Add: 579 Middle Fuxing Road, near Second Ruijin Road / 复兴中路579号，近瑞金二路
Tel: 6416 0133
Price: [2nd floor] 70-90 RMB/cocktail [3rd floor] 110-220 RMB/cocktail
Visited: Oct 2015
There is a quiet little shop on Middle Fuxing Road called “Ocho” selling a neat range of bar tools, many of which curated from Japan by one of the Japanese shop owners. It’s sleek enough to make bartenders drool, but I suppose this doesn’t really concern the rest of us who don’t make cocktails for a living?
But not so quick. You see, there is something curious about this mannequin pointing its finger to the book shelf on the left…
…and if you manage to see the point and slide that bookshelf open, the passage hidden behind will lead you to Speak Low, the speakeasy bar by Shingo Gokan. This Japanese bartender has garnered international fame by winning the Bacardi Global Legacy Cocktail Competition in 2012, and now splits his time between Shanghai and New York, where he runs the popular bar Angel’s Share.
Going up, the second floor is a New York style bar featuring classic drinks and classic twists priced at 70-90 RMB. Tables, bar seats, standing room, very casual. By the way, there is a no-smoking policy at Speak Low, which is a rare case in Shanghai much appreciated by non-smokers like myself.
Up on the third floor is a more intimate space featuring Japanese-inspired cocktails at a higher price range of 110-220 RMB. There is no standing room in this space, just 6 seats at the bar and a few low tables. Good jazz in the air, always a plus.
Unbeknownst to many guests, there is actually a 4th floor at Speak Low, and this room marked as “storage” is actually a private space for members. I took a sneak peek inside and saw some leather couches, a piano, and some very, very exclusive whisky bottles. Quite tempted to post a photo here, but I suppose I should let the private be private. As for how to become a member…I heard it’s by invitation only.
Back to the third floor, which is my favorite part of Speak Low for the intimate space, the music, and head bartender Atsushi Suzuki, who has worked in Tokyo, New York, London, and Toronto before moving to Shanghai. There is an elegance and precision with the way he works, and I have yet to be disappointed by any cocktails he’s proposed – so far it’s been “like it” and “love it” and “oh my god give me another one”.
The first cocktail I tried at Speak Low is Lady Bird (110 RMB), composed of shiso-infused tequila, ume coulis, lemon , plum salt. I’ve always loved shiso in cuisine and have even incorporated it in pastry recipes, but it was my first time having a shiso cocktail…and it was love at first sip. The unique fragrance of shiso combined with sweet sour notes from plum and lemon…perfect.
Speak Low (120 RMB), composed of Bacardi Superior, Bacardi 8, Pedro Ximenez sherry, matcha, and kinako, is the cocktail that won Shingo Gokan his champion title of the Bacardi competition. As he used to study Japanese tea ceremony, he took the idea and combined that with sherry to make this signature drink, served in a glass dusted with kinako (soy bean powder) and kuromitsu (Japanese black honey), accompanied by two thin slices of chocolates.
Spirited Away (? RMB) is a creation by Atsushi that’s not on the menu, composed of G’vine gin, vermouth blanc, yuzu, black pepper, and wasabi. I was unsure whether I would like this since I’m not a fan of the pungency of wasabi…but well, why not give it a try. I had a few sips without wasabi then stirred in the spoonful, and to my surprise, it wasn’t pungent at all. Instead, it incorporated wonderfully with the rest of the drink, rendering the flavor round and complex. What?! Give me another one.
Snapped a photo of this Pumpkin Nog (120 RMB) ordered by another client, composed of Yamazaki, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), milk, shoju, mirin, and cinnamon. No more tolerance that evening to try this but I’m definitely coming back for it.
Yet another drink from someone else: Green Dolphin St (120 RMB), brown butter-infused Bacardi 8, banana, milk, cold brew coffee, brown sugar, se salt, black pepper, parsley. Why yes that surely is a dolphin perching on the cup rim.
And as if all that wasn’t already cool enough, they brand their ice cubes with the “Speak Low” logo.
Just about everything on the menu at Speak Low looks interesting. There’s the Serenity Royal with lychee-cello, ruby red grapefruit, raspberry sorbet, champagne, the Sweet Lorraine with Absolute Elyx, tomato water, lemon, green tomato confiture, tomato confit, basil, Okinawa sea salt, and the French Concession with chestnut-infused Armagnac, marron glacé, creme de cassis, cigar smoke…now if that’s not a dessert in itself, I don’t know what is. Please, someone stop me from coming here every week.