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Hẻm Gems: Lost in the Half-Childlike, Half-Adult World of 'The Little Prince'

Remember the tale about a little boy who travels planet to planet on a quest to discover and retrieve lessons about the adult world? This cafe is yet another untold chapter of that story.

If you are anything like me, you might have spent part of your childhood thinking about and trying to interpret the story The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The first time I read the book, I was bewildered by the inexplicably erratic story structure and often found myself hovering around the thought of what the narrator was trying to say. In the course of growing up and becoming more knowledgeable of the puzzle of life, I left this children story behind, until my visit to Le Petit Géant in District 2.

Le Petit Géant means "the little giant" in French, but the cafe prefers to be called "A Dream Baby" in Vietnamese. A Dream Baby (The Little Giant) sounds unapologetically child-like, while also making us want to giggle once in a while.

At first sight, it appears to be a modern Japanese-style concept coffee shop with concrete walls in two dominant colors: gray and black, dashed with a hint of wood here and there. Oddly enough, the ordering bar is outside, and before we had the chance to experience the atmosphere inside, we had to order outdoors.

As this is a coffee shop, a wide variety of caffeinated and non-caffeinated refreshments are available. After ordering, it is up to you whether you want to sit at the counter and wait for your drink while chatting with the barista or head inside to explore Le Petit Géant's interior.

When I visited, I was in the mood for the company of fresh air as the bartender was making my drink.

“Le Petit Géant opened not so long ago, about two months, and I trained for one month," the bartender shared as he cleaned the counter. "I have been here from the beginning with another waiter."

"The name is based on the children's book The Little Prince", he added. "The owner was fascinated by the story and wanted to create a living space just like in the story. She also travels a lot, and whenever she does, she always tries to collect signature souvenirs or items from foreign countries as a milestone from her trip. If you look inside, you will find all kinds of items, whether from France or Belgium."

Listening to the story, I still wondered about the reasons for creating a space, resembling one of the most iconic children's books of all time. From the moment I stepped inside, I was awed by the sophisticated, luxurious interior design, from the ceiling fan to the bookshelves.

The space is divided into three separate sections: one where you can work in quiet surrounded by bookshelves and inspirational works of art (I spotted a portrait of Mona Lisa wearing a cowboy hat, very exotic indeed); a more open area for working; and, and a relaxing lounge with sofas and dim lights.

The attention to different details is impressive and helps create a space that is strangely familiar, yet refreshing. For example, an old typewriter is accompanied by fairy lights. It was like going inside the mind of The Little Prince — half child, half grown-up. And I was just starting to comprehend the owner's intentions.

“At first, she wanted this place to be a gathering spot for Vietnamese artists to come and converse. This place is not crowded as you can see, only two or three customers per day, but they usually come early and stay till closing time, so it becomes a perfect hideout for most people,” the barista said as he brought our drinks to the table.

We ordered two specialties (as recommended): the lemon ice blended (for a non-caffeine junkie like me), and the roasted cold coffee. The coffee beans used for drinks have a very familiar taste that I could not quite put my finger on. “We are still searching for the most beloved taste of coffee drinks. We have tested with various coffee beans, even ones from our competitors, like Starbucks, and lately, we have been using beans from The Coffee House. However, we try to process it differently by adding more sophistication and elevating the taste,” the barista said.

In the end, I was fueled with curiosity and compelled to revisit the classic children's book. At the end of the day, there are so many unanswered questions: Is the owner "the little prince" herself (or should I say little princess?) who is captivated by collecting lessons on her journey of becoming an adult, and creating a space to keep them? Or is she a narrator who has built the place in memorial to a very special person (her own Little Prince)?

 

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5  

Price: 4/5  

Atmosphere: 5/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Katherine is the kind of person who takes way too many pictures of food before eating, to the point that the dish is too cool to enjoy.

Le Petit Géant

25 Nguyen Quy Canh, D2

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