A miniature artery from District 1 to District 5, Pham Viet Chanh is one of Saigon’s most hectic streets. Motorbikes scream down this road, cars make no apologies, local businesses line one side, a rather alarming hospital sits back from the tarmac, and in the middle of it all is a little slice of quiet, polite delicacy — 1985 Cafe.


Cafe founder and owner, Hoang Nguyen, created The 1985 in August 2014. “I love baking and Japanese culture,” she says. “I wanted to create a cafe based on this.” The cafe is small, spread over two floors, each just big enough to fit a few tables and chairs, and everything is baked and prepared on-site, behind the serving counter. There is plenty of warm, natural light, and the general atmosphere is what you might expect from a vintage European living room, only with imitation cherry blossoms and a display of Japanese tea.


Hoang’s staff pay attention to detail — tissues sit in one corner, the Wifi name and password are clearly visible, free iced water comes with your order and the toilet is clean and quaint — although a little small.


Have Your Cake…


The front door to The 1985 is painted white with big, glass panes. A wide, glass cabinet full of tempting desserts sits inside the door, and the whole café is filled with soft whiffs of butter pastry and rich, sugary cream. In fact, as my photographer and I make our way to the serving counter I start to wonder if we are here for the coffee or for that majestic Stant Honore to my left...


“Actually, 95% of our customers come to eat cake,” says Hoang. “They often prefer to enjoy it with one of our Japanese teas rather than a coffee.”


The 1985 does sell a wide range of tempting coffees, as well as sodas, smoothies and many other original creations. Prices range from VND35,000 for a cappuccino to VND65,000 for a matcha latte special, and from VND38,000 for a tasty creme brulee to VND75,000 for a chocolate lava cake.


Serving sizes are generous, and as people roll out of the café at the end of a satisfying snack, their wallets remain as full as their stomachs.


Vanilla Cream and Biscuits


Having studied the menu, we ordered two desserts and a big pot of orange tea. Fruit paradise Japanese tea is as fragrant as it sounds, and is served on a raised glass tray with its base resting above a tea candle. In theory, this keeps it warm, in practice it spreads gold light through the glass pot, creating an enchanting effect.


Our first dessert was the towering Stant Honore, with its puffs of vanilla cream, light and airy, nestled in piles on top of a round, crisp butter-biscuit, and a delicate chocolate button sitting on top of it all, bearing the name “The 1985”.


But the mango passion cheesecake was a clear favourite — a three-layered construction with a buttery, crumbly base, a thick centre and a final sliver of tart, passionfruit jelly to balance it all.


Hoang established her first café on Pham Viet Chanh almost two years ago now, and has just opened a new, sister branch on Dong Khoi. In the future, Hoang hopes to open a third café in District 2, as well as a separate project to link all three places together.


“I want to create The 1985 Cooking Studio,” she says. “People could learn about our baking techniques, Japanese foods, and maybe Vietnamese foods too.”


1985 Café is at 223/2k Pham Viet Chanh, Q1, HCMC

Photos by Bao Zoan

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