Where do you find the best bar in Vietnam? Not in Ho Chi Min or Hanoi but on the tiny island of Phu Quoc (40 minutes flight from Ho Chi Min) that’s where. Big call. Huge. We know. But read on…
An express lift to the 19th floor takes us to INK 360 at Intercontinental Phu Quoc Long Beach. We arrive just before sunset. Inside the glass walled bar it feels as if we’re swimming in an aquarium of light. Giant octopus tentacles flow down from the ceiling and across the bar, mother of pearl and white marble evoke the feel of the ocean floor. It’s a surreal experience even before we start downing cocktails.
The bar is designed by Ashley Sutton, Mr Whimsy himself, Sutton is known for his one-off fantastical interiors in some of the most fashionable bars in Asia: The Bookshop and Sing Sing Theater in Bangkok, Iron Fairies in Tokyo, Ophelia and Dear Lily in Hong Kong. For INK360 Sutton channelled the idea of a sea creature rising from the deep, and draping itself atop the tallest tower on the island.
Tangled in the tentacles is master mixologist, Guiseppe Carneli. So how did a man from a small village in Italy end up at the top of a tower in Vietnam? An InterCon exec walked into a bar in London where he was working, sipped one of Guiseppe’s concoctions and almost immediately offered him a job. Five minutes after meeting Carneli I begin to understand why. His cocktail menu is small but breathtakingly original, evoking a spirit of place few mixologists can match. Take for example his Coral Mule topped with a pale pink extravaganza which looks like coral in the ocean but is in fact a mushroom. Then there’s the Uncle Ho Penicillin –an homage to Ho Chi Min, which evokes the days of old Vietnam, with ingredients that include Phu Quoc honey, ginger syrup,. There’s also a little bit of Carneli’s own Asian experience thrown in, with the Shaddock described as the, ‘result of an Italian man discovering pomelo for the first time'.
Where Carneli really excels is in the bespoke cocktails he makes. The cocktail list is short because those in the know just get Giuseppe to create something especially for them. Tell him what you like and he’ll make you a personal cocktail you’ll never forget. I tell him I like gin and something ‘refreshing”. Carneli assesses me with an unnerving laser stare. Is he a mind-reader mixologist? Quite possibly, because the concoction he chooses is perfect – a Breakfast Martini (yep, I’m that kind of girl) with a hint of marmalade and a twist of orange zest. I may never bother with muesli again.
Apart from the uncanny ability to match woman-with-cocktail in perfect harmony it is Carneli’s attention to detail and encylopeadic knowledge which stands out. He lovingly caresses the stem of a glass with lemon zest just so a client has a complete sensory experience - smell as well as taste;thinks about the kind of ice and the glass he uses and knows what remote Mexican village the perfect tequila comes from.
His Uncle Ho cocktail is, he says, “a twist on the Penicillin invented at the Milk and Honey bar in New York in 2005, but I replaced the Peat whisky with an infusion of Lapsang Souchong Tea and Black Cardamom which reminds of the Smokiness of the whisky". And the perfect Pisco Sour ,well that requires “P,isco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels that do not alter the flavor, like copper or glass (not oak).With special Amargo Chuncho Bitters made in Peru from 30 different botanicals picked from the Peruvian forest, aged for six months in oak barrels and named after the ethnic group of Amazon Indians that resisted the Spanish Conquistadores”. And as for a Daquiri ; “ a citrus left in the bottle for over fifteen minutes will ruin the taste of your Daiquiri,”. As I said, a perfectionist.
So what is Carneli’s personal favourite?” A Negroni “he says. You can take the boy out of Italy…
By now the sun is setting over Long Beach, the sky is the flaming orange of a perfect Negroni, with hints of Campari pink. One other reason to love this bar –you’ll see some of SE Asia’s best sunsets.
Luxury Resorts Link: www.phuquoc.intercontinental.com/ink-360
Hilary Doling, Posted 8/3/19