Finally, we can breathe again…only not too close to each other. The most punishing months of the pandemic are over. And for good we hope. And like green shoots sprouting between the concrete, some bars and restaurants have survived and others have resolutely stuck to their plans to open. There’s even a high-concept garden store where you get to dance with the plants.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
It’s been a depressing sight driving through Saigon’s District 1 and seeing all the permanently shuttered shopfronts. But softening the blow are new bars, restaurants and even a garden concept store opening up in Binh Duong.
One of Saigon’s best banh mi, Bánh Mì Ô Môi as it’s nicknamed, better known as Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa, has expanded too, with the opening of a new store. And there’s edgy art-space, store and bistro, Yentown too.
Besides, some of our most beloved cafés and restaurants are expanding their empire – like Rang Rang Coffee and their beans-to-door delivery concept, and esteemed omakase spot Kiyota Sushi Sake Restaurant with their new restaurant, Ko-Hey.
BEL • Coffee • Wine
There’s a lot of excitement about BEL • Coffee • Wine already. That’s partly because this all-day specialty café and wine bar has a very talented team behind it – Building Coffee owners Will Frith and Kel Norman, and sommelier Dan Van Sousanis.
We ask Kel Norman who she expects to be visiting BEL • Coffee • Wine. “Wine seekers and specialty coffee fans,” she tells us. Plus, she’s expecting lots of residents from the apartment building upstairs and the hip denizens of Pham Viet Chanh. The apartment’s name, Belong, inspired the name of this spot, “as well as my grandmother, whose name was Belle,” Kel smiles.
Slated to open in July, naturally, the pandemic ruined everything, temporarily at least. “But if anything, I think the lockdown has only made us stronger,” Kel adds contentedly about the flexibility and resilience the team have developed the last few months. Then she’s back to her iced oatty latte and veggie panini that she likes to enjoy in the booths at the back of BEL • Coffee • Wine, perfect for people watching.
In short: Coffee and wine curated just for you by respected connoisseurs.
Address: 40/8 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District
Rei Bar & Art Space
Artists and alcohol are inseparable. From alcoholic Frans Hals lurching between canvases in the 17th century, to Van Gogh, deranged from too much absinthe, lopping off an ear, to Francis Bacon toasting champagne in the Colony Room. Now, Rei Bar & Art Space is keeping the connection alive…only the art so far is more street-culture oriented like the current graffiti-canvases by Daos501.
“We believe that every picture has a story to tell,” owner Anh Thu smiles, “And our mission is to create an atmosphere for these stories to reveal themselves.”
Rei is a real sensory experience. “We really want to stimulate the senses too,” Anh Thu adds, “from specially crafted cocktails to the artworks on the walls that inspired them.”
In short: The fine art of getting tipsy.
Address: 371/4 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
Rang Rang Coffee
Maybe you haven’t visited Rang Rang’s first store over in Diamond Island. If you had, you’d know they already have a sharply minimalist aesthetic and a passion for Vietnam’s favorite beans, not that they restrict themselves to homegrown produce. They source the best green beans in the world, and prepare them with care.
They also have an experimental edge, think vodka cold brew – ground coffee steeped with the spirit – that’s topped with salted cream and is so smooth you’d never guess the ABV.
The team are set to launch a coffee subscription service that brings those beans right to your door. But in case these post-lockdown days have you yearning for some human interaction, Rang Rang Coffee are set to open their second location on the corner where Thao Dien Street begins. Expect very big things from this upstart and inventive coffee brand.
In short: Chic coffee obsessives set to takeover Thao Dien.
Address: B2-2C, Bora Bora, Diamond Island & 1 Thao Dien [opening soon]
Tiki Tak Cocktail
Love the location. Tiki Tak Cocktail has popped up among that ramshackle row of shophouses on Ham Nghi. It’s filling a gap in Saigon for a rum-soaked tiki bar. “There’s nowhere more tropical than this in town,” co-ower Yvan, who you might recognize from the hip loft concept-cafe My House, laughs. He’s probably right.
Is there anywhere with so many rums too? “There’s something like 100 different bottles here,” Yvan adds proudly. Besides that Tiki Tak Cocktail has all the feel-good elements you’d expect from a tiki bar – bamboo ceiling, ceramic cups, tropical decor, neon lights…and guaranteed good times.
In short: Tropical good times, guaranteed.
Address: 1st Floor, 102E Ham Nghi, District 1
Soko Cake Bake & Brunch
Considering Saigon’s appetite for decadent pastries and desserts, there’s definitely room for new concepts. Plus, there’s a shortage of decent places to brunch.
So here’s Soko Cake Bake & Brunch. Problem solved. The minimalist space flushed pink is Instagram-ready. The brunch dishes like beef sukiyaki tostada, the ‘bae burger’ and beef katsu sandwich, are eminently shareable, if you’re feeling generous. They’re joined by classics like eggs Benedict, the Soko full English breakfast and classic pancakes, And they’re all stylish enough to be included in the photo.
“I’d describe us as an all-day café,” Khoa Luong explains. Their menu is European with Asian accents, and the odd nod to street food. “For example, there’s even a twist on banh xeo on the menu,” Khoa points out. But Soko Cake Bake & Brunch’s cubed croissants, cronuts, cruffins and more might become the biggest draw. “My favorite?” Khoa asks, “I like the creative seasonal items like our pumpkin spice cheesecake and crème brûlée butterscotch”.
The name, by the way, means ‘that place’ in Japanese. And it might well become that place you go to all the time.
In short: ‘That place’ with a different approach to brunching.
Address: 27A Nguyen Trung Truc, District 1
Omakase Sushi Ko-Hey
Is this the beginning of a reverse migration? While people are looking to the second Japanese town of Pham Viet Chanh for new openings, ever-contrary restaurateur Koutarou Kiyota has surprised everyone, and delighted diehard District 1 residents, by opening his new place in the alleys of the original Japan Town off Thai Van Lung.
“It’s kind of the same concept,” Koutarou smiles evasively about his new spot. It looks the same too, classic counter seating, a table or two at the side, only the design is sleeker and more stylish.
There’s already a couple of good omakase spots in this area, Kobayashi and Sushi Hung, but Kiyota’s fresh ingredients and his confident arrangement and juxtaposition of courses into his omakase sets at Kiyota always had us hopping in a taxi for a night at the counter there. Thankfully, now we can drift into these dreamy alleys for the same experience.
In short: One of Saigon’s best omakase restaurants comes home.
Address: 8A/A21 Thai Van Lung, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Beanthere – DIY House
Beanthere – DIY House is brand new. And besides being a tropical hideaway serving cold brews and lattes, milk teas, smoothies and snacks, they also offer craft activities in the same building.
In the yard of this house in an alley between Tran Hung Dao and Vo Van Kiet, plants overhang and a trellis leads guests inside where the furnishing are decorated with leaf motifs, bringing the outside in.
In short: Coffee + crafts.
Address: 42/7 Ho Hao Hon, Co Giang, District 1
Contact: Facebook | Instagram
là lá la Concept
Makes sense. One of the founders of party collective Picniq goes on to launch a garden center…with groove. It’s something like Greendaroom in Korea, which streams DJ sets from amidst their swaying plants, sometimes with everyone in the booth dressed like their favorite greenery.
là lá la Concept – named after the contended song gardeners are prone to singing – is also inspired by the idea that plants like music just as much as us. And Huy, Picniq founder, and the partners here, Mark Do and Toan are genuinely passionate about plants. They sent us one over, a Snygonium Albo, with extensive notes and links on how to take care of it (FYI you need to water it daily and support it with a mossy pole).
“We’re not the usual plant shop,” Huy explains, “We want to provide a more arty experience…” They’re still finishing off the place, coming soon to Binh Duong, so stay tuned for updates and the odd livestreamed DJ set. And they’re planning some plant-based parties with Saigon partners soon. Until then, listen to the mix the là lá la Concept crew shared with us of indie dance, by Zoey, above.
In short: A Binh Duong garden store with a groove.
Translation by Bao Ngoc, photos by venues