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Hẻm Gems: In Warmth and Good Drinks, an Amiable Cafe's Spirit Lives On

How would you feel if everything about your favorite spot suddenly changed one day? Would the same attachment still stand? Those were the questions that popped into my head the afternoon I paid my visit to cafe Nhà Phạm’s new home.

Having moved to several different locations, Cafe Nhà Phạm found its latest shell in the nook of a little alley in Bình Thạnh.

When I heard that Nhà Phạm was no longer at its old address in Lê Văn Duyệt, my heart couldn't help but skip a beat, as I’d fallen in love with the cafe’s former airy, luminous and tranquil space, which I found to be my personal oasis to escape from the urban clamor. My mind was suspended in wondering if the things that made me and others fell in love with the cafe would survive after the move.

Yet, as soon as I stepped into the new Nhà Phạm, I knew my worries were fortunately fruitless. Untethered to any particular structure, Nhà Phạm’s spirit lives on wherever it goes thanks to Trọng, the young owner whose own personality shaped the cafe’s identity.

In October 2021, Trọng learned that the building complex that hosted Nhà Phạm in Lê Văn Duyệt was to be repurposed for other projects, thus he began a search for the cafe’s next stop. "I think it was  a blessing," Trọng said about the discovery of the location in Bình Thạnh. "A friend told me to come see this place, and after checking out the interiors, the atmosphere, and the lighting, I thought it was a fitting choice."

The new Nhà Phạm is not as spacious as its predecessor, but there was enough room for me to spend a snug afternoon. The wooden flooring exudes coziness. The open bar at the entrance feels more than welcoming, as staff can greet visitors when they come in and wave goodbye when they depart. Its central position also allows guests to enjoy the smell of freshly ground beans and just-out-of-the-oven pastries.

On the counter, a cohort of paraphernalia, mostly specialty coffee-making tools, are arranged neatly. Along them is a beautifully decorated miniature pine tree, a highlight for the whole bar, which immediately caught my eye — little details that show the sophistication and hospitality of the Đà Lạt native that runs the place. The counter also offers a good seating arrangement for people who need to focus on catching a deadline or those who simply want to enjoy their coffee in solitude.

The new Nhà Phạm is structurally smaller than its previous studio, so there’s less natural light that can enter. However, the reduced spatial capacity also amplifies the place’s overt sense of coziness and amicability.

Upon closer inspection, one can catch a few familiar objects from the former location like the concrete tables, the bar, the cupboard, etc. It's these little things that play an important role in continuing the spirit of Nhà Phạm. I can’t help but feel an odd familiarity when seeing them, it’s as if the old Nhà Phạm has never vanished.

"I think it's very difficult to find spaces that are exactly the same, so instead, I choose to maintain the spirit of the Nhà Phạm regardless of the location by preserving the ‘family cafe’ model that serves comfort drinks at affordable prices," Trọng said.

The menu of the shop is a diverse selection of Vietnamese coffee varieties to caffeine-free alternatives such as juice and milk tea, though flans and grass jelly are optional add-ons for most items. Light servings of spaghetti, waffles, banana cakes, and more are also available in case one needs to fill their belly.

Prices are kept at a "budget-friendly" level, ranging from VND40,000 to 60,000 per dish. I chose for myself a drink with a name as sweet as itself to soothe my throat and nerve after traveling a long distance in Saigon's humid whether — a glass of roasted rice milk tea topped by a flan — which is also a favorite among frequent visitors.

My companions for this visit, upon receiving a tip from the barista, got the banana coffee and mulberry cold brew. Because we couldn't resist the tasty-looking delights on the menu, we also decided to ask for an extra serving of waffles with fruit and cream.

When the dishes and water were brought up, my first impression was that the decoration of the dish was quite simple but still aesthetically pleasing. The drinking utensils were all environmentally friendly, being made out of stainless steel. Our first order did not disappoint us, the subtly aromatic and sweet rice milk and the creamy flan cake brought together created an ideal refreshment for an idle afternoon.

However, we weren’t too fond of the banana coffee because of the overwhelming bitterness, though we must admit that it's still a great choice for those who need something refreshing for their taste buds, or need to jolt their mind awake for a long day of work. The mulberry cold brew and waffle also had very delicate flavors that are worth taking the plunge for when coming to Nhà Phạm.

If I have a chance to come back for another visit, I can most definitely see myself trying what Trọng himself recommends: "Drip coffee is made using phin filter. It’s the most traditional and authentic brewing tool that Vietnamese people have, and so many great things have come out of it. Although it’s not the most popular choice in the menu, this drink is my favorite so far, it reflects most clearly who I am as a person."

Nhà Phạm is open from 8am to 6pm, Tue–Sun.

To sum up:

Taste: 4.5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5 

Cafe Nhà Phạm

93/30 Hoàng Hoa Thám, Ward 6, Bình Thạnh District.

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