Akio Lounge Hanoi Takes Us On A Glorious Sake-Fueled Trip Through Japan

Sean Halse with Akio's Izumi sake

Upstairs the Capella Hanoi is thrillingly theatrical. There are stage curtains, painted paparazzi clicking cameras, and every evening a diva show, set to a Bond-theme song. It’s an unmissable ode to the nearby Opera House, designed by the master of maximalism, Bill Bensley. But downstairs, at Akio Lounge, part of the Capella Hanoi’s Koki House Of Senses, the theatricality is dialed right back. 

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Each of the Capella Hanoi’s 47-rooms are unique. And each one pays tribute to an icon of the era – roughly set around the roaring 1920s. There are rooms themed after artists, composers, designers and performers, depending on the floor. And topping it off is the Hudson Rooms

Staircase at Akio Hanoi
Akio Lounge’s ‘bar curator’ Sean Halse, at the top of the staircase that leads to Koki, House Of Senses.

The Hudson Rooms is a top-floor bar which captures the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal. It transports that architectural wonder from Midtown Manhattan to Hanoi. There’s oysters and caviar – a tribute to NYCs Fulton Fish Market, which, from its original home beside the Brooklyn Bridge, serviced the needs of the bars and restaurants across the five boroughs. And the cocktail menu takes its theme from the four rail tracks departing from Grand Central Terminal

Akio Lounge
Akio Lounge’s hip copper-toned lounge with sofas and armchairs and walls full of vinyl records and Japanese objet d’art.

At Akio Lounge The Drama Comes From The Range Of Spirits, Sake And Shochu…And A Curated Cocktail Trip Through Japan

But down here at Akio Lounge, the drama comes from the head-spinning range of spirits, sake and shochu, and a curated cocktail trip through Japan.

The collection of sake and shochu is the most extensive in Vietnam – including their own house sake, called Izumi, that’s made exclusively for The Capella Hanoi. It’s a sake that was developed in partnership with sake master, Mr. Baku. He also hosts an in-house sake masterclass from time to time to help you distinguish your Junmai from your Honjozo and Daiginjo. And, already, illustrious bartender Hiroyasu Kayama, from Tokyo’s Bar Benfiddich, has dropped by for a guest shift.

In a nearby room, at Koki’s signature teppanyaki restaurant, Hibana, two Michelin-star teppanyaki chef Junichi Yoshida flips and turns a cut of Yaeyama-Kyori wagyu carefully searing each side with the kind of care and attention of a doting parent. Dinners there begin and end at Akio Lounge. But Akio is also a stand-alone cocktail bar and lounge. One that takes guests on a journey through Japan via its rice. 

Akio cocktail bar curator Sean Halse
Sean Halse, curator and sake parlor host at Akio Lounge, who takes guests on a glorious sake-fueled journey through Japan.

A Basement Lounge In Koki House Of Senses Illuminated By Moonlight

The menu at Akio Lounge Hanoi begins with a haiku by 19th century poet Masaoka Shiki, one of the four great haiku masters: ‘Looking down I see, cool in the moonlight, 4000 houses.’ And it feels like the bar is lit by moonlight too. 

That’s because the back bar glows with a cool white light. In front of it, on the shelves, are some of Akio Lounge’s carefully curated Japanese spirits, sake and shochu. 

There’s the minimalist black bottle of Tanaka x Chartier 2019, a sake created by the master sommelier François Chartier, who “shook up sake” with Tanaka brewery’s toji (meaning master brewer) Morikawa.

There’s an IWA 5 with its name emblazoned on the label in bold calligraphy, created by the former Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon, Richard Geoffroy. And then there’s those bottles of Izumi, Capella Hanoi’s exclusive smooth and nutty tasting Junmai Ginjo. “Actually, of the 60 sakes at Akio Lounge, 10 are only available here,” Sean adds proudly. 

There are exclusive whiskies too: a Karuizawa Barrel Select, one of the rarest whiskies in the world, some 30-year-old Hibiki, from the first ever official import, and “a very special” Hanyu 2000 Single Cask

Sean Halse at Akio Lounge Capella Hanoi
Chilling a glass at Akio Lounge Hanoi’s drinks trolley.

Akio Lounge’s Spirited Exploration Of Japan

Behind us a staircase leads up from the private entrance. And there’s a hip copper-toned lounge with sofas and armchairs and walls full of vinyl records and Japanese objet d’art.

At the five-seat curved stone bar, with its miniature hydroponic garden growing greens and garnishes, we skip past the haiku, to discover the menu’s ‘concoction of stories’ is broken into three parts.

The Breeze From The Paddy Field menu is labeled according to where the sake in the cocktail was made. For example, their effervescent Yamagata cocktail contains Roku Gin, Tatenokawa Junmai Daiginjo sake, wasabi and yuzu, and sour plum and soda. The carefully selected sake comes from a Yamagata brewery that’s 185 years old, and where its 6th generation president leads a dynamic young team of sake producers.

Okayama Cocktail
Akio’s Okayama is an umami-rich tribute to the birthplace of sake, Omachi Village.

“First, we explored different drinks and ingredients, mindful of where in Japan they came from,” Sean Halse explains, “then, we’d dive deeper into the region, seeing what else we have available to help create a balanced drink that’s true to the concept.”

Each drink comes with ice that’s hand cut to order by Sean, or bartender Linh Manh, who’s been with Capella Hanoi since pre-opening. He’s also the first Vietnamese Bartender to qualify for the Hennessy My Way Global Final. And all the cocktails come with a rice-based side serve. For the Yamagata, it’s a soy and miso rice cracker with wasabi cream, which Junichi Yoshida helped consult on. 

Linh Manh at Akio Lounge
Akio Lounge bartender Linh Manh [left], the first Vietnamese Bartender to qualify for the Hennessy My Way Global Final.

North To South In The Land Of The Rising Sun

The Land Of The Rising Sun menu takes guests from the Nikko Kaido cherry blossom trail, north of Tokyo, right down to Kyushu and the bubbling hot springs of Oita and coastal Miyazaki. And there’s a stop off in Kyoto on the way to have dinner with a Geisha.

Japanese cocktail
Akio Lounge’s Miyazaki, with The San-In Whiskey, herbal shochu, teriyaki umeshu, ponzu, absinthe and ginger beer.

So, the culture at each location helped create the cocktails. “When we created the Oita, for example, we were thinking about Beppu’s onsens, and we envisaged a Japanese tiki-style drink. So, our Oita contains honeydew melon whisky, shochu, honeydew melon juice, gobo honey and ginger beer,” Sean elaborates. 

Finally, the non-alcoholic Balance Of Life menu is based upon the seasons with drinks like a cooling yuzu, cola and mint tea for summer and a comforting genmaicha, honey and ginger drink for winter. 

Sean Halse at Akio Lounge's staircase
At chic Akio Lounge the theatricality is dialed right back.

While we’re flipping through the iPad menu, deliberating between a cocktail trip to Nara, with its mix of Haku Vodka and Mimiurosugi Dio Abita, and floral sakura vermouth and citrusy yuzu cordial, or a visit to nearby Kyoto, with an umami-filled, smoky cocktail made with The Chita whiskey, salted pea cordial, smoked pear and truffle air, Sean busies himself making us an Espresso Martini. “It’s made using shochu,” he smiles. We might have known.

Photos by Tiep V. Nguyen for The Dot Magazine.

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