Something feels different upon stepping inside Layla for the first time that sets it apart from other cocktail bars in the same category around Saigon. It could be the floor-to-ceiling windows that bookend the space and allow the last of the fading afternoon light to filter in before the sun dips behind the buildings along Dong Khoi Street below.

 

Or it could be the high ceilings and industrial-like interior that give it its rustic and robust warehouse look, much like that seen in London, New York or even Melbourne. As in most Australian cities, Melbourne has managed to retain some of its historic wool stores where they’ve been converted into high-end apartments and hospitality establishments.

 

Perhaps the vision for the owners of Layla was similar — to design a bar that retains a sense of history and place, and which pays respect to the colonial-era building it’s housed in.

 

Visionary

 

Led by career F&B professional from Australia, Jay Moir, who has worked the full gamut of hospitality jobs from bar-back in a casino to duty manager in a five-star hotel, the staff at Layla epitomise its reason for existence — for the love of cocktails.

 

The service at Layla is what any bar should aspire to; service that reflects pleasure at meeting new customers and greeting old ones when they return. The staff are warm, welcoming and considerate, which creates a hospitable atmosphere.

 

Along the 11-metre-long bar sit jars of fresh botanicals — herbs, spices and berries — used to enhance Layla’s cocktails and produce bouquets that stir the senses before the rim of the glass even touches the lips. Everything is done properly, right down to the shape and size of ice depending on the drink.

 

Got Me on My Knees

 

The cocktails — of which there are scores of possibilities — are exquisite. Where I come from, you don’t see grown men gushing over Rasberry Cardinals, Kiwi Basil Delights and Salted Caramel Espressos. But here I was, doing just that.

 

At VND160,000 per cocktail or VND95,000 at happy hour between 5pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday, mixologists can serve up something from Layla’s menu, or a customised cocktail with your favourite ingredients.

 

There’s the macho-sounding Viking Funeral cocktail with its Grey Goose vodka, peach liqueur, freshly pressed passionfruit juice, a dash of sugar syrup and a passionfruit “boat” doused in absinthe and then set alight.

 

Along similar lines is the Licky Tiki Mai Tai, a chest-beating cocktail served in a chilled tiki vessel with a floating, burning sugar cube, before it’s extinguished beneath a concoction of Bacardi Superior rum, Bacardi ORO rum, orange curacao, infused orgeat — a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose or orange flower water — freshly pressed lime, black walnut bitters and crushed ice.

 

And then the more demure, but no less sexy Lady Jane, a number made from home-infused Earl Grey gin, infused lavender syrup, freshly pressed lemon juice, finished with creamy egg white and dried red rose petals. If ever there was a cocktail to conjure images of French Indochina, perhaps this is it.

 

Layla proves that it’s possible to deliver on a promise of high quality drinks and service without having to pass the cost on down to the customer. This is a cocktail bar that everyone can afford.

 

Layla Eatery & Bar is on the 2nd floor at 63 Dong Du, Q1, HCMC

 


Photos by Bao Zoan

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