From Asia with Love: Stu’s Food and Drink Adventures

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Stu and Cam enjoying a drop (or two) at M Gallery Hotel’s rooftop bar.

I just spent a week and a bit visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Hong and here’s what I saw and thought between drinks:

BANGKOK

Well, Bangkok is awesome, of course, and the food and drink scene has stepped right up into the top echelon of Asia over the past couple of years. We all know Gaggan is now the No.1 restaurant in Asia according to Asia’s Top 50, and although I didn’t make it, the reports are incredible.I met one of Gaggan’s head chefs at a gin booze-up and he seemed nice and he said Gaggan was a top bloke and a genius – so that’s good enough for me.

For me, one of Bangkok’s great restaurants remains Bo.Lan – we went there on our first night. It was my second visit and the flavours are vivid, delicious and pretty bloody spicy. Even our local host reckoned a few of the dishes were fully fiery. In fact, our local Four Pillars distributor, Wallop, had an interesting take on Local v Tourist flavours, particularly at renowned restaurants. He said the “foodie” tourist wanted food that was actually in many cases spicier than what the locals would have. He thinks it’s a bit of an ego thing -“Make it proper spicy like the locals would have it”- so sometimes they rev up the chilli to impress the tourists. Funny, hey?

Great bars include Rabbit Hole, Teens of Thailand (no it’s not what you think, it’s great) and the remarkable Iron Fairies and the Iron Balls Distillery and Bar. Bangkok is fun, that’s for sure.

HO CHI MINH

My first visit to Vietnam and the “rolling thunder” of mopeds on the road is something to behold. Ho Chi Minh rocks. The new M Gallery Hotel des Artes is a tremendously cool, small new hotel with an epic rooftop bar and a glass bridge from the roof to the equally super cool Shri Bar and Restaurant where Richie Fawcett oversees an incredible bar program and whisky library.  Rich is also an incredible artist and has in fact produced an amazing coffee table book featuring the best drinks and streets of Ho Chi Minh – buy a copy when you visit Shri.

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Smoking cocktails in Ho Chi Minh.

 

We had a brilliant dinner at an expat-focused joint called Lubu and I would go back there for sure. But let’s be honest, you’re in Vietnam for the pho and a few locals told us the best in town was Pho Hoa at 260c Pasteur Rd in District 3 (very Hunger Games). We had an 11am pho there on a Sunday morning and it was the best goddamn pho I’ve ever tasted. And $4 to boot. Beef combination. And half of Ho Chi Minh seemed to be there. The other half were in the Tao Dan Park, just behind the Independence Palace. If you’re in Ho Chi Minh on a weekend you just HAVE to walk through this park, it’s an incredible cultural experience. And you need to visit the War Remnants Museum, and yes a word of warning – it’s as confronting as everyone says it is. I’ve never needed to look away from so many exhibits and pictures in my life. Harrowing.

HONG KONG

How can you not love Hong Kong? Still vibrant – still Chinese on one side and Western on the other. A city of two really distinct personalities – and both sides are great. We stayed on Kowloon side; the dark side as the gwailo residents call it, or Mosman, as a mate of mine disparagingly referred to it. It can be a bit of a pain coming home at 2am in a cab with a screaming driver who does appear to be the angriest man in the world, but you do get to use the Star Ferry, still one of, if not the, greatest public transport services in the world. And still 50c a trip each way (upper deck please).

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Stu and Dev (genius bartender) at Otto e Mezzo in Hong Kong.

Over on the island, the bar scene is as good as ever – anything by Antonio Lai (origin, quinary envoy at the Pottinger Hotel) is brilliant but I must admit I rather fell in love with a bartender at the three Michelin star Otto e Mezzo, which is deep inside one of the Landmark buildings (like most of Hong Kong you sometimes think – either that or PP). Devender Sehgal (Dev) is a genius and made some of the best cocktails I’ve had IN THE WORLD. Go sit at the bar, have a bowl of pasta and one of his Jasmines. And tell him Stu sent you. We had a ripper night also at Potatohead – the Bali classic is now in Singapore and Hong Kong and if you can jag an invitation into their private lounge out back, well you might be locked in there for many, many hours and rack up a very,very big bill . . ..

That’ll do for now. Back to school sports . . . .