More Than Just a Cocktail
Written by Jody Kurash
As Coronavirus keeps rearing its ugly head, borders remain closed and international holidays have ground to a halt. Even domestic travel has been altered after a recent outbreak and “tripophobia” (fear of not having any trips planned) is rampant.
You can still travel vicariously by eating out at Hanoi’s plethora of foreign restaurants or you can simply drink your sorrows away. Or you can do both with a visit to the Unicorn Pub. This swanky cocktail lounge first made headlines a few years ago with their list of Vietnamese food-inspired cocktails, including a show-stopping spiced pho tipple.
While infusing flavors into liquor is nothing new, the way the Unicorn makes their pho is quite a spectacle. A nearly three-foot-tall metal stand is divided into three layers, each holding a cup of spices – anise, cinnamon and cardamom. Next an alcoholic mixture is poured through the layers and set on fire. As the liquid tumbles through each tier, a brilliant burst of blue flames is ignited while toasting the spices into the liquor. Soon the bar is permeated with the sweet-smelling scent of a pho stand.
My first sip started with citrus kick, but as I submerged my straw deep into the “broth” mixture. I was rewarded with a hearty soothing flavor that tingled my tongue with its titillating taste. For those looking for a more international buzz, owner Trinh Xuan Dieu, has expanded her cocktail list to Japan and Thailand with the sushi Tsukiji and the tom yum Thai cocktails.
Dieu has somehow done the impossible and duplicated the fresh flavor of sushi into liquid form. Even more remarkable is that Dieu was too nervous to even try eating sushi until recently. “Now I love it!” she exclaimed. Skeptical as I was, I was completely blown away with the impact of this drink. It’s hard to believe no actual fish were harmed in the making.
It’s composed of a secret sea-weed infused liquor, fresh ginger, sweet and sour, sesame and gin. Miraculously every sip tastes like bite-size piece of maki roll. The wasabi and ginger start off with a one-two punch and somehow the sweet ingredients in the drink transform into a mingle of rice, protein and nori. Every drink I took was like grabbing a plate off a conveyer belt! It was fresh, light and clean.
The tom yum drink was quite the opposite. It’s a rich and hearty mixture forged by cooking a mixture of lemongrass, toasted black pepper, galangal, and rum. Later additions include coconut cream, crushed lime leaf and apple bourbon. This intense cocktail has a peppery zing up front but it’s balanced with the distinctive twangy flavor of the popular Thai soup. The taste is reminiscent of my last trip to Bangkok, enjoying a soothing bowl of tom yum after a night on the town. Here you can do both at once!
“We want to bring the culture to our customers,” says Dieu. “We want to give them a taste of Southeast Asia. The food is part of the culture. The drinks taste like the food and capture its essence. “
2A Hàng Than, Nguyễn Trung