It should be said that Xi Nghiep isn’t the first café in Hanoi to take a rundown French-style townhouse and enliven it with recycled furniture and whitewashed exposed brick. It also isn’t the first café to serve juice and curiously named shots (AK47, anyone?) alongside the usual swathe of coffee options. But what it does, it does well. And we like that very much.
You get an immediate sense of how ‘hip’ the place is as soon as you step over the threshold. Visitors are greeted by a rustic makeshift bar fashioned out of old bricks and recycled wooden slabs, while old propaganda prints and light bulbs dangle from the ceiling. However, despite its cool foundations, the café has a quaint, welcoming feel.
Xi Nghiep is spread over two levels, with bench seating suitable for groups and chilled tunes that will calm even the weariest wanderer. Aspiring hipsters and Instagrammers will find plenty of inspiration in the café’s charming simplicity and homely touches, such as its collection of antique Polaroid cameras and makeshift vases suspended from the ceiling.
The Quiet Corner
Writers or those tragically behind on boring life-admin may find it a good place to buckle down and grind away the hours in a quiet corner overlooking the leafy passage. To this writer’s delight, the café also has, as a significant point of difference, a functioning barista machine and — might I add — one very effective barista. The cappuccino (VND35,000) I ordered hit the nail on the head: strong, frothy and just the right amount of milk. My accomplice was also pleased with their choice of the venue’s iced mocha (VND35,000).
While you can’t really argue with the prices, or its random selection of alcoholic drinks, ranging from the daring Alaskan iced tea (VND50,000) to a delightful-sounding strawberry margarita (VND40,000), you can argue with its lack of food options — which seems a bit odd for a place selling dangerously potent cocktails for so little.
But in Hanoi, where your options for lavish café houses are endless, and the hipsters are forever swarming, you may find this hidden gem’s simple interiors and consistent brews a refreshing change of pace. — David Mann
Xi Nghiep is at 40, Ngo 210 Doi Can, Ba Dinh, Hanoi