The emergence of Vietnam’s hospitality industry from the clutches of COVID has been confirmed recently by a spate of “guest shifts” as international musicians, chefs, and bartenders have touched down in Vietnam for a one-of-a-kind and one-night-only performances.
Most recently, Madam Kew, the award-winning cocktail bar atop Quince, the award-winning restaurant, invited a dynamic duo of bartenders from the iconic Rabbit Hole cocktail bar in Bangkok to take over their bar.
The Rabbit Hole BKK’s Head Bartender Noppasate Hirunwathit, aka Depp, and their Bartender Athitaya Mindmanee, aka Est, arrived in Saigon determined to show Saigon’s cocktail lovers why their iconic bar had been ranked as #76 World’s Best Bar and #31 Asia’s Best Bar in 2020 before COVID-19 kicked in.
Rabbit Hole BKK shot to fame in 2016 based on the notion that cocktails should be thought upon as an art form and a lens through which wonderful evenings would be remembered. Rabbit Hole is located in Bangkok’s plush and trendy Thonglor district frequented by the Hi-So (High Society or wealthy) Thais.
Behind its hidden façade awaits a lavishly appointed three-story cocktail bar, boasting a wide range of eclectic spirit brands with an almost Victorian apothecary theme which plays into that White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland feel of escapism and wonderment.
The Rabbit Hole is famous in Bangkok for its 40 unique signature cocktail menus. Depp shares that their focus is “being minimalist in appearance, only garnishing where necessary to allow the ingredients to shine because we are dead serious about the quality.”
Depp selected four of these cocktails (priced at just 240,000 VND each) to showcase during their shift at Madam Kew, with their Shitttt Negroni and On Roses concoctions especially standing out.
Their negroni was named to reference the “dirty” element of the drink (a cocktail is described as dirty when some kind of olive brine is added to the mix) as Depp shared,” the name of the drink is just a fun play on words from the word dirty in the drink.
The main ingredients are green olives and a Thai vegetable that we hand carried with us called Cha-kram, which has leaves that infuse a tasty saltiness into the drink sous vide with gin. We then added some vanilla vermouth and the obligatory Campari to give us that unique finish.”
Their On Roses cocktail shimmered under the spotlights of Madam Kew’s moody bar lighting and looked like it could be the perfect drink for the fictional character Effie Trinket who thrived in the utopian Capitol of Panem in the movie franchise the Hunger Games. This drink was just a perfect example of how a thoughtfully designed and presented cocktail can capture hearts and minds.
When asked about their vote-winning On Roses cocktail, Est offered an insight into the care and attention that the team at Rabbit Hole commit to the curation of their cocktails.
“We only use organic flowers from a small and fertile garden, and these roses are very fragrant with beautiful and vibrant colors. We’ll then pickle these roses for four days and filter out the liquid from this pickle. The flowers are also dried and blended with sugar; we use these to produce that radiant garnish to rim the glass.”
Hendrick’s gin, sparkling wine, and violet liqueur were the other core ingredients for this absolute banger of a drink.
Cocktail lovers in Vietnam can also thank Depp and Est for the emergence of Madam Kew’s talented, confident and charismatic bartender Mr. Phan Thanh Phu (Alex).
This young prodigy, who is always a fixture in the final stages of cocktail competitions in Vietnam, actually worked under Depp for two years in Bangkok, returning to Vietnam only due to the complications of COVID.
Alex remembers Depp as a “great teacher, a coach who acted like an older brother to me. He helped me understand what is right and wrong and just occasionally handed me the odd beating, which I needed. For sure, I would not be the man that I am today without his guidance.”
Alex added, “Est is a cool guy who personifies the American bartender style. He is equally confident and humble, and I hope to see him again soon in Bangkok.”
Vietcetera also caught up with Vlad Bidash, Beverage Manager of Madam Kew, to ask him what was the inspiration behind this event.
Vlad commented, “Over the past couple of years, the hospitality industry in Saigon has changed tremendously, and I’ve been really impressed with the progress our industry has made as we emerged from COVID, signified by a raft of new openings.
However, we still think that the bar scene in Vietnam, and Saigon in particular, is well short of achieving its potential. We aim to help develop the bar scene in Vietnam towards the standards currently considered to be the norm in megacities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. We want to help our guests discover something new at Madam Kew and enjoy immersive, interactive, and most of all, fun times with us.
So we're delighted to welcome Depp and Est from Rabbit Hole to take over Madam Kew for the evening and lay down a marker for what is all set to be an exciting program of international guest bartender shifts at Madam Kew.
Depp and Est were in great form and rocked the shift and brought this idea of the escapism of the rabbit hole to life. Our guests loved chatting with Depp and Est and trying each of the four bespoke cocktails that they introduced, which all paired beautifully with the snacks provided by Madam Kew’s resident chef Tram Nguyen and Trang Tran.”
Vlad also shared how much they “have been delighted with our edgy and unique music program at Madam Kew and how our resident DJ LING:CHI accompanied by Indy, our electro guitarist, generated a buzzing atmosphere that really complimented the performance of Depp and Est.”
Vlad also urged Vietcetera readers to stay tuned to Madam Kew’s Facebook and Instagram accounts because “there are will be more industry rock stars taking over Madam Kew in this series and our Bartenders will also travel around the region for guest shifts to build relationships with our South East Asian neighbors and show them what Vietnam has got to offer.”
We often talk in these pages about the simple concept of 2 + 2 = 6. It’s that idea of matching elements of the hospitality mix to ensure that they all complement and enhance each other. A fundamental factor as to why this gathering on the 28th July was so memorable and indeed as to why Madam Kew was voted as the Best Bar in Vietnam by Vietcetera in 2022 is down to the attention to detail their team pays towards all aspects of the hospitality mix.
We’re aware of the ambiance at Madam Kew, the amazing drinks, service, and the presence of 2 devoted chefs, but the final word goes to the music program that General Manager Sebastion Smith introduced on 37 Ky Con.
The acts have been thoughtfully introduced to provide a perfect mix of buzz and energy that drops the right vibe to promote socializing without being overbearing.
Saigon’s much-loved trumpeter Juan Reyes is a regular contributor, while a young French/Vietnamese electro guitarist named Indie is fast making a name for himself.
Indie was on hand to collaborate with DJ LING:CHI the electrica, exotica, boogie funk starlet who has been setting pulses racing at nightlife institutions like Candi Shop and Bam Bam before signing up for a weekly residency at Madam Kew.
Indy and LING:CHI’s collaboration was the perfect backdrop to an evening of collaborations, and we at Vietcetera are looking forward to many more dropping here as Vietnam’s profile as a nightlife destination burns ever bright.