The hot, pungent smack of fish sauce gives Viet Food its authentic edge, and ascending the stairs past the busy bustle of ex-Hakkasan chef Jeff Tan’s narrow two-storey restaurant winks back to any steaming phở joint in Ho Chi Minh City. But we’re not here for the fish sauce (‘No monosodium glutamate!’ trills the waiting staff–even the notoriously MSG-heavy stalwart is made from scratch here). We’re here for the illustrious cocktail bar stacked modestly on the third floor.
The ‘everything made from scratch’ philosophy has percolated through to Viet Lounge. The salty Japanese yuzu syrup has been distilled by hand, as has the violet butterfly pea (a Thai flower) essence, smoky matcha and Szechuan pepper extraction–all ingredients of the exotic cocktails on offer.
We settle for a Hakuna Matata. Swahili by name but Asian by nature, it’s Champagne sweetened with a crunch of yuzu and sharpened with a spritz of lemon oil, served in a flamboyant cascade of dry ice with a sophisticated flick of head barman Alex Looi’s skilled wrist.
Tan’s bar snacks are an excellent complement to Looi’s acrobatic concoctions. The Crab Balls are far more erudite than their name suggests, and the syrupy bacon-wrapped pork rib is a decadent companion to the impromptu take on the gin and tonic that Looi presents with dramatic ultra-violet, dragon fruit-sliced flourish. Vegetarians will be disappointed – there’s nothing notable on the bar menu that doesn’t include meat, but Tan is quick to rustle up some ingenious plant-based delight should a request arise.