Two amazing cocktails that shouldn’t be missed on a night out in Ho Chi Minh City
words: MATTHEW COWAN | photos: BAO ZOAN
2Lam Son is nudging 10 years old, quite a feat in a market where bars on average here have the lifespan of a hamster (2-3 years) — although apparently, with a bit of care and luck, hamsters can survive five years.
Admittedly, however, 2 Lam Son — Martini Bar as it’s more commonly known — has the luxury of being part of the five-star Park Hyatt Saigon. This means it’s less sensitive to the market than the privately-owned bars around town. Having said that, take nothing away from the place. There are plenty of hotel bars about the city that are as dead as Kevin Spacey’s career because they are staid and serve up pretty ordinary cocktails and service. Not at 2 Lam Son.
The Vietnamese Flower Tea (VND390,000) is worth dusting off the dinner jacket for with its heady vapours of Hennessy VSOP, three kinds of tea and a glob of honey and left to soak and infuse for 24 hours thereafter with a lotus flower.
This drink gives gentlemen another reason to come here other than to sneer at the city’s wealthy elite. It’s served warm, so the floral aromas of the cognac and tea (lotus, jasmine and artichoke) infusion shoot straight up the nostrils. Caution: when pointing your nose in for a whiff, do so with care. This thing burns holes in your nostrils as much as it does your wallet.
Pay little attention to the teapot it comes served with and the star anise and assortment of other things scattered about on a tile, it’s the drink that’s the star here.
If you’re looking to feel alive again after a shitty week, there’s no question (despite its name) the Vietnamese Flower Tea is for you. It’s smooth and light, contrary to its nose. Undertones of sweetness come through from the honey and there’s no burning of the throat. The legs running down the inside of the glass are thick and viscous. This is the definition of a gentleman’s drink — a must-have — and a most fitting one for 2 Lam Son’s new Indochina concept.
There’s also the Saigon Coffee Martini (VND310,000) that’s worth breaking your midday coffee curfew for with Belvedere vodka, Kahlua and Vietnamese coffee floating upon a shot of condensed milk topped with a half-inch fluffy head of ‘homemade’ coconut foam. It’s so sensuous that perhaps hotel management should consider using it as body milk in their day spa — it’s that good.
Served in a champagne coupe — a shallow, broad-bowled stemmed glass — the Saigon Coffee Martini is a drink that looks not unlike a Guinness and that small dollop of condensed milk settled on the bottom is a tell-tale sign the inspiration has come from that most ubiquitous of Vietnamese drinks: the ca phe sua da.
The smell of the coconut is one thing but when it’s stirred, the cocktail’s bouquet is truly let loose — beautiful. The mixture feels thick and rich to the spoon but to the palate it’s the opposite, gentle and smooth. The coffee doesn’t overpower the coconut, it’s not too sweet nor too creamy. The foam that nudges the tip of your nose each time you take a sip adds to the experience. This drink is impressive. Looking back over my notes, I read, “If only I could bathe in it!”
The decor of 2 Lam Son is tasteful and comfortable which makes for a pleasant contrast from what goes on outside between the happy hours of 5pm and 8pm. Go there early to grab the best location and wait for all the beautiful people to file in on the stroke of 9pm when the DJ arrives.
The downside? 2 Lam Son can be expensive — very expensive. But happy hour is one of the best around with 51% off cocktails. Also, the music selection is out of sync with the concept that’s trying to be achieved here — Indochina, modern, French-colonial chic or something or other. It doesn’t work. But for those two cocktails, no amount of 80s old school rap would keep me away from this place. Take the missus, she’ll love you for it. Go alone if you must.
2 Lam Son is on the Ground Floor of the Park Hyatt Saigon at 2 Lam Son Square, Q1, HCMC.