Mac Thi Buoi has been a foodie destination for a while now. There’s the speakeasy, Firkin. And a couple of doors down Thai flavors at Racha Room. And now, at the end of the block, is the chic The Triệu Institute.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
Two antique elephants linger below red arches that glow seductively as nightfalls, and inside, the narrow entrance reveals a surprisingly immersive space, set across two floors. Downstairs, the team focuses on their pairing menu. The dishes, developed by renowned-local chef Chris Donnellan, focus on cuisine infused with the same botanicals as the gin.
The Triệu Institute’s Cuisine And Cocktail Pairings
The five-course tasting menu includes oysters with Hoi An Gin ponzu dressing, grilled octopus with lotus puree and hibiscus chili pickle, Black Angus tataki with cashew chili sauce and Vietnamese mint, Sapa Gin drunken baby chicken and a citrus parfait with orange jelly and candied orange. And there’s other a la carte options too.
Upstairs it’s gin tonics and cocktails – a Lady Triệu tasting flight, signature G&T’s served with homemade infused tonics, and cocktails like their Elephant’s Charge with Mekong Delta Gin, sugarcane and kumquat shrub, and The Heart Of The Mountain with Sapa Citrus Tea Gin, rau ram, golden berry, oolong tea, and infused with rau ram smoke. As well as classic cocktails, whiskies, wines and liqueurs.
The gin was developed by Adam Westbrook, formerly of Portobello Road Gin, who’s supported by Hien. At 23-years-old, she might be the youngest gin distiller anywhere.
Over At The Lady Triệu Distillery
They’re both usually stationed out at the Lady Triệu distillery in rural Cu Chi overseeing their 1000-liter Tasmanian still, distilling their recently-launched signature Contemporary Vietnam Gin. And some smaller craft stills distilling their four Lab Series Gins. There’s the Dalat Flowerbomb, the Hoi An Spice Road, the Sapa Citrus Tea and the Mekong Delta Dry Gin.
“That was our big challenge,” Bao Chau, Lady Triệu distillery’s head of operations, tells us, “instilling our products with a truly Vietnamese identity. And making something that would make Vietnamese people proud.”
“It’s been an incredible journey already. I think we all look back on our short history with a sense of wonder and amazement,” she adds.
Upstairs at the Lady Triệu distillery you can watch their rotovap whirr with the latest batch of experimental botanicals. It’s where they also welcome intrepid guests – some of whom arrive by boat from downtown Saigon – about to embark on another trip, tasting their way through Lady Triệu’s five gins.
“I think we must have made over 1,000 gins – for each gin there were at least 200 attempts, as we played around with the formula,” Hien tell us.
“A typical day starts at 8am. First of all, I help prepare all the steps for distillation in our copper pot stills – that means checking the inventory room and ingredients – especially juniper and whichever other botanicals we’re using. Then we distill following our planned profile, monitoring temperature, pressure, and timings. For distilled gins, I will dilute them to make a finished product. In the time in between, me and Adam are always discussing ideas and new projects, and testing out new samples. I’ve learnt a lot already,” Hien explains before letting us in on a secret.
“On the bottom of every bottle of Contemporary Vietnam Gin is the coordinates of our distillery. You just have to type that into Google Earth and you’ll find us,” she smiles.
The Ladies Powering Lady Triệu Distillery And The Triệu Institute
Lady Triệu herself, who is sometimes known as Triệu Ẩu or Triệu Thị Trinh (no one seems to know her real name), was a 3rd century Vietnamese warrior who heroically repelled the advancing forces of the Chinese Eastern Wu Dynasty.
The Triệu Institute is a fitting tribute to the eponymous lady herself. Even its operations are female-led. There’s head bartender, Duong, and Jolie Nguyen, their restaurant manager. “Ba Triệu is a national hero,” Jolie tells us, “and she’s real proof that the fight for freedom and empowerment is possible. She inspires me to self-reflect, to remind myself that beyond physical beauty, we’re all fighting for freedom and independence.”
“Right,” Hien agrees, “under oppression and a culture with a lot of gender stereotypes and expectations, Lady Triệu showed everyone that things can change through inspiring leadership.”
“Holding the menu in my hands for the first time was a wonderful surprise. Chef Chris created the dishes with premium ingredients and imbued them with the Vietnamese herbs and botanicals we use in the gin. The first thing with any dish is its appearance,” she muses, “so we pay great attention to how the food looks, from ingredients to preparation and decoration. What we serve here is flavorsome, and bold, and not too fussy which aligns with Lady Triệu our brand,” Jolie nods. “Paired with our craft cocktails, it’s a wonderful journey of the senses.”
The Lady Triệu-Inspired Cocktails At The Triệu Institute
Naturally, head bartender Duong concurs. “Of course, if I came as a guest, I’d sit right at the bar counter to watch the action,” she smiles. “And I’d order any of our Lady Triệu gin & tonics, both because of the diversity of our range of gins, and our homemade tonics.”
Then there’s Duong’s signatures. “The Signature Story Cocktail Menu allows us to share so many insights into gin, and local botanicals, and Vietnamese culture and the story of Lady Triệu herself. Of the signatures, I’d recommend our Naked Battle – inspired by Lady Triệu’s last battle.” It’s a milk punch, with forest pepper and peanut syrup, a little sweet chili as garnish, and Lady Triệu’s Lab Series: Hoi An Spice Road Gin.”
As such an illustrious combatant, naturally, Lady Triệu made a lot of enemies, Duong tells us. Hence, her last battle came far too soon. But at the Lady Triệu distillery, Hien, and at the newly opened Triệu Institute, Duong, Bao Chau and Jolie, are making lots of friends. And, undoubtedly, unlike their heroine, they have a bright future ahead of them.
Photos by Nghia Ngo.