All Mixed Up: Simone Rossi, Director of Bars at Rosewood Hong Kong
May 03, 2023
As Italian Week Hong Kong 2023 approaches later this month, we're shining a spotlight on the city's most incredible Italian F&B talent! Our continent loves a good drink, and to cool off from our temperate weather and hot food, you can find us huddled in an air-conditioned bar, sipping on something cool, sexy, and clean. In anticipation of this fantastic celebration of Italian culture, All Mixed Up explores the stories behind Asia's famed mixologists, bartenders, and cupbearers and discovers what makes them tick
Simone Rossi is no ordinary bartender. Born and raised in Tuscany, Italy, he comes from a boisterous family with a love for gathering around food. He found his calling in bartending, where he could exercise his creativity spirits and ice.
After studying the principles of classic cocktails and tiki styles in London, he joined Aqua Bar in Hong Kong as a bar manager, where he quickly progressed from bar supervisor to assistant bar manager. In 2015, he was crowned champion of the Disaronno Mixing Star international competition, and in 2018, he earned the prestigious World Class Country Winner title for Hong Kong and Macau in the Berlin competition.
Today, Simone is the Director of Bars at Rosewood Hong Kong and Beverage Manager of the DarkSide, where he oversees the creation of the most elegant and experimental cocktails. The Italiano joined The Beat Asia for a catch-up on his journey thus far, curating libations for the leading hotel chain.
Simone, thanks for coming over to chat. What first inspired you to enter a career mixing drinks?
My family does not come from an F&B background, the opposite. My mom is a nurse in a hospital, and my father works on motorbikes, while part of my family is in the coffee business. At 14 years old, I began as a student at a tourism and restaurant services school, studying for two-year-operations for bars, receptions, front desks, and kitchens.
In between internships, and at the age of 16, my friends and I became interested in flair bartending, throwing bottles around in the park [to] music. That’s where I understood my direction.
I guess your love for flair bartending and drive to work in bars brought you to London to work.
Yes. Studying in Tuscany, wine country in Italy, we had the chance to explore many places around our countryside and appreciate the practical side of bar work in hotels and restaurants. I looked at London because I wanted to learn English and explore one of the most dynamic cities for F&B.
I began working at Veranda Bar in Brixton, London, working Fridays and Saturdays with low pay, soon working Tuesdays after a few months. I spent the first few months doing part-time work, because nobody could give me work as a full-time bartender.
I eventually found work at Quo Vadis, an exclusive London private members club, as a barback, then bartender, working under the mentorship of Luca Missagila. He was the man who gave me a chance and taught me the ABCs of hospitality, the same principles I use today.
With your bartending work at Quo Vadis and studying English, was your move to Aqua London a raise in profile and seniority?
Exactly, yes. At 23, I wanted to get a fresh start and elevate my career. I moved to Aqua London in Oxford Circus, the centre of London, to work as a bar supervisor. It was a completely different place than the private members club: high volume, three venues under one roof, and a bar with two roof terraces.
With the high-volume capacity of the bar, I felt motivated to learn a different side of the business, to challenge myself in a completely different environment. After two years, I was promoted as assistant bar manager.
Seeking another opportunity for change after two years with Aqua London, I was offered a transfer to Hong Kong as bar manager of Aqua Hong Kong.
How did your role at Aqua Hong Kong shape your career?
It allowed me to grow. Having never been to Asia once before and [never to] Hong Kong, I was excited to take the plunge. Worst comes to worst, I spend six months to a year [here], and I return to London. That never happened [laughs].
What were the differences in operations between Quo Vadis and Aqua London, and Aqua Hong Kong and Rosewood’s outlets?
Hong Kong is faster than London, it’s dynamic and structure, everything is so condensed and so fast. The main difference is volume. In London, you must be well trained on the religious, cultural, and social preferences of the city’s big Caribbean-Afro, Indian, and Middle Eastern community.
What brought you from one side of Tsim Sha Tsui to the other with the opening of Rosewood Hong Kong? What was the idea of working on a new project with a fresh team the main attraction?
To be honest, after four years in Aqua, I was ready for a change. The former bar development manager at Zuma, Arkadiusz Ryabak, joined as Director of Bars at Rosewood in 2018 and Giancarlo Mancino, beverage consultant for Rosewood Hotel Group (openings), approached me with a job to join the hotel and open DarkSide.
At first, I thought it was an exciting challenge, having never worked in a hotel before. It was a step back in position to work as an assistant bar manager, but it was really one step backwards, two steps forwards.
I joined in November 2018, six months before the hotel opened, setting up the DarkSide to frame the beverage concept, and developing the 10 outlets across Rosewood.
Previously, Tsim Sha Tsui lacked competition with Hong Kong Island for bars that would bring people to the Kowloon-side. How did you create DarkSide to attract both tourists and Hong Kongers to travel to the Rosewood bar?
Living under the Rosewood house allows us to stand out more in the beautiful hotel environment. We focus on the basics and ensure that we provide a strong identity to what we do: great, simple, and strong classic cocktails.
Is it a struggle to balance work with DarkSide and the other outlets at the Rosewood Hotel?
Once you step into this kind of environment with such a huge operation, you need to delegate. You need to make people trust you and use that freedom, which is what we have at the Rosewood. Our company is dynamic and allows us to work freely.
How are you taking Rosewood and DarkSide to new heights this year?
We are thankful that our bar has been constantly busy every day for years. Our promise this year is to ensure that we still deliver consistently something unique for our guests and that we are keeping evolving as a team and what we are offering to stay competitive within the market!
We want to bring more bartenders from across the world to Hong Kong to collaborate with us, we will develop a new cocktail menu towards the end of the year, and continue to deliver unique things to our guests.
And finally, what advice would you give someone who wants to become a bartender?
Really know that you want to enter this career path, rather than just for making a living. Don’t choose a bar to work at, because it’s recognised as a ‘50 Best Bar’, gives you Instagram exposure, or gets you into media. Choose a bar because you want to work with a mentor for inspiration.
Bars and companies are just hardware. You need to know how to develop your software. How can I upgrade myself with the people within a company? I either find it myself or elsewhere. Make sure you find the place where you can upgrade. If you cannot and feel that you got your income in terms of knowledge, go and find another place to keep upgrading yourself and moving.
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