Mochammad Fadli, group mixologist and beverage manager for Capella Entertainment, shares the secrets of his new home, Ho Chi Minh City—and a Black Tears cocktail.
Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Mochammad Fadli fell in love with nightlife when his brother and sister first took him to bars and clubs. Since starting his training over 20 years ago, he’s worked in eight different countries from the Middle East to Australia, and now looks after the drinks at three Ho Chi Minh City venues: Chill Skybar, AIR Saigon (formerly Air 360 Sky Lounge) and VIGOR—Dining Club Saigon. When we catch up, Fadli is prepping to reopen AIR Saigon, as Vietnam begins to exit lockdown. And, having spent six weeks training staff on Zoom and developing a new menu for Chill, he’s raring to go.
For AIR Saigon, which is both bar and restaurant, rigorous procedures will be in place, including capturing and keeping contact details of all guests. “We’re going to check people’s temperatures when they arrive, give them hand sanitiser, have a limit of four people in the elevator and a distance of 1.5 metres between each table, with a limit of 50 people inside the bar and restaurant,” Fadli says. “We’re going to have a special menu, a limited menu with fast-moving items in food and beverage.” He’s hoping all three venues will be back in action soon.
Where’s the best place to drink rum in HCMC and why?
There are not so many rum bars in Ho Chi Minh: most are focused on whisky. Bam Bam is a chillout, semi-pool bar, where you drink tropical drinks, with lots of different rums—in fact, Black Tears launched there. I love rum, so normally I always go there to drink it. Rabbit Hole is another of my favourite bars, with a very good selection of rum, even rhum agricole.
Where’s the best place in HCMC for a drink with a view?
Chill is one of the legends. Both Chill and AIR Saigon have great city views and you can see the New Year fireworks very clearly from Chill bar. It’s on floor 26 and 27, higher than the other rooftop bars, with perfect views over the CBD, downtown—and even our competitors. Skyview bars always have spotlights or lasers so they’re easy to make out.
What cocktail bars should we not miss in HCMC?
Besides Rabbit Hole and Bam Bam, there’s a whisky bar, PK Maltroom, with a really good selection of whisky. Drinking & Healing helped pioneer the cocktail concept in Vietnam and Qui is a very good cocktail bar, bistro style so you can dine at the same time. But the scene is always growing and developing.
Where do off-duty bartenders go drinking once they finish their shift?
I love to go to Bam Bam but sometimes people go to clubs as their last destination. Clubs here are more like in China, mostly local music, local big spenders, Asian music: in Ho Chi Minh City, people like to finish the night by smoking shisha and inhaling [laughing gas] balloons.
Where is the best place for street food in HCMC and what should we eat there?
Ben Thanh Market has every type of street food, plus traditional dress, souvenirs, tourist attractions and Vietnamese drinks. But you can eat street food on every street—every 200 metres there’s another stall. Pho is my favourite, and I like to eat it on Bui Vien, in the backpacker area, with the whole alley full of people.
Where should we go for coffee, and why?
Try the egg coffee at Little Hanoi (Góc Hà Nội) on Bui Vien: it’s like a cappuccino but the foam is from the egg in the coffee. I went with my staff—they said you have to try this coffee with egg, so I said OK. It’s a very small cup, like an espresso macchiato, and it’s delicious.
Where can you find the best local ingredients in HCMC?
You can find everything in Ben Thanh Market, from clothing to ingredients: herbs, spices and fruits like soursop, rambutan, mangosteen and custard apple.
What’s a club that’s really typical of HCMC?
Now most people go to ENVY, Commas, which is owned by the same people as Bam Bam, and Atmos, which has flying dancers, circus style. There are always new clubs opening in HCMC because the strategy of the owner is to open, then after one year or maximum two years, they shut down, take their profit and open a new one, under a new brand.
Tell us one thing we absolutely have to do in HCMC.
The building in front of Chill has the World of Heineken museum. When you enter, you put down your name and they give you a bottle of Heineken with your name on the label. There’s competitions, games, trivia, the whole Heineken story, and on the top floor you can see the view.
What do you love most about Ho Chi Minh City?
The culture! The Vietnamese are very proud and strong people, which is what helped them win the wars against America and France, but they’re also very helpful, with a very unique culture. I want to see more other cities and learn more about the culture.
MIXING WITH BLACK TEARS—SAIGON STYLE
From Black Tears’ dominant flavors—coffee, cacao, and aji dulce pepper—Fadli opted to work with coffee, to highlight Vietnam’s coffee tradition. “Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate, so it’s good to have a more refreshing drink you can drink for any occasion,” he says. “And it’s easy to make at home as well.” The coconut flake on top adds complexity to a drink that mirrors the dry style of Cuban rum.
BLACK TEARS HEAVEN
50ml Black Tears Dry Spiced
90ml Coconut water
60ml Iced filter coffee
10ml Sugar syrup
Top up with Soda
Build over ice in a highball glass and garnish with toasted coconut flake.