Stop and smell the coffee
December 3, 2019
The wood-panelled walls and a bright orange settee catch my eye. Then I see quirky chairs and tables, with customers seated at a wooden balcony over the kitchen area. I look up and see a huge toy propeller plane hanging from the ceiling.
This is Cộng Caphe (pronounced Kerb Café in Hanoi), styled after the original cafe in Hanoi, the undisputed home of coffee culture in Vietnam. Cong Caphe was started by singer and entrepreneur Nguyen Ha Linh, who wanted it to stand out among the numerous cafes in the city. So she decided to bring memories of her childhood into the café; it was an instant hit. Today, there are 62 outlets in Vietnam alone and the Cong Caphe in Nu Sentral is the first in Malaysia. We’re told that the furnishings are all sourced from Hanoi and closely resemble those in Cong Caphe there.
Old books line the shelves but unfortunately, these are written in Vietnamese, so we can’t read them. There are more books upstairs where the ambience is snug and cosy.
|A row of shining coffee filters|
But My Best Friend and I are here for the drip coffee. Vietnamese coffee is thick, strong and unapologetic… and it’s almost always served with condensed milk, though black is available.
We start with Phin Brew, made with a drip filter. Cong Caphe’s Jaemie Lew and Peter Tan tell us that the coffee is made fresh daily with Vietnamese metal coffee filters. You can see a row of these on the bar counter.
|Iced and hot Vietnamese coffee|
The Nau-Da (RM10.90/hot) makes a perfect morning pick-me-up for those on their way to work. It’s creamy and strong with an irresistible fragrance.
I had expected it to be sweet, given the 1.5cm thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom, so I take a cautious sip, but to my surprise, the level of sweetness is just right. Perhaps this is because the café uses condensed milk that’s imported from Hanoi which probably has a lower sugar content.
|iced Coconut Milk Coffee Smoothie|
We sigh with contentment until Bac-Xiu or Coconut Milk With Coffee (RM12.90/hot; RM13.90/iced) is served. The combination may sound a little strange (but hey, Malaysia has durian coffee), yet the mild coconut aroma proves extremely congenial with the coffee flavour, resulting in a creamilicious treat, whether hot or cold.
|Iced Coffee and lime juice|
Peter tells us the café signature drink is actually Coconut Milk Coffee Smoothie (RM14.90-RM16.90) and we waste no time trying it. One sip and we can see why it’s so popular. To say it’s delicious does not quite do it justice. Whether stirred up and sipped or scooped up teaspoonful by teaspoonful, this is my coffee dreams come to life. I am already making plans for a second visit. Soon.
Cong Caphe also offers Western-style brews such as Americano, cappuccino, espresso and latte.
|Pretty as a picture: Passionfruit tea and a plate of roasted sunflower kernels|
But after a few rounds of Vietnamese coffee, these taste somewhat flat. If you’re not a coffee drinker, the café offers teas and juices. There’s lime and passionfruit juice as well as Iced Honey Kumquat (RM14.90) and Peach Tea with Passionfruit (RM13.90/hot).
Cong Caphe is not just about drinks but the food menu is rather limited for now. Sunflower kernels (RM4.90/plate) and cakes are available, together with a buttery croissant, served with a saucer of condensed milk (RM6.90).
|Snacks: Croissant with condensed milk, chocolate brownie and poppy seed cake|
Banh mi will be a better choice for the hungry. The baguette for the banh mi is one of the best I’ve had. Although we are taking our own sweet time to snap pictures, it stays crisp and crusty. There is nothing more depressing than a banh mi turned soft and soggy.
|Really scrumptious and flavoursome vegetarian tofu banh mi|
There are three varieties of this Vietnamese baguette sandwich, including a delectable vegetarian Tofu Banh Mi (RM11.90). The tofu, marinated with soya sauce and sesame oil, is panfried and sliced thickly. It makes interesting filling when combined with shredded lettuce, cucumber, carrot and coriander.
|Chicken Ham Banh Mi with house-made ham|
|Beef Ham Banh Mi|
I actually prefer this to the Chicken Ham Banh Mi (RM13.90). My Best Friend, though, is thoroughly enjoying the Beef Ham Banh Mi (RM15.90), pausing in between bites to give it the thumbs-up. The meat banh mi filling also includes pate, shredded vegetables, onion and coriander. Peter says the ham patties and pate are made in-house.
Cong Caphe also sells coffee beans, paper products (notebooks, envelopes, postcards), clothing and ceramic pottery.
CONG CAPHE (pork-free)
LG19, Nu Sentral
201 Jalan Tun Sambanthan
Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
Daily, 10am to 10pm