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Portraits: Dario Knox

July 27, 2016

By Jovita Ang

 

Intro

 

Upon entering the highly anticipated new establishment from the FOC group, The Other Room, one is greeted not just by the bar’s sophisticated interior, but more so by award-winning bartender Dario Knox’s larger than life personality.

 

Born Dario Nocentini, who at the young age of 17, started bartending in several bars merely as a means to cover his school fees. Little did he know, he would soon go on to carve a stellar career crowned by a series of high-profile wins at prestigious cocktail competitions. Over a decade in, Dario Knox now sees as the master bartender to the latest refreshing bar addition in Singapore: The Other Room.

 

He greets with an infectious energy and is constantly on the move, making sure to attend to every guest as much as possible, each time carefully explaining the concept of this place and understanding your preference before shaking up a drink to your liking. The bar is kept small (seats a maximum of 30) as it’s important to Dario that he attends to his guests personally.

 

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“The Other Room offers a very different concept. So I want to make sure that my customers really understand what my idea is all about, to really understand the essence and what we’re doing over here,” revealed Dario. “I can’t interact with them if it is a fast-paced and high-pressured environment.”

 

Drawing inspiration from the Prohibition Period, where spirit-makers hid behind closed doors to formulate new concoctions, The Other Room is conveniently located within Singapore Marriot Tang Plaza and offers a refreshing experience unlike any other. For a start, the bar offers an impressive 150 spirits that have all been matured, blended and aged to nurture an extensive array of finishings and taste profiles.

 

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“I had this idea to create my own spirits about a year ago and started working on them then. All spirits you get here are unique to The Other Room, you can’t get them anywhere else,” shared Dario.

Even reading the menu is quite an experience. You’re spoilt with over 3o cocktail choices, all specifically crafted by Dario and each a tribute to a classic from a bygone era classification: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-Prohibition, The Other Classics, Aged, Solera System and Barrel Aged. Worry not if you’re unfamiliar with the above mentioned as the menu does a fine job in explaining these classifications.

 

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We spent an evening with award-winning bartender Dario Knox over his signature cocktails (and him with a glass of warm water), as he shared his bartending journey and what this latest venture seeks to offer.

 

1. Share with us a little bit about yourself. (Eg. where you came from, how did you get started with bartending, bartending experience etc.)

 

I first developed a passion for bartending from the other side of the bar as a customer – it always starts like that. *smiles* What I didn’t know was that this passion would turn into a beautiful career, bringing me around the world and to the sunny shores of Singapore. While pursuing my degree in translation at the University of Pisa, I took on various jobs and upon graduation, I moved to Barcelona where I held two jobs – one as an interpreter/translator and another as a bartender.

I made a decision to focus solely on bartending and joined W Hotel Barcelona in 2010. It was there where people started calling me “Knox” so I’ve adopted the name. I managed to enter the Spanish National Finals in the World Class Cocktail Competition in Madrid and was really happy to have won the top spot at the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition in Spain in 2011. All these happened before I flew off to Puerto Rico to represent Spain in the World Finals in February 2012. My passion in cocktails has brought me a lot of results I must say, for instance, with getting the highest score in acclaimed competitions such as the Sidecar by Merlet Cognac Cocktail Competition, and representing Spain at the World Finals in Cognac. In that same year, I was also crowned at The Bulldog Shake Attack Cocktail Competition. After these exposures, I was invited to Singapore to open one of the first craft cocktail programs in 2012 as Beverage Director and Bar Manager. In 2014, I joined FOC on Hong Kong Street as Bar Manager and person-in-charge of the restaurant.

 

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2. What do you think of the bartending scene in Singapore?

 

The scene has improved tremendously from when I first arrived over 4 years ago. When I landed in Singapore, there was barely a cocktail scene; some of the currently well-known venues had just opened their doors. From independent cocktail bars, some of which are opened by bartenders themselves, to places like Marina Bay Sands, they have all made an impact in the food and drinks industry; there has also been a lot of recognition of foreign cultures in bartending, from Japanese to Italian and the Caribbean. A lot of friends and fellow colleagues whom I have met at the World Finals for prestigious international cocktail competitions are all part of the growth of the Singapore scene. Singapore is also a hub for many travellers, which has given a reason for people to set up more cocktail bars to cater to the different styles. With The Other Room being set in a central location and in a hotel, we see many sophisticated local enthusiasts as well as the walk-in hotel guests from all over the world.

 

3. What does The Other Room aim to offer?

 

The Other Room draws inspiration from the darkness of the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), where hiding behind closed doors to formulate new concoctions was the norm. We have over 150 spirits cask finished, aged, infused, macerated, percolated, spice finished with roots, barks, leaves, teas, flowers, fruits, citrus, spices and so on. I would like to nurture an exhaustive array of finishings and taste profiles – over 300 recipes which I’ll be rotating to bring them to The Other Room! This bar has a very special ambience and design. Materials are all meticulously selected in Europe, then fashioned by the skilled hands of artisans. Unexpected details, touches of refreshing colors on the tables and custom-made objects all aim to provide wonderment and steer away from the traditional cocktail bar interior.

 

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4. Does using tea dusts, tea leaves etc, affect the taste of the cocktail?

 

Yes it certainly does. Gryphon Tea Company has some of the best teas I have been working with since I have come to Singapore and the quality of the products speak by itself!

 

5. I’ve read that all spirits offered at The Other Room are made in house. What made you decide to develop your own range of flavours and where do you gather your inspiration?

 

I draw my inspiration from the Prohibition Era (1920-1933). It took me 11 months to develop these 150 spirits, all finished in different ways and made in house: from cask finishings to the infusion of various ingredients like spices, herbs, roots and bark. I would like to nurture an exhaustive array of finishings and taste profiles, I have over 300 recipes which I’ll be rotating to bring them to The Other Room!

 

6. The tea cocktail trend has been around for some time, and Vogue recently named it one of the ”unexpected trends to try now”. What do you think of this trend and what role do you think tea plays in cocktail making?

 

It’s great that Vogue pointed it out. But honestly there’s nothing unexpected about it. Teas and leaves are some of the most important ingredients since several centuries back when it comes to creating great drinks! Tea has been in alcoholic drinks for a long time – even before cocktails! Tea was the base of the punch. And since then, tea liqueurs and infusions have been used. I believe the reason why tea is such a trend now is because of the worldwide appreciation for tea, it is no longer just limited to England. It gives people more options to flavours that they are already familiar with, comfort flavors that connect them to profile memories.

 

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7. How does the quality of tea affect the cocktails?

 

It affects everything, from the taste profile and the bitterness to the smoothness, to the structure, to the finishing. It’s a key ingredient.

 

8. What is one common mistake when it comes to making a tea-infused cocktail?

 

One common mistake would be not knowing how to exactly respect the teas and their maceration timings. Teas and leaves used in the major selections out there must be studied and treated with respect. Some extra seconds for an infusion and you’re left with an over extraction of unwanted flavours like bitterness. Every leaf must be treated differently.

 

9. How do you achieve a well-balanced tea cocktail?

 

The key lies in understanding each and every ingredient you use before mixing them.

 

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10. What is your approach when it comes to making drinks?

 

I use cask finishings to create different dimensions to spirits that you are already familiar and comfortable with. I always try to enhance the flavour notes of a spirit; if I can’t add value to it, I won’t do it.

 

11. Have you had any bartending disasters?

 

I believe that the ones having disasters are the ones who don’t respect this craft.

 

12. What’s a TGIF drink for you like?

 

It’s not about the day of the week for me. It’s always about the mood. But I can say that one of my favourite drinks is a nicely done Manzanilla Sherry Cardinale with Chamomile finished Gin. Dry and bitter as I love it!

 

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Royal Southside. A refreshing and tangy cocktail, very smooth on the throat. 

 

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Old Cuban. A delightful sweet and sour cocktail with pleasant bitter mid notes and a smooth finish. 

The Other Room also offers some superb tea infused cocktails and if you’re unsure what you’d like for the night, leave it to Dario to shake one up for you. He never disappoints. I requested for a tea infused cocktail and soon after he presented the ‘Scotch & Tea’, a unique cocktail of whiskey, matcha tea, bay leaves, mint, lemon and celery. You get that hint of matcha on first note then the warming harmonious notes of mint, lemon and celery at the end. Overall a great balance of umami and earthy ingredients. 

 

13. If you could choose one tea variant from Gryphon Tea to make a summer tea cocktail, which will it be and why? 

 

The Peony Blossom under the Flower Art collection. Not only does it remind me of one of the full blossoms in summer with its elegant flavour, the opening of the flower in the drink also makes it extremely visually attractive. Having a cocktail is a full-on experience – from the olfactory to the visual, everything should be awe-inspiring; so the Peony Blossom would be perfect.

 

14. What recipe will you recommend for anyone looking to make an easy summer tea cocktail at home?

 

A beautiful and easy punch will do. Divided into 4 parts: Sweet agent, sour agent, base spirit and tea. Combinations depend on flavour preferences. With this 4 ingredients rule you can create beautiful combos.

 

15. If you could go to anywhere in the world for a meal right now, where and what would it be?

 

At Javier’s place, one of the greatest persons I have met in my life and very lucky to call him a close friend. In the heart of La Pampa, Argentina. It’s never about what you eat or what you drink on its own. It’s always about the happiness of sharing it.

 

16. Complete this sentence, “It makes me the happiest when…”

 

I see my customers smile.

 

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Though less than a month into its opening, The Other Room already sees a list of media and individuals who are eager to get a spot to this latest chic establishment. And master bartender Dario has already been receiving requests from individuals who are keen to bring his latest concept into other parts of the world.

“With the official opening of The Other Room, I’ve been getting a lot busier but I was already prepared for this,” Dario smiles.

 

Whether TGIF or not, there’s always a reason for a good drink. I’d suggest that you make a trip down quick because this jewel of a place won’t stay a secret for long.

 

Address
Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel
320 Singapore 238865

Operating Hours:
Tues to Sat, 6pm till late (operation hours subject to change)

 

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