Le Petit Café

This place looks prettier in picture than in real life. The reason I was even motivated to go here in the first place was because of the amazing photos I saw on my friends’ Facebook page — mostly of the café’s signature blue and white window that would frame beautifully in picture podcasts. In reality, you go there not to look beautiful in the imaginary podcasts, but to sit by that very window, trying to enjoy the view of a narrow, dull and sad alley; one spa, and what looks like an abandoned garage.

Not so successful nor satisfying a first attempt to find something that tops/compares Joma — I must admit. But I tried.

1. Atmosphere

Le Petit’s location is not the easiest to find. It is sandwiched between these tiniest little alleys along an equally tiny and relatively unpopular “street” — Ha Hoi. It took me about three wrong turns to realise that the café’s address “25 Ha Hoi” is not to take literally, but rather as a reference. You get to Ha Hoi, turn right just to see a construction site at 25! You then turn left and get to Quang Trung street. So you stop yourself in the middle wondering if you are in the wrong street. Then you go back to 25 and realise next to it there’s another alley, numbered 30. Doubtfully still, you keep going and eventually see Le Petit on the left of that alley. This is definitely not a corner that a casual pedestrian would just walk by — one has to invest in finding this place.

The place is tiny (20 meters square as I recall) and quite unpolished. I guess the intention is to make it as Hanoi French as possible — with the white painted window frames decorated with flowers and lamps, the worn-down, cemented walls scattered with hooks and cheap picture frames; and old comics and miscellaneous novels casually stacked on bookshelves. This is nothing mind-blowing in a city like Hanoi, however. Once a French colony, Hanoi owes many of its building designs, decors, and even cuisine to the French. Le Petit styles like any of the much familiar French-inspired Hanoi Cafés, of which I’ve seen plenty.

Regardless, I actually have quite high respect for the designer of this café. Somehow, she manages to pull off the place quite well, despite all odds. Google “best café in Hanoi” or “must-see café in Hanoi”, Le Petit easily pops up in the top 5. You get here, look at the pretty view of the entire 20m2-wide cafe from the spa, and still agree “yes it’s pretty”. You get the best seat in the house, look around at the unimpressive view and cheap decor, and still somehow feel like the protagonist of that imaginary movie. You go upstair (a tiny stairs with only about 5 steps), again underwhelmed with the nothing new table setup, yet find yourself smile at the loveable little lantern by the upstair window.

If I have to put a finger on what Le Petit’s represents, it would be “essentially Hanoi” — pretty, yet borrowed design; tiny, yet efficiently used space, and full of locals. The café attracts your average Hanoi coffee-goers: teenagers that probably find the place through Kenh 14, and come here to take as many selfies and food pictures as possible; casual and laid-back lads who smoke, swear and always order some variation of black coffee or coffee with condensed milk; old-fashioned couples who still yet to get by the reserved, awkward, coffee-going and chitchatting phase. Le Petit houses them all in its tiny space, which is quite impressive.

Atmosphere Score: 7.5

2. On the Menu

I don’t have much to say about the menu here — as I only ordered one drink (mint matcha) and was not impressed at all by it (overly sweet). The selection of foods and drinks here is what you could find in ANY typical café, with no twist nor surprise. I guess I should have ordered my favourite Nâu Đá (Iced coffee with condense milk). The tip is, when in doubt, order one Nâu đá, which you never can go wrong ordering in Hanoi.

Menu Score: 6

(should be 7, but the super sweet matcha forces me to deduct 1 point)

3. Others

Some bonus points for this café potentially includes:

  • the guitars (upstairs) — suitable for group of friends, birthday, or young boys who want to impress girlfriends
  • Henna/tatto drawing (personally not interested)
  • The quality of the books? (not interested either. The books look like the collection from a not very well-travelled person. Like, I had something like that when I was 17)
  • The loft upstairs
  • Mostly affordable food and drinks

Other Score: 5

All in all, I found Le Petit’s title as one of Hanoi’s top cafes to be an overshoot, although there are definitely parts of it that I could very much appreciate. As I could easily find cafes like this any place else in the city, Le petit doesn’t score very high for “uniqueness”. However, its raw, unpolished and calming vibe somehow still keeps me stay without being annoyed or disappointed. I could definitely see myself going here on a rainy day, ideally getting the best seat in the house. I would not return here for a while though, so we’ll see how my feelings about it evolve. I can’t really see any of the regular customer I see in Joma go here though.

Summary Name: Le Petit Cafe Address: 25 Ha Hoi, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi Key points: small, difficult to find, window seat, typically Hanoi, affordable Total Score: 18.5/30

Next stop: some place in Ha Giang/ Quang Binh (where I will go on field trips)

Originally published at hanoicafereviewproject.wordpress.com on October 29, 2013.

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