The co-founder of Finding Daisy tells us about his favourite cocktail, opening a bar in 2021 and his hopes for the future.
Max has been a bartender for seven years. Prior to co-founding Finding Daisy with fellow bartender, Rai Amrit, he worked at Vivo and Zafran (both part of the Aqua Group and now closed), Foxglove, The Langham, Hong Kong, and with Black Sheep Restaurants.
He was in the Top 8 of the Chivas Masters competition in 2017, and was part of the winning teams for two awards: Foxglove for Best New Bar from the Best Bar Awards in 2016, and Buenos Aires Polo Club for Best Restaurant Cocktails awarded by Restaurant and Bar Hong Kong, 2018.
Bar Talk asks…
What’s the name of your favourite cocktail and why?
Southside. I like it because it’s easy-going and refreshing. It’s actually a very simple cocktail with only a few ingredients but it’s all about balance. A lot of bartenders think ‘oh, this is a very simple cocktail to make’ but they don’t get it right. So, I also enjoy making this because it’s a bit of a challenge.
Where did you first try it?
I first tried it when I was working at Foxglove and a guest ordered it. I’d never heard of it before, so I looked it up and made it for him and, of course, I tried it. I’ve loved it since then.
Where do you find inspiration for cocktails?
I read a lot of books. Most recently I’ve been reading the Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual: Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales [by the owners of renowned New York bar Dead Rabbit, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry], which has a lot of recipes and methods.
You opened Finding Daisy in May this year. How did that come about?
Rai and I worked together in The Langham for almost two years. After I left, we kept in touch and I shared my ideas of having my own bar. We talked about it a lot and one day we just decided to do it together. We started out with so many ideas, and after working on these for about a year we narrowed them down to the theatre-themed concept and settled on the name.
Was it a challenge to open during a pandemic?
There were pros and cons. On the positive side, we were able to negotiate a long-term contract with our landlord. Rents are really expensive in Hong Kong and that can prevent you from doing business. Short-term contracts are useless, so getting a longer lease gave us a boost. On the other hand, it took ages to get our liquor licence. Selecting all the equipment we’d need for behind the bar was a challenge – but opening a new bar is a challenge! It’s also a lot of fun.
Do you prefer being a boss rather than working for someone else?
There’s no difference, really. We are here every day working, doing all the prep and making sure the standards and quality are the same as if we were working anywhere else. We’re not going to be like, ‘we’re the boss now and we’re not going to work’. No! This is our passion and we’re going to work for it.
What do you like about being a bartender?
There are many things. But what really inspires me is meeting new people and seeing their reaction to the drinks I make. Everyone has different tastes so you always have to come up with something new. Playing around with different flavours and experimenting excites me.
Are there any important lessons you’ve learnt as a bartender?
Yes, to be humble. You know, we face lots of demanding situations, like dealing with difficult guests, for example. In this situation I’ve learnt to keep a poker face no matter how mad I feel. Always smile, always communicate – the main thing is communication – and never get angry. Because no matter how difficult a guest is, you can make them happy.
What current trends do you see in bartending?
In Hong Kong right now there are a lot of bartenders making clarified milk punch; you’ll see it in every single cocktail bar! Sustainability has also become more important. Penicillin was one of the first bars to focus on that here, and many bars have started to follow their lead.
We’re not 100 percent sustainable at Finding Daisy, but we try our best where we can. For example, instead of discarding lemon peel we use it to make oleo saccharum. We also make syrup from the pulp and juice the fruit – so we use the entire lemon, there’s no waste.
What do you do to on your day off?
We close the bar on Sundays and we – Rai, myself and our two staff – go out for drinks or dinner or do activities together. Last Sunday we went kayaking, yesterday we had hotpot at my house. We do team catch-ups, have fun and just relax.
Your hopes for the future?
I’ve always said I want to see my mum retire by the time she’s 50. She recently turned 48. She’s a single mum and has worked in F&B in Hong Kong for decades. My dream is for her to retire and for me to take care of her and make sure she’s happy. And to see Finding Daisy on the list of best bars in the world!
•25ml Fresh lemon juice
•15ml Simple syrup
•Method – Shaken
•Garnish – Fresh mint
•Glassware – Rocks