" Trullas Moreno of El Willy has moved into cocktails, setting up a sleek, sophisticated lounge bar on Yongfu Road.

Since it opened three weeks ago, the bar has attracted a solid loyal following from the restaurant's devotees and also from the upwardly mobiles from the surrounding area.

Located on the second floor of a newly renovated building, the entrance to the dimly lit bar is a wall-to-ceiling installation of cocktail shakers.

The room then opens out to a moody sunken bar, and another sunken lounge area with plush leather couches and small intimate tables.

El Coctel's general manager, Marty Campaign, says the bar aims to be produce-driven and drinks are made with fervent attention to detail.

The bar stocks three types of ice, including hand cut ice from bricks of ice made on-site.

This is a bar that takes what comes in a glass very seriously.

"We want our drinks to be as good on their first sip as they are on the last," says Campaign.

Campaign was previously the manager at Glamour Bar and he has assembled a team behind the bar that includes Japanese bartender Munenori Harada, who previously plied his trade in Tokyo's vibrant bar scene, and Tree Mao, who was at Laris.

An enthusiast of cocktail history, Campaign is bringing his research into pre-Prohibition drink culture to El Coctel.

There has been a worldwide resurgence in interest in this lost era of bartending.

It boils down to a focus on the basic foundations of a well-made cocktail.

Namely the freshest ingredients, the correct temperature to serve the drink and the right ratio and balance of the various elements and flavors that make up the cocktail.

In a quirk of history, while this culture of bartending was stunted in America during Prohibition, it flourished in Japan.

The art of cocktail-making had come to Japan in the 1890s and post-war Japan set out to perfect these original techniques.

Now Tokyo is widely considered to be the cocktail-making capital of the world, with a variety of bartending masters perfecting their art for decades and passing on recipes and techniques to students.

"Bartending has taken on some of the approach that a sushi chef would take, where there is a focus on the best, premium ingredients and then the craft takes over," Campaign says.

Campaign spent a summer hiatus seeking inspiration for El Coctel's drink list in the bars of Tokyo.

The menu is broken down into five different categories of drinks, moving from "Fizzes, Sours, Silvers, and Sidecars through to Digestifs to finish."

Most of the drinks are 68 yuan (US$9.96).

The list is designed to go from pre-dinner to post-dinner drink choices.

Campaign says each of the sections will change with the seasons to showcase the best produce.

The bar also produces a range of bar snacks and light meals, including wonderful buttery toasted sandwiches and Spanish hams and other cured meats and white anchovies.

The bar accomplishes what many of Shanghai's other premium watering holes struggle to achieve - a sophisticated, stylish atmosphere that is still laid back and unpretentious.

In keeping with its aim of being a small and intimate, patrons in the bar are limited to 90 available seats.

With no standing room, there can be a wait for a table on busy weekends and guests are encouraged to make reservations before 10pm. There is no minimum spend or table charge.

Address: 2/F, 47 Yongfu Rd (near Fuxing Rd; On the far right of the building is an unmarked glass door leading to a staircase that leads to the bar.)

Reservations: 6433-6511


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