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Hẻm Gems: Come for the Architecture, Stay for the Architecture

In an age when seemingly every building in Saigon has been knocked down for redevelopment at least once, it's rare to be able to spend time in a truly unique architectural gem.

Indeed, this week's Hẻm Gem is a bit different from usual, as it is much more about the place than what is actually served.

If you've got a sharp eye and have been stuck in traffic on the way to the airport before, you may have noticed the house at 140 Nguyen Van Troi Street. The distinctly modernist villa stands out from the usual tube houses and newer glass-and-steel high rises of the area, particularly thanks to the space age-esque logo on its second floor.

The interior was long a mystery to architecture fans in the city, but a few months ago a 'for rent' sign appeared out front. Now, a section of the ground floor is occupied by Kim Cafe, a casual, wooden stool type place where customers while away a hot afternoon while the staff watch videos on their phones. 

The menu is fairly standard, with your usual selection of coffee, tea, soft drinks and iced fruit drinks, though a wide variety of mojitos does stand out. Prices are extremely reasonable, with nothing costing over VND30,000 — I went for a blueberry yogurt drink, which was very refreshing now that we're in the scorching dry season.

To be honest, however, you won't come to Kim Cafe for the drinks. It's unfortunate that you can't access more of the house, as most of it is fenced off for another business, but the parts you can see are spectacular. From the sharp angles of the facade to the intricate wrought-iron windows and the beautiful original tile floor, this is a real architectural gem, and a prime example of Vietnamese Modernist design.

I also have to give kudos to the cafe's owner for not simply tearing the place down — in a city with so many unique older buildings, this should be the standard, rather than the exception. The drinks at Kim Cafe won't blow anyone away, but if you're looking for a unique setting where you can get a taste of homegrown Vietnamese architecture, look no further than the road to the airport.

 

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Friendliness: 3/5

Location: 4/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

Kim Cafe

140 Nguyen Van Troi, Ward 8, Phu Nhuan District

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