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The Bar Empire Damansara – authentic Japanese cocktail bar in KL/ PJ

It’s been a year since The Bar at Empire Damansara begun operations. Til today it has remained low key, catering to a select market of those who truly appreciate their drinks, and understands the finer points of making one.

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The individuals responsible for your authentic Japanese-style bar experience are 2 seasoned bartenders from Japan.
For nibbles, you’re in luck. From August to November, a master Yakitori chef is on-site to grill the most succulent skewers of chicken, liver and vegetables.

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The space is small, but stylishly furnished and comfortably zen.
The bar seats 8 while 4 additional personal space are separated by curtains of fringe. I’ve never been to a Tokyo bar, but tipple-loving friends had assured me that this place is as authentic as it can get, and could rightfully boast to be the only Japanese style bar in Malaysia. For once, our mighty neighbour Singapore couldn’t lay claim to have one.

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As a prelude to my session of understanding the basics of an excellent cocktail, Sam, the master bartender began by explaining the ice used in the drinks.
The Japanese compulsion for quality is very much in effect here. It takes 3 days to make the ice, our host had explained, and the water used are filtered before it is slowly frozen to avoid air bubbles.

While that already got me wide-eyed, Sam went on to explain that only the top 2 -3 inches of the ice formed are used. Besides purity of taste, the ice balls used are to be as pure and clear as possible.

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Depending on the cocktail/drink, the added ice essentially chills the drink. Similarly, the amount of stirring is dependent on the choice of cocktail/drink.
More often than not, the i
ce is thrown away once its purpose are met. 

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Sam’s fastidious for cleanliness could be observed throughout the hours of my visit. Glasses used are of special import quality, crystal whenever possible and sparklingly pristine.
Any glass to be used are assiduously wiped before a drop of drink touches it. His bar gets the same attention; only items required for the current order are on the counter, otherwise the bar remains clutter-free.

Before each drink is made, the bottles containing the liquor to be used are displayed at the work table. Observe if you wish, for every component that goes into your order are displayed in front of you.  

Comfortably settled down, we were recommended the “Bamboo” (RM38+) for a start.
This cocktail is of light to medium level strength, concocted with sherry and Vermouth.
We were engrossed with the graceful precision of which Sam executed the drink. The sure way he handled each component, the pouring style, the stirring and particularly the way Sam squeezed the lemon peel to extract just enough oil to coat the stem and mouth of the glass.

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The general lifespan of a cocktail is about 10 minutes; and thus we were advised to enjoy our drink within the said duration. However, it isn’t exactly a crime if you wish to take your time.
I sipped my Bamboo leisurely, for the wonderful zen atmosphere of The Bar seemed to have suspended time, and whiny clients became a distant memory.

The Bamboo cocktail was aptly named, and a fitting prelude to the night for its crisp, pure and light flavours.

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Our 2nd drink was the “Horse Neck” (RM43+).
This is a step up from the previous cocktail in terms of strength.
It was also one of my favourite that evening owing to its use of Bentong ginger which added warmth to a shot of Hennessy VSOP plus 2 shots of soda.
The ginger component was in essence form, personally prepared by Sam for its precise level of heat.
The end result was a invigorating cocktail with the heat from the ginger intermingling with the deep warm of the Hennessy. To lessen the sting of both components, the soda added a fizzy mouthfeel.

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Properly warm up, our host suggested a martini next.
This is as classic as it gets, and a visit to any self-respecting bar wouldn’t be complete before testing the bartender’s skills in executing the perfect martini, he intoned.

Martini (RM48 +) – Double gin, Vermont, stirred, not shaken.
We observed with rapt attention of the process that took place.

First both liquor are poured onto the ice. Watching Sam, we were reminded again that the amount of stirring depends on the cocktail. Stirring speeds up the melting of the ice which dilutes the drink. An experience bartender would know the right timing for the ice to be separated from the drink.
Once the drink is poured out, Sam gives it a spritz of lemon essence from afar.
The olive goes in right before the drink is served to the customer.

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The Martini is truly for the serious drinker. I personally find it strong for my taste.
My companions happily finished for me while I waited in anxious anticipation for my next drink; the house specialty of Mangosteen Sake (RM43+) .

Fresh mangosteen juice were squeezed out using a muslin cloth onto ice. A shot of sake was added and the stirring begins.
The cooled liquid is then poured into a glass and topped up with soda.

3 ingredients, so straightforward yet the execution and ratio of liquid is key, for the taste of sake, mangosteen and soda was all in balance.
The result?

A thoroughly enjoyable refreshing cocktail!

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To cap off the night Mr Rob Roy (RM43) was called for. This is alike a gin martini but made with scotch instead.

This was my first introduction to Rob and I found him strong, masculine and direct. Perhaps a bit too stiff for me at first sip.
I passed him along to my companions, who found his company enjoyable and thus he never returned.
It’s ok, I’ll meet him again soon, I consoled myself while holding on firmly to my Mangosteen Sake.

Rob Roy was formulated via the mix of sweet Vermouth, Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky and a dash of Angostura Bitters.

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The Bar offers many more signature cocktails created by Sam. The above 5 were just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m never much of a drinker but The Bar had certainly changed my perception of a bar. Quiet, distinguished and manned by veteran bartenders, this is where you’re assured of quality drinks, fine service and the ambience to match.
I’m keen to revisit if anyone here would like to come along!

Last but not least, we were in luck for during our visit a yakitori masterchef happened to be in town.
The skewers may look deceptively plain here, but rest assured that he grilled superior yakitori using simple seasonings and at the right temperature, allowing the true flavours of the ingredients to shine.
Breast meats were tasty and succulent while the skin were crisp and almost greaseless.
We were glad that we didn’t shun the vegetables and mushrooms, for they were soft, sweet and fresh.

He had returned to Japan, but there are still canapes available if you need some nibbles with your cocktails.

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Mon-Sun: 6:00 pm – 2:00 am
+6 0376110153

112, Empire Damansara, Heritage Lane, (same row as Harajuku Cube)
No.2, Jalan PJU 8/8A, Damansara Perdana,
47820 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia