Located in a mostly residential area off Au Co, the café is easy to find, and is well sign-posted once you get to Alley 45. Walking into Ban, I was struck by how cool it was in the heat of a Hanoi summer. Shade trees, a thatched Balinese-style balé with floor cushions in muted tones, a wooden swing and a hammock greeted me as I strolled through the front gate into the garden entrance. A pond with bright green lily pads, a trickling water feature and the faint strains of a piano being played added to the ambience.
Inside, Ban is decorated with textiles from the Hmong and Dao ethnic minorities — even the toilet sports a large wall hanging. The café’s owners, Tu Hua and her French husband Quentin, have a passion for the northern areas of Vietnam, and this is evident in the décor and the philosophy of Ban. They wanted to create a culture sharing space, and run live music events, film nights and improv sessions to advance their mission. Unfortunately, most of the café’s events are in in Vietnamese or French, but they say they are looking to expand to English-language entertainment in the future.
Ban has a good selection of teas, and Tu advised me that the hibiscus (VND50,000) and tropical fruit (VND60,000) teas are the most popular items. I’m usually a tea drinker in the afternoon, but I opted for a Vietnamese iced coffee (VND25,000) to address my flagging energy levels, and was disappointed. It was bitter and watery — I was expecting a much smoother brew. My disposition toward the coffee may have been more favourable had they not run out of one of my favourite desserts.
Who Moved my Cheese(cake)?
If there is cheesecake on the menu, I rarely pass on it, and cookies and cream variety (VND25,000) was a novelty. I ordered it and was promptly told they had run out. Disappointed, I opted for a chocolate and almond biscuit (VND25,000), which — when it arrived — was a generous square, served on a rustic blue-and-white ceramic dish. It had a nice crunch, but was a little bland for my liking; however, my opinion could have been influenced by residual disappointment from the non-existent cheesecake. Of course, I could have opted for the tiramisu — at VND60,000 one of Ban’s biggest sellers — but I wanted something to stick to my ribs.
Ban also has a good range of smoothies (from VND40,000 to VND60,000), beer (VND35,000 to VND40,000) and for meat eaters, buffalo jerky (VND50,000 for a small dish, or VND100,000 for a large.)
The café’s main attraction is its ambience, and Tu is keen for businesses or groups to take advantage of the space for meetings, workshops and the like. And there’s a sweetener: no fee is charged for meetings.
Ban Café is at No 22, Alley 45, 200 Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi. The café is open from 2pm to 10pm daily, and late on weekends. For more information, go to facebook.com/bancafevanhoa
PHOTOS BY TEIGUE JOHN BLOKPOEL