8D79AE47 7DDB 4C7E 9513 C27011B02382

Laowai x Hope & Sesame, VCW2024

Vancouver cocktail week is in full swing, and the 3rd year of this celebration in drink and food has bought some international talent onto our stage.

Being blown away by Laowai’s last guest bartender shift with the duo from Penicillin bar in Hong Kong, I was excited to get at taste of Guangzhou, China from Hope & Sesame tonight. Behind the bar would be owners Bastien Ciocca and Andrew Ho, representing No. 74 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

Our home bar would be Laowai, and for those unfamiliar they are the speakeasy hidden behind the facade of a dumpling shop in Chinatown.

The ticketed night included 4 of their signature cocktails and a round of the Laowai’s dumplings. The former of which made from tinctures and mixes imported from China to shake and stir for us in Vancouver today. These events offer a way for those less travelled inclined, (such as myself), to get a little bit of culture closer to home, and via a good drink.

During such events the bar is the place to be, to be able to connect with the guest bartenders and watch as they mix magic. And today our high top seats were right before Bastien Ciocca, who oddly enough, by night’s end would be teaching me how to speak Malay (after hearing I was born in Brunei, and notes that during his travels he did a stint there himself).

Bastien walked us through the cocktail listing, suggesting the order in which to best appreciate each.

We would begin with Bish-Bosh as the lightest of the four offered and work our way from there. A mix of Peddler’s Salted Plum Gin, Shiso, Plum, Lime & Lime husk, Amaro, and Tomato-boshi. I love a savoury cocktail in a landscape of sugary sweet offerings. This starts with watermelon and ends on tomato, almost gazpacho-like given the chilled nature. This would be my favourite cocktail of the evening as it evolved in-mouth from the time it hits your palate to the moment it leaves its mark, lingering. And when you bite into the pickled tomato you a bold and quick hot take of the drink all in one mouthful.

Next was the Fairly Complicated, which looked like a healthy green juice, given its midnight green hue. Peddler’s Gin, Long Jing, Green Cardamom, Apple, White Port, Absinthe, and Scrappy’s Grapefruit Bitters. Despite the listing above I was surprised to get lemongrass on the palate, instead of liquorice. Like wizardry I licked my lips of citrus, the kind you find in tom yum soup with coconut milk. Mellow South East Asian and Thai flavours that matched well with food. I just could have used some more green apple for a nice refreshing tart edge to cut into the one dimensional tone.

I was most intrigued by the Mushroom Espresso Martini as the pick me up option. Wuliangye Baijiu, Mushroom, Cacao Nibs, Condensed Milk, Osmanthus Yellow Wine, Espresso, and Coffee Liqueur. It drank like a watered down hot chocolate, especially with the bit of cookie wafer, mini clothes pegged to the side of the glass. The drink had the viscosity of a milk cream, but not the mouth-feel. Light enough that it could be paired with food, especially when picking up on the umami mushroom notes. Now and then I got wisps of the coffee flavour as well, but overall it was more cacao nib forward, when I really wanted it to me more like dessert when I read “condense milk”. Impressed yet again by how well they incorporate the spirits, to not even be able to tell the drink has both baijiu and wine.

The last cocktail was the Maotai Milk Punch with Maotai Baijiu, Cherry, Dark Chocolate, Lillet rose, Clarified Milk & Cream, and Scrappy’s Fire Tincture. Bastien explained the clarification process as he mixed. That the once bold flavours are diluted through this process for yet another cocktail that would pair well with food, as a pose to trying to dominate it. Here, the eye catcher was the edible poem adhered to the side of the glass. An candied paper printed with squid ink. It had vanilla notes and reminded me of white rabbit candy. A sweetness to balance out the more tart cherry chocolate of the drink itself. I found it much like a blurred Black Forest cake. This was my least favourite of the four, only because it came out more like a Shirley Temple with the artificial sour cherry and large ice block. I would have liked a chilled glass and a more robust black cherry finish instead.

And because we were at Laowai, (which specializes baijiu), helmed by Hope and Sesame, (that features baijiu in their cocktails), we were treated to a complimentary bonus baijiu shot. Chilli flavoured baijiu prepared in a heated kettle and ready in 20 minutes. Honestly one of the more aromatic baijiu that I have tried (not that I have had many, all of which were from Laowai actually). It smelled like acetone nail polish remover, but tasted like the chilli. Sweet from the skin to start, with the burn coming to a close at the end.

And I only recently found out that Laowai has more than just dumplings on their food menu, so had to give a couple of dishes a try.

Their Fermented Black Bean Chicken has its origins from Guizhou, but curated for Vancouver palates (like the rest of their tapas-style menu). Chicken thighs, onion, dry chili, and housemade fermented black bean sauce. This isn’t what I think of when I read “black bean”. Instead of the thick gravy-like coating topped with whole mashed beans, this was more a glaze over dry chunks of chicken. As is, it felt like it needed a base, some rice or a wrapper to round out the dish.

I loved how they made the Salt & Pepper Squid cocktail lounge ready. I have never seen more perfectly sliced and dainty rings of chewy, crispy breaded squid. Amazing little nibbles to pop into you mouth and chase with a small sip. Inspired by the recipe from Fujian this is Gar-Lock Calamari with Thai Chili, Roasted Jalepeno, and a sweet & sour soy.

And because they are a front for a dumpling shop, and if you have never been, you have to try their dumplings. A variety taken from all over Asia. This was my guest’s first time so I let them choose what they wanted to try.

Laowai’s Bison Momos have their originals in Tibet. Prepared with Two Rivers ground bison, turmeric, peppercorn soy, and house-made sepen. The meat filling was hard and dense at the centre, giving it a hamburger-like texture. I would have liked a softer centre with more greens mixed in like scallion, leek or green onion; instead of just on top. It also would have been nice to have a sweeter sauce to dip each into, to better contrast the earthiness of the wild game meat.

The Cumin Lamb Dumplings from Xinjiang had a similar feel. Two Rivers lamb, toasted cumin, and the same peppercorn soy. Another dense ball at the centre, with the wrapper just surrounding it. The bison and lamb tasted very similar, so it would have been nice to have a more defined cumin flavour here, and/or different seasonings and sauces so that if you ordered both you get some variety in your generous plate of six.

In short, this was another one of a kind experience, bringing culture and different bars to the door step of Vancouver. I cannot wait for the next one this Wednesday, as they only get better the more practice and experience Laowai gets at hosting. To date this is only the 4th in the series with Madrid and Argentina coming up this Vancouver Cocktail Week. And the likes of Greece in the future. See you at the next one!

251 East Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 176

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top