Tag Archives: best bars yangon

Food fiesta at TinTin

Published in Mizzima on 27 August 2015

TinTin's elotes
TinTin’s elotes

The newly opened TinTin is self styled as a home-made Mexican street food and tequila bar and there’s no doubt that it serves up great Mexican grub in hipster-happy surrounds.

As to be expected from a 57 Below venture – the investment company that brought Yangonites the delights of Union Bar, two Parami Pizza branches and Gekko (the latter of which TinTin is most similar to architecturally) – the décor is top notch. Industrial styled light bulbs suspended from colourful rods give off a warm glow, while the ‘pipeline’ lights keep it cozy upstairs. The view of the glass panelled kitchen below is softened by sheets of metal armoury and the rustic wooden tables and the cheerily coloured seats and cushions achieve a relaxed sense of style. Place mats are made of sheets of brown paper with the odd stamp sporting the restaurant’s name. Perhaps needless to say, the only music lyrics you’ll hear will be in Spanish and the tempo upbeat.

Street food in Mexico is called antojitos (literally “little cravings”) because it is comprised of foods that are typically not eaten during the main meal of the day – corn is one such example. Mexico is widely regarded as having the most extensive variety of street food in Latin America – if not the world. UNESCO respects the cuisine enough to have labelled it an intangible cultural heritage of mankind. Having sampled other Mexican offerings in Yangon – some of which are stranger than others – I’d say that TinTin most definitely takes the cake for authenticity. Full credit to TinTin’s Chef Jorge Bernal, who hails from Mexico City , along with what must surely be his tightly run ship.

I ordered the burrito compadre (US$9), which comprises chorizo chicken, rice, pico de gallo (better known as salsa) and comes with a spoonful of deliciously spicy chipotle mayo. It was filling enough in itself – particularly for lunch, though I didn’t see any reason to stop there. The elotes (a.k.a. corn on the cob) was served with sour cream, two chunks of lime and sprinkled with cilantro (a.k.a. coriander). The mess it leaves on fingers and between the teeth doesn’t make it an ideal date dish – though it’s nothing a quick trip to the bathroom can’t fix. I was seated upstairs and headed to what I thought was the toilet. I saw a ‘staff only’ sign and a set of stairs leading to what looked like a back room, so I backed off and headed down the other set of stairs leading to the entrance. I felt a bit silly when I was then told by one of the smartly dressed staff that the first stairs I’d seen do in fact lead to the toilet (this is a rather long way of saying that a toilet sign would be useful). The stairs to the toilets are steep and the lighting dim – I wouldn’t recommend taking them on after a few tequilas.

TinTin's downstairs dining area
TinTin’s downstairs dining area

And speaking of tequilas – there’s no shortage of ‘em at TinTin. There’s even a coffee flavoured variety for $8, while the costliest (and no doubt loveliest) is the seven-year-old Fuentesca at a whopping $19 a shot. There’s also a host of mezcals on offer, which a Google search defined as a spirit made from the heart of the cactus-like agave plant (and is not be confused with the psychoactive, mescaline producing peyote). Cocktails range from $5 to $8 and include an intriguing ‘beer on the rocks’ with a michelada mix, lime juice, chili and salt.

The use of Spanish throughout TinTin’s menu is a little intimidating if you don’t speak an iota of the language. Substituting a bit more English would better whet a less cultured appetite such as my own, as my ignorance meant I had to automatically exclude ordering several items.

Top marks for presentation - the burrito compadre
Top marks for presentation – the burrito compadre

Friends had warned me that TinTin is pricey. Even the guacamole costs US$5 – and on top of everything ordered is a 10 percent service charge and a 5 percent government charge. Lord knows how expensive it is to run a restaurant in Yangon, but being charged US$7 for a bottle of water and US$4 for a cob of corn that costs K250 (for two!) at the supermarket – even with the delicious condiments on top – didn’t feel like the best value in town. And that says something, as this town isn’t known for being good value.

A word of warning: TinTin is small and popular. Do not, as I did, turn up on a Saturday night without a booking, as you’ll likely be turned away or asked to return for the second sitting at 8pm. I’m certainly glad I didn’t give up after my first attempt to have a bite of Mexican in Yangon a la TinTin style.

Tin Tin Bogalazay is located on 116-188 Bogalazay Street (middle block) in Bohtataung Township, Yangon

Phone: (01) 245 904

Visit Tin Tin’s Facebook page for more information

An ongoing experiment – The Lab Wine and Tapas Bar

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 22 May 2014

The Lab in Yangon
The Lab in Yangon

Amine Zlaoui and Raouf Baccouche spent last year’s Thingyan break travelling across Myanmar and during a particularly pleasant evening in Bagan, the Tunisian duo hit on an idea: to open Yangon’s first tapas bar.

“We were having a few nice bottles of wine and suddenly we said, ‘You know what, let’s start a business together,’” Mr Zlaoui told Mizzima Business Weekly.

Almost exactly a year later, The Lab Wine and Tapas Bar flung open its doors to the public. A couple of hundred patrons poured into the medium-sized venue and its bar staff should be commended for somehow managing to keep up with the demand to pour them all a drink.

It’s even more impressive considering that The Lab’s service staff were recruited just 10 days before its opening on April 25.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Maillard
Photo credit: Emmanuel Maillard

“I know it’s quite hard to find skilled staff so I was stressed – but we were lucky,” Mr Zlaoui said.

Whilst it’s still early days, both managing directors are unanimously confident that their staff are a cut above the rest among the hospitality industry. Each of the 12 employees were headhunted following some strong recommendations from their contractor and executive chef – who also happen to be brothers-in-law. Executive chef Thura (who also goes by Tom) spent 12 years working in kitchens in London and is no stranger to international cuisines. Other candidates were put forward by The Lab’s operations manager, who spent three years in Dubai and is now working alongside several of his former colleagues.

“Most of our staff spent many years working abroad,” Mr Zlaoui said.

Converting the former garments shop into a stylish night venue also went without a hitch, despite the fact that a kitchen, bathroom and water tank needed to be installed, a wall demolished and its drag white walls made over. The brick walls, chairs, tables and light fixtures are custom made, and made in Myanmar.

“Renovations were finished in just six weeks because our contractor is excellent,” Mr Baccouche said.

“Setting up any business in Myanmar isn’t easy – but as you can see it’s possible. In actual fact, our biggest problems weren’t related to Myanmar itself. It was the administrative side of things that took a lot of time. We’d had no advice about how to set up a company,” he added.

However the pair, who were raised in Tunis and have known each other since they were 15 and also later studied together in Toulouse, France, share a strong vision of what they’re offering their clientele: something that can’t be found elsewhere in Yangon – an authentic tapas experience with an international component.

Tapas at The Lab. Photo credit: Emmanuel Maillard
Tapas at The Lab. Photo credit: Emmanuel Maillard

“Tapas isn’t a Spanish concept – it’s a Spanish word. The idea of bite-sized foods with a nice glass of wine also exists in Tunisia and other parts of Northern Africa, as well as France and the Middle East. But it’s known by a different name, such as mezze in the Middle East or kamia in Tunisia,” Mr Zlaoui said.

Tapas is well known for encouraging conversation, as diners may stand while sharing plates and aren’t focused on consuming an entire meal placed before them.

“Sharing is caring,” Mr Baccouche said with a laugh.

Needless to say, The Lab’s tapas selection, which at 26 items should please any palate, isn’t limited to Spanish cuisine alone. It also features scrumptious samples of North African fare, such as Mechouia salad with tuna chunks (K3,500), Middle Eastern classics such as falafel (K3,500), houmous (K,3000) and baba ghannouch (K3,000), as well as European, Asian and American.

“Yangon has virtually nothing in the way of Middle Eastern food, so we really wanted to bring that here,” said Mr Baccouche.

Ditto for the music, which are Middles Eastern and African beats. There are also plans in the works to have a Burmese guitarist play acoustic sets from 6.30pm during the week, and further down the track, on weekends as well.

For the foreseeable future, The Lab is only open for dinner – from 5.30pm until late.

“Firstly, I don’t believe in tapas for lunch. And I don’t think it would be worth it because The Lab is in a busy area and parking is difficult. So for now we’re focusing on nights. But if operations run smoothly we could do a Sunday brunch. I’d really like to be able to do that,” Mr Zlaoui said.

Amine Zlaoui and Raouf Baccouche
Amine Zlaoui and Raouf Baccouche

The only compromise made on classic tapas dining is not displaying every item on a platter for customers to peruse – a decision made necessary for financial reasons. Almost all The Lab’s produce is sourced locally and arrives fresh every day from the markets, whether it be the squid, shrimp, pork, beef, chicken or veggies. The cold cuts – Italian prosciutto and salami – are imported, as is salmon and tahini, as no other alternative yet exists. Fine cheeses will be added to the menu in around a month’s time, and the entire menu will change as regularly as the seasons.

The Lab is closed Mondays, but on the other six days of the week there’s a two-for-one happy hour for cocktails from 5.30pm until 7:30pm. Its wine selection includes 14 standard wines, seven of which are offered by the glass, plus two of the sparkling variety, the latter of which are produced using the champagne method of double fermentation (K28,000). There’s even champagne itself: a bottle of the best bubbly will set you back K80,000 or 90,000.

Something emphasised above all else is that The Lab aims to provide a new experience – not just during the first visit, but continuously. Its logo has more than a passing resemblance to laboratory equipment sketched in the shape of a wine bottle, and the branding is deliberate.

“Our concept is new and people have responded well to it, which is great,” Mr Baccouche said with a grin.

The Lab is at 70/A Shwe Gon Daing Road, Bahan Township, Yangon.

For bookings, call 09250018200 or 09250537979

For more information, visit The Lab’s Facebook page 

Pump up the volume: Yangon’s hottest night spots

Published in the May edition of My Magical Myanmar

Flamingo Bar
Flamingo Bar

If an award existed for the “City with the Most Improved Nightlife,” Yangon would be highly likely to take home the trophy. In less than a year, Yangon has transformed itself from KTV capital to eclectic party town, with an ever increasing number of options for night time revelers. So why not swap a sedate beer station for one of these exciting options next time you’re venturing out?

Escape Gastro Bar

Despite the fact that it’s located in a quiet residential neighbourhood far north of the downtown area, Yangon’s party people are making a beeline for Escape Gastro Bar. Arrive early and enjoy a Thai fusion meal, or skip that and start with one of the 20 or so cheekily named shots presented to you on a laminated chart, such as Bong Water or Motherfuc*ker. Gastro also serves whole watermelons filled with liquor. Yum.

Address: 31D Kan Yeiktha Street, Bahan township

Union Bar and Grill

Martinis at Union Bar and Grill
Martinis at Union Bar and Grill

When “Union” opened in 2013, it became the first establishment to seriously rival 50th Street Bar and Café. This is a chic nightspot that regularly throws parties (ie Halloween) and consistently serves up great food, speedy wifi and two-for-one deals, such as its menacing margaritas and tasty pizzas. While other spots may come and go, Union feels like a permanent addition to the city. And guess what? Union’s owners opened a second establishment in a converted colonial building last May. Gekko Bar serves up sake, yakatori and cigars (in addition to having a well stocked bar and tapas style dishes).  Gekko’s managing director, Nico Elliot, describes it as a “Japanese drinking den, with a Western touch.”

Union Bar and Grill – 42 Strand Road, Botahtaung township

Gekko Restaurant and Bar – 535 Merchant Street, Kyauktada township

50th Street Bar, Restaurant and Café

A 50th Street pizza
A 50th Street pizza

If you love drinking beer while watching rugby or cricket, then this place is your home-away-from-home. “50th Street” as it’s affectionately known, has been around for ages and it has big screen TVs, pool tables and a stunning spiral staircase leading to the upstairs lounge area. Well known local bands such as Side Effect play on occasion upstairs and the acoustics are great. 50th Street has been under new management since January 2014 and now focuses on serving up great pub fare (which as we know, also does wonders for those already hungover!). Last week I chomped down a chicken burger dripping with melted cheese and bacon and a generous side of chunky fries with salsa. Was fantastic!

Address: 50th Street (just off Merchant Street)

Captain’s Bar

Captains Bar
Captains Bar

Captains in the Savoy Hotel used to be one of the very few places in Yangon to sip a gin and tonic and it still maintains a crowd of regulars. However its popularity among the 20- and 30-something crowd is virtually non-existent these days. Perhaps it’s time for the nautical theme to be overhauled?

Address: Savoy Hotel on Inya Road

Mojo Bar

Mojo Bar
Mojo Bar

Across the road from Captain’s Bar is the recently renovated Mojo Bar, which sports exposed brick walls, long timber tables with candelabras, with an overall industrial look that’s very hip indeed. It has an upstairs area with a loungey feel and plenty of comfy sofas, and the music in the downstairs bar is sure to get you inching for a dance (for which you will need to visit a club, listed at the end). Recommended: an electric blue Smurf Kiss shot.

Address: No.135, Inya Road (corner of Inya and Dhammazedi roads)

The Strand Bar 

Though it seems implausible now given its stately feel, this bar was actually once used to stable Japanese troops’ horses during the Japanese occupation of Yangon. However for who knows how long, this bar has attracted Yangon’s wealthiest clientele. Happy hour lasts all night long on Fridays.

Address: 92 Strand Road

Sapphire Bar and Lounge

Sapphire Bar and Lounge
Sapphire Bar and Lounge

The oppressively hot staircase from the top floor of Alfa Hotel opens up to a bar with stunning potential. Like Vista Bar at Shwegondine intersection, Sapphire Bar and Lounge has magnificent views of Shwedagon Pagoda and generous outdoor seating. With the addition of fans and a wider variety of food available past 9pm (the menu limits itself to noodles at this time), this could become one of Yangon’s most popular night spots.

Address: No. 41, Yawmingyi Quarter, Nawaday Road

The Water Library

The Water Library
The Water Library

With two branches in Thailand already hugely popular, this high-end establishment is truly impressive – but expect to pay premium prices. Although there are apparently some issues with finding and keeping the right chef, The Water Library arguably has the widest selection of spirits and liquors in the city. And the staff behind the bar really know how to toss a cocktail mixer.

Address: 83/95 Corner of Manawharri and Pyay Road, Dagon township

Vista Bar

Arguably the best place to soak up the view of the Shwedagon Pagoda by night (minus the noise of the intersection below), this sleek little spot has a lot to offer. During inclement weather – that is to say, during the monsoon season, a glass roof is rolled across the open air space like a major sporting venue hosting a tennis match. Even when it’s raining the views are still spectacular because it’s located on the rooftop of the building next to Yves Rocher (remember this olive green store as a landmark because Vista’s sign is rather small and the venue is new in town) and the side partitions are entirely made of glass. Sit in a spacious booth for four to six or at a long table to the left of the well-stocked bar. The food and drinks here are on the costlier side, but the service is prompt and the music is loud enough to make yourself festive without being a barrier to conversation. Tapas is on the menu too. Dig in!

Address: 188 West Shwegondine Road

Nightclubs

Take your pick! While Yangon isn’t on a par with the likes of Bangkok or even Phnom Penh, there are several options for nightclubbing these days, and the number of people heading out late for a good time is on the rise. Try LV Pub, The Flamingo Bar, The Music Club (at Park Royal Hotel), Pioneer, Paddy O’ Malley’s or GTR and DJ’s Bar, both of which are in the sprawling Inya Lake Hotel.