Man at the helm, Trinh Lai, is a successful restaurateur who plied his trade in Denmark before returning to his homeland to take on several projects both here and in Hanoi. The man behind the design is Scott Whittaker, owner of DWP Thailand, who also designed the world-renowned Sirocco in Bangkok, while in the kitchen is Melbourne-born chef Andy O’Brien who during his 17 years at the stoves has cooked for the likes of Madonna, Shakira, Elton John and Bon Jovi. Then there is German mixologist Bernardo Bernard on the bar, an award-winning master bartender who also has a long list of achievements to his name. It’s quite a team.
The August opening of Chill follows a recent trend of building bars and restaurants up on high. For years, except for the likes of Top of the Town, Level 23 and Saigon Saigon, all based in five-star hotels, all other projects have stuttered along or failed. It took until the arrival last year of Shri, a restobar based on the 23rd floor of Centec Tower, for an independent project of this ilk to make its mark. The conundrum is simple. How do you get people to take an elevator 20 or 30 floors up when it is far easier just to go to places located on the street? And how do you get your name out there without signage and an entrance on the street?
Chill is not alone in being the latest restaurant and bar in Saigon to open up on high. Already long in the pipeworks are the three floors of restaurants and bars at the top of the Bitexco Tower. According to the people behind this project, the opening date will be 11 11 11, although speak to the staff at the Saigon Skydeck and they will tell you Sep. 2.
Whichever date is correct is irrelevant. With so much money being ploughed into each of these projects — Chill has even had to build on two extra floors — the risks are high and it’s certainly worth taking a leaf out of Shri’s book. Shri conquered the problem of being up high thanks to its contemporary décor, its great outdoor terrace and casual but not-overpriced mid to top-end European cuisine. Its marketing, both to Vietnamese and foreigners, has been strong, too. And also, as some restaurateurs will be quick to point out, they were there first.
Don’t Get Vertigo
Loc now takes me up to the second floor and I stare through floor-to-ceiling windows at the view below. It’s sensational. Even sat indoors you will have the sweeping cityscape as your backdrop, and at 26 floors up Chill is high enough to make the city below look majestic and yet not too high to give you vertigo or make you feel like you’re floating in the clouds.
From everything Loc tells me — PR ideas, the launch, pricing, the cocktails, the kind of clientele they are hoping to attract — I get the sense that this could be quite a venue, one that could really draw in the crowds. But, it’s one thing having a concept and creating something beautiful. Making it work is another issue altogether. Anyone who submits to the Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” outlook, is doomed to failure.
Indeed, by all accounts TV chef Bobby Chinn is already struggling with his restaurant that is set to open in Kumho Plaza in September. And here is someone with an international reputation and more than a decade’s worth of experience as a restaurateur in Hanoi. Then there are the likes of Vietnam Idol Quang Dung’s QD Bar, which never quite got off the ground, and singer Siu Black’s café, which turns over the customers but not much more. For all those restaurants and bars that have succeeded, far more have failed. And neither celebrity owners or international backing can guarantee that you’re onto a winner.
But, for the sake of having more international standard bars and restaurants in Saigon, let’s wish Chill, Bobby Chinn and the project in the Bitexco Tower every success. It can only benefit this city if they work.