Peter Cornish dives into a dessert-centric cafe in District 2, Chocolat Frea. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Tucked down a small hem off Thao Dien, up by Meatworks Butchery, is a tiny cafe offering some sweet chocolate delights that would not look or taste out of place in Paris.
The culinary talent behind these chocolaty treats is Heloise Richard, a young Frenchwoman who learned her skills in Paris at the famed Gregorie Ferrandi school.
After a apprenticeship at the Park Hyatt Vendome, Heloise turned her eye to Vietnam where she had spent her childhood and accepted a job with Marou Chocolate to learn the process of bean to table and further develop he skills as a chocolatier. The job was rewarding, but having worked with many big hotels and restaurants in Europe she was keen to branch out on her own and perfect her own creations.
Chocolat Frea is a mix of cafe, kitchen and showroom set in the ground floor of her house, where customers can enjoy their sweet treats while watching Heloise work her magic in the kitchen. Open from 10am to 6pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, customers are welcome to relax on comfortable seating and order food and drinks from a small menu of select delicious delicacies.
In the morning, pancakes are served with coffee from a large machine that holds pride of place on the cafe’s counter as Heloise and her staff prepare fresh cookies for delivery later in the day. The glass counter displays today’s cookies for visiting customers in five enticing flavours.
Experimenting with local ingredients such as tamarind and caramel, coconut and cacao nibs, black sesame and lime, and almond and cashew with dark chocolate the cookies are priced at VND25,000 each. If temptation gets the better of you, an artfully designed box of ten will set you back a reasonable VND300,000, including a VND50,000 deposit on the box which is refunded on your next order.
Accompanying the cookies are succulent homemade chocolate passion pies (VND85,000 per slice or VND640,000 for a whole pie), J-Ls (VND80,000 for one or VND650,000 for ten) of two soft layers of cake sandwiched in between chocolate and whipped cream and sprinkled with shards of dark chocolate or a classic vanilla flan (VND80,000 per slice or VND450,000 for the whole cake) of French pastry, baked at a low temperature to create a soft, creamy texture that melts in the mouth.
The treats that are drawing customers citywide are the chocolates themselves, an art that Heloise learned from Jacques Genin, famous in the Parisian world of chocolate. With flavours that will encourage another, there are ganache and pralines, made from chocolate and cream. Mixed using the moulage technique, the moulds are coated with melted chocolate before being filled with a soft, creamy ganache and then closed using more melted chocolate.
The result is a chocolate hard on the outside yet deliciously soft in the centre. The second and third taste as good as the first!