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Why go to Y Coffee? Not for the drinks

Update: January, 19/2015 - 13:54
Casual comfort:The cosy cafe has a chilled-out setting despite its downtown location. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

If you're looking for a pleasant spot to watch the world go by, this Ha Noi cafe may be just the place. Nguyen My Ha reports.

Balanced meal: A combo set of fish and vegetables is accompanied by a bowl of rice and soup.

There are times it feels that Ha Noi is saturated with all types of coffee shops you can possibly think of: hole-in-a-window breweries, townhouse cafes that serve coffee with a filter, and hip, upscale establishments serving a very wide variety of coffee including no styles to go along with matchas or peach flavours.

The price-range is wide as well, from just VND15,000 (70 US cents) for a cup of coffee with sweet condensed milk to VND100,000 ($5) and beyond at the likes of Starbucks. And as you ride around the city, you can spot a new cafe opening every fortnight.

So when a new coffee shop opened very near where we work a few months ago, we did not give it much thought or attention. Recently, its proximity prompted me to choose Y Coffee as the rendezvous for a business lunch.

It cannot be denied that the coffee shop has the three things that restaurateurs consider most important for success: location, location, location.

It stands on the corner of two of the most beautiful boulevards in Ha Noi - Ly Thuong Kiet and Le Thanh Tong, in a colonial French Villa that has been renovated with modern comforts and a garden that has been turned into a cosy space nestling in the shade of age-old fruit trees.

Office lunch: Noontime sets include rice and pork ribs.

However, it also has to be said that location is not the only factor behind Y Coffee's rising popularity in the few months that it has been open. For downtown office workers looking for more open spaces and a greater variety of food options, this coffee shop is an ideal choice.

Ha Noi is a working city. It wakes up early. Small shops open and have food ready to serve as early as 6.30am. In winter, most pavement breakfast stalls are ready for students to grab some sticky rice or slurp down a bowl of hot pho before they catch a bus to school. Office workers also start their day at about 8am and most would want to have some noodles or a sandwich before their morning coffee.

Y Coffee happens to be an earlier riser as well, which as it should be. It's breakfast choices: bun hai san, hot seafood noodle soup (VND88,000), Banh cuon Thanh Tri, cold rice crepes with cinnamon-flavoured pork paste (VND48,000), and beef pho (VND68,000). Because I'm a fan of the cold pancakes from Thanh Tri, I really enjoyed the dish. But if you'd prefer having hot soup during these cold days, you may prefer a bowl of pho.

Sitting at Y Coffee gives you the feeling of being in a Parisian pavement cafe, where people sit outside, sip coffee and watch the world go by. Though life pace in Ha Noi is much slower, you would find it hard put to see someone holding a sandwich or a paper cup of coffee in their hands and rushing to work or to catch a bus or train in the morning. And Y Coffee is a good place to watch the world go by.

Y Coffee

2 Ly Thuong Kiet, Ha Noi

Tel: 04-3933-2487

Time: 7am-11pm

Price Range: VND100,000-200,000

Comment: Picturesque setting with average food

Lunch starts around noon and tends to last within an hour. The set lunch menu here includes rice with ribs (VND90,000), sea sculpins (VND138,000), salmon or perch (VND158,000) and a bowl of vegetable soup. With office buildings and government offices all around, Y Coffee has become a popular lunch destination. I was quite surprised to have sea sculpins to go with my rice because caramel sea sculpins are more popular in the south. The fish did not make me really happy about the food, but it did not disappoint me.

If you sit outside, you can contemplate the great façade of the Ha Noi National University on Le Thanh Tong Street, an architectural gem designed by Ernest Hebrard (1875-1933) that was completed in 1926.

Herbrard has left a prominent legacy in Ha Noi, creating a style that blended French structures with local materials - wood, bricks and steel, to adapt to the tropical climate. Hanoians, both architects and other residents, call it the French style, but French architects say it is distinctively local and Indochinese.

The former French quarter in Ha Noi houses other works by Herbrard. Just a few blocks down Le Thanh Tong stands the Museum of History and further left towards the Red River, The Yersin Institute stands in a large campus that is less frequented by tourists.

The menu also has Western dishes like pizza, pasta and ice-cream. These days, a family dining out experience would not be complete if the kids do not get the pasta they want, so this inclusion works in Y Coffee's favour.

Hence, office days apart, I would still call my friends and ask them to bring their families for a Sunday brunch, if we happen to be in downtown. — VNS

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