Every so often one feels like raising a toast that acknowledges the place you’re calling home for now. Whether it’s to welcome a visiting friend or relative, let off some steam with colleagues or just revel in the amazing flavours of Vietnam. The AsiaLIFE team has your back on this one. We’ve hunted down some of the best Vietnamese-themed cocktails in the city. So cheers one and all! Photos by Romain Garrigue.
The Mekong Delta – VND179,000
The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen
The Mekong Delta pays homage to the after-school snack Tan Pham’s mother used to give him in his home town of Ben Tre: dried banana.
Tan infuses bourbon whiskey with smoky sun-dried Ben Tre bananas for 10 to 15 days for this cocktail. To the infused bourbon he adds banana syrup, fresh lime juice, one drop of ginger bitters and egg white foam, all served in a half-coconut.
The presentation of the cocktail, based on the classic whiskey sour, is a tribute to the Mekong Delta, too. Ben Tre is famous for its coconuts, hence the choice of serving vessel. The coconut cup sits on a woven bamboo basket, the type used to house fresh-off-the-cooker claypots in homes throughout the delta.
Between the bamboo basket and the coconut cup is a folded khan rang, the versatile checked cloth used as a headscarf by Mekong Delta farmers.
The final touch is a jazzy paper straw. “It doesn’t match anything else,” said Tan. “It represents the bartender’s character, talkative and colourful, to help the customer enjoy the moment.”
The Mekong Delta is one of four Vietnamese-themed cocktails in the signature cocktails section of this cute little speakeasy’s menu. There are also several monthly specials, all with uniquely local twists, such a bittermelon essence to replace the “industrial bitterness” of Campari.
63/1 Pasteur, District 1
Open Monday-Saturday from 5pm
Tra da – VND150,000
“The most expensive tra da in Vietnam” is how chef Peter Cuong Franklin describes his alcoholic take on the traditional Vietnamese iced tea.
Anan’s black tea tra da is a refreshing and very tea-tasting mix of tea-infused gin from Dalat, honey, lime and soda. It’s a great sunset-watching drink, and Anan’s cosy rooftop bar is a great spot to watch day fade into night.
Staying true to Anan’s theme of blending the authentic with something new, the tra da is served in an old-fashioned tumbler with a simple slice of lime as a garnish. It’s an old school look for a cocktail with an interesting range of flavours, the most unsubtle of which is the tannin from the black tea.
There’s also a touch of sweetness from the honey and a slight tartness from the gin and the lime, lightened by the fizz of the soda.
“We’ve kept the spirit of tra da, which is very refreshing,” Peter said. “But now it’s a cocktail. It reflects our philosophy, the way we do all our food and drinks.”
For those who like to sip late into the night, Anan has a short but delightful menu of Vietnamese-themed cocktails, including the phojito with sticky rice wine, lime and pho herbs, and the Cho Cu Mai Tai, with gold rum, Malibu, cucumber, pineapple, lime and sesame oil.
There’s also a couple of fresh beers, locally-made rhum and some ruou nep (sticky rice wine) and a range of “modern” Vietnamese bar snacks, including five-spice pigeon (not for the faint-hearted as it’s served with the head and feet), nem nuong pork skewers and chicken nuggets with an out-of-this-world ginger-soy dipping sauce.
89 Ton That Dam, District 1
Open from 5pm Tuesday-Sunday.
The 150/7 Nguyen Trai – VND180,000
The Gin House
The 150/7 Nguyen Trai cocktail is Vietnamese in so many ways.
There’s the iconic Vietnamese flavours of lemongrass, lime leaf and cardamom, as well as the name itself. Because 150/7 Nguyen Trai is the “other” address for The Gin House, which is hidden down a little hem off Ton That Tung Street. Presumably the alley also opens onto Nguyen Trai Street, but once you’ve found this cute little speakeasy, there’s no need to wander off exploring alleys.
The full list of ingredients goes like this: lemongrass and cardamom-infused gin, peach puree, homemade lemongrass, caramel and cardamom syrup, lime leaf and soda. The drink is light, refreshing, with strong “spiced” notes of cardamom.
“In Vietnam we like to use spice, in food and in drinks,” said Gin House mixologist Nguyen Thanh Trung. “ In this cocktail we combine lemongrass, kaffir lime and cardamom, which makes the drink more `risky’.”
The Gin House prepares its own gin infusions, and there are more than 20 flavours behind the bar, including lavender and butterfly pea, seaweed and nutmeg, and green tea and pomegranate. The infused gins can be ordered as a gin and tonic, or something a bit wilder, like a gin and ginger beer.
The full cocktail menu is divided into sections: sweet and sour; creamy; bitter and dry; herbal and spicy; and sling and fizz. There’s a bit of something for everyone.
28/3A Ton That Tung, District 1
Open daily, from 5pm.
Le Thanh Ton Sling – 1,490,000+
The Le Thanh Ton Sling is one of five “flowing bowls” on Qui’s cocktail menu. These flowing bowls are designed to be shared, just like a Vietnamese meal.
Qui’s assistant bar manager, Tran Quang Minh, says the sharing bowls are very popular with selfie-loving Vietnamese ladies, who regard the dainty floral teacups as “sexy”.
The Le Thanh Ton Sling, named for the street in which Qui overlooks, is a Vietnamese version of a gin sling, a traditional cocktail with gin, lime and soda.
This sling, however, is prepared in a punch bowl, with gin, dry vermouth, maraschino lemon, cherry blossom tonic and soursop cordial.
The swimming pool-sized cocktail is decorated with an orchid, nasturtium petals, lime leaves, raspberries and slices of dried lime, and served with a silver ladle.
“Vietnamese people like something sweet, sour and refreshing,” Minh said.
The Le Thanh Ton Sling is all that and more. It’s also fun, possibly because it feels a little bit naughty to be sipping something alcoholic out of one of nanna’s teacups!
Qui captures that dimly-lit cocktail bar vibe, with its marble-topped tables and leather bar stools. There’s a selection of cigars available, and some tasty small plates that go well with some after-work cocktail quaffing.
22 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
Ba Son Shipyard – VND230,000
Served in a model 18th Century sailing ship, the Ba Son Shipyard pays homage to Vietnam’s maritime heritage and the country’s historic importance in the spice trade route.
Back in the day, cloves were worth more than their weight in gold, and a ship owner could become a billionaire if his captain could successfully navigated the treacherous waters, and the pirates, between Asia and Europe. Cloves sold in Europe for 60,000 times more than their wholesale price in Southeast Asia, according to Shri manager Richie Fawcett.
The Ba Son is a delicious blend of gold rum, ginger beer, fresh lime juice, fresh ginger juice, clove syrup, and coconut foam flamed into a meringue-like crust just before serving. It’s garnished with a ginger wedge studded with five cloves.
Once offloaded from its impressive galleon, the Ba Son, in its copper captain’s mug, is a refreshing gingery fizzy burst of alcoholic goodness with a creamy coconut topping. It’s not too creamy, not too strong, and not too sweet. Like Baby Bear’s bed, it’s just right.
The shipyard for which the cocktail is named has, sadly been demolished to make way for yet another high rise apartment complex.
But don’t worry, there are many other Ho Chi Minh City sites that still exist that are honoured by a cocktail at Shri. The cocktail menu contains 41 Ho Chi Minh-themed drinks, including the Ly Tu Trong and the People’s Committee Building.
If you haven’t got time to drink them all, buy a copy of The Cocktail Art of Saigon Drink Manual, illustrated by Richie, so you can whip yourself up a Vietnamese-themed cocktail at home.