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14.10.2022, 18:00

The Bar Beyond The Pines

Kuusi by TUNG is a Scandinavian-themed, intimate 12-seat cocktail experience that has recently opened next door to the award-winning TUNG Dining Restaurant on Quang Trung Street in the leafy Hoan Kiem District. The name is inspired by Chef Hoang Tung’s formative years in Finland, and accordingly, Kuusi means “pine trees” in Finnish, hence the bar's mountain cabin/forest theme.

Source: Kuusi Team

My experience at Kussi reminded me of The Place Beyond The Pines, the hit Hollywood movie starring Ryan Gosling as a daredevil motorcycle rider emotively supported by icons like Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, and Ray Liotta. This movie was set in upstate New York, an area famed for its deep, pine-rimmed forests and striking shades of greenery, but I felt deeper comparisons to Kussi, especially around the human notions of “daring”, “daring to be different” as well as “pushing beyond boundaries.”

Dare to be different

Around 2015 Richard McDonough was happily settled with his family in Hanoi after a storied journey through South East Asia. He developed a keen interest in using a contraption called a Rotavapor, a piece of laboratory equipment originally designed for solvent recovery in a laboratory that can be re-purposed to create breathtaking flavourful distillates of delicate ingredients under vacuum. The lower boiling point allows distillation at just above room temperature, allowing it to occur with only minimal damage to aroma and flavour.

According to Richard, this keen interest or “hobby” quickly spanned out of control. He soon found himself photographed in 2016 at a Breaking Bad-themed event at the JW Marriot decked out in a Hazmat suit wielding a beaker full of bubbling liquid nitrogen. Further commissions followed for Richard with prestigious clients at pop-ups with Dior and the Grand Openings of Maison Marou in both Hanoi and Saigon. In the same way that Walter White had morphed into Heisenburg, the persona of The Mood Therapist enveloped Richard due to the propensity of his drinks to enhance the vibes around him and them.

Source: Kuusi Team

Although the lockdown proved incredibly challenging for the hospitality industry, it did provide scope for reflection and innovation. For Richard, this involved producing a range of small batches of bottled cocktails, quickly snapped up by “those in the know in Hanoi.” Hoang Tung was one such recipient of these cocktails; of course, he loved them, and fast forward 12 months, and Kuusi has opened its doors.

Daring pairings

In the same way that TUNG Dining introduced Vietnam’s first degustation (tasting) only menu in 2017, Kuusi introduced the country’s first cocktail pairing menu. Like TUNG Dining, it is geared to deliver a unique and intimate experience using techniques never seen before in Vietnam.

The experience is also “prescriptive,” which means that all customers must purchase the full flight of five cocktails for 1,290,000 per person and can add the food-pairing package for an extra 400,000 VND or a total of 1,690,000 VND per person. So, pro rata, this would work out at 258,000 VND per cocktail, which is quite a reasonable price considering the quality of the drinks and prices quoted at other premium cocktail joints in Hanoi. Tung shared his philosophy that “drinks without food is like a body without soul” and therefore curated a bespoke “snack pairing” to “spin around the stories of Richard’s cocktails” featuring delectable flavors such as aioli crackers, salmon and seaweed wraps, oysters and mini strawberry flans.

In this way, they have flipped the concept of TUNG Dining because at Kuusi, “the inspiration comes from Richard’s astounding drinks, and I study his ingredients and the flow of the cocktails to decide on the snack pairings,” said Tung.

Source: Kuusi Team

Pushing beyond boundaries

Kuusi will experience early resistance from certain customers in Hanoi who would prefer the flexibility of being able to order just a couple of drinks, come and go on a more flexible basis and pay a lower ticket.

However, Tung and Richard strongly believe in their concept and will continue to offer this package as an overall experience. It’s a “build it, and they will come” approach that has served Tung so well, firstly with Tung Dining and now at A By Tung, where customers are ritually delighted to let Tung prescribe the menu while also enjoying the seasonal updates to his offer. Kuusi is finding its groove and has been boosted by the recent appointments of enthusiastic and talented young bartenders Ho Anh Duong, who joined recently from 21 GAM, and Nguyen Tuan Anh (Alex), who doubles up as a magician and loves interacting with guests.

Vietcetera’s Top Picks:

Our team from Vietcetera enjoyed an evening of Mood Therapy with Richard at Kuusi, hoovering down full flight of the five cocktails with the snack pairings. So what was our favorite? It was impossible to choose just one, so we compromised. Here are our top 3.

The Crystal Onion

Source: Kuusi Team

Kuusi’s Own Blend of Sampan Aged Rhum, Clarified Caramelised Onion Syrup & Clarified Pear.

Kuusi worked with The Master Distiller at Distillerie Indochine to create their own exclusive Kuusi blend of aged Sampan Rhum for this drink, made in the Agricole style and aged in ex-cognac barrels. They keep it simple but a little left field to showcase the spirit, combining pear for its vegetal qualities with caramelized onion for deep umami savouriness.

Pairing: Amaebi – Chorizo.

Verdict: A perfect aperitif as the medley of umami flavors supercharges the taste buds.

CNDNSD MLK

Source: Kuusi Team

Hennessey VSOP Privilege Cognac, Dulce de Leche, Spresso Coffee Liquor, Cold Brew Coffee, Cream & Magic.

This pre-batched cocktail is inspired flavor-wise by the Vietnamese classic Caphe Sua Da but executed in the style of Bailey’s. Seaweed is the magic extract that makes the drink silky smooth and oh-so-creamy. Rumors abound that this concoction is the best drunk from a shoe, but Vietcetera has been unable to verify this claim independently.

Pairing: Flan - Strawberry

Verdict: A delicious dessert in a glass. Moreeeeiiissshhh…

66% More Bubbles

Source: Kuusi Team

Marou Dak Lak Cacao, Nib Distillate, Rhubarb Cordiale, Water, Lactic and Tartaric Acid, Bubbles.

A champagne-style drink, with no champagne. Vietnam’s finest cacao nibs are distilled under a vacuum to create a dry spirit that, combined with the sweetness of the tart rhubarb cordial, reveals deep chocolate notes with the distinctive terroir of Dak Lak. The blend of acids lends the cocktail the distinctive finish of vintage champagne.

Pairing: Oyster – Apple.

Verdict: The lovechild of vintage champagne and Turkish delight.

Source: Kuusi Team

We asked Vietcetera’s Chef of the Year, Hoang Tung, to apply the garnish to our feature on Kuusi with a bite-sized summary of this new venture. “I have long dreamt of having a small cocktail bar where I can enjoy sophisticated drinks and great conversation with my friends and guests. Our motivation is to build projects, which are new and different, so that’s a key driver behind why I wanted to open the first cocktail bar in Vietnam, focusing only on a bespoke tasting menu. And now, thanks to our mixologist, Richard, our very own Mood Therapist, Kuusi has arrived with an amazing cocktail-tasting menu.”