Seek and you will find…something exemplary.
Layla sits apart from other cocktail bars in the game in Ho Chi Minh City. Part of the reason why, is its set-up. It has floor-to-ceiling windows bookending the space. At one end, the windows allow the last of the fading afternoon light to filter in before the sun dips behind the buildings along historic Dong Khoi Street below.
It has high ceilings and industrial-like interior giving it its rustic and robust warehouse feel, not too unlike what’s trending in London, New York, or even Melbourne. Cities like Melbourne have managed to retain some of their historic warehouses and woolstores where they’ve been converted into high-end apartments and hospitality establishments. The designers of Layla have managed to retain a sense of history and place by paying respect to the colonial-era building the bar is housed in while keeping things modern.
Led by career F&B professional from Australia, Jay Moir — who has worked in just about every hospitality job possible from bar-back in a casino to duty manager in a five-star hotel — the staff at Layla epitomise its reason for existence — for the love of cocktails. The service at Layla is what any bar should aspire to: service that reflects pleasure at meeting new customers and greeting old ones when they return. The staff are warm, welcoming and considerate, which creates a hospitable atmosphere.
Along the 11-metre-long bar sit jars of fresh botanicals — herbs, spices and berries — used to enhance Layla’s cocktails. Everything is done properly, right down to the shape and size of ice depending on the drink.
The cocktails — of which there are scores — are some of the best in Ho Chi Minh City. Grown men gush over Raspberry Cardinals, Kiwi Basil Delights and Salted Caramel Espressos.
At VND160,000 per cocktail or VND95,000 at happy hour between 5pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday, mixologists can serve up something from Layla’s menu, or customise a cocktail with your favourite ingredients.
There’s the macho-sounding Viking Funeral cocktail with its Grey Goose vodka, peach liqueur, freshly pressed passionfruit juice, a dash of sugar syrup and a passionfruit “boat” doused in absinthe and then set alight.
Along similar lines is the Licky Tiki Mai Tai, a chest-beating cocktail served in a chilled tiki vessel with a floating, burning sugar cube, before it’s extinguished beneath a concoction of Bacardi Superior rum, Bacardi ORO rum, orange curacao, infused orgeat — a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose or orange flower water — freshly pressed lime, black walnut bitters and crushed ice.
And then the more demure, but no less sexy Lady Jane, a number made from home-infused Earl Grey gin, infused lavender syrup, freshly pressed lemon juice, finished with creamy egg white and dried red rose petals. If ever there was a cocktail to conjure up images of French Indochina, perhaps this is it.
Layla proves that it’s possible to deliver on a promise of high quality drinks and service without having customers overpay for it. This is a cocktail bar that anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City should visit. It’s downside? A bit tricky to find but it adds to the mystique. Also, the acoustics. At times it can sound like a rowdy cafeteria. But hey, if it’s rowdy, it means there are people. And that means the drinks must be good and at about the right price for the market.
— photos: BAO ZOAN
Layla is on the 2nd floor at 63 Dong Du, Q1, HCMC. For more info, go to facebook.com/LaylaEateryandBarHCM