A modest downtown spot for rest, relaxation and bagels. By Dana Filek-Gibson. Photos by Vinh Dao.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in this city, it’s easy to tire of the typical Saigon café. Those small, off-the-beaten-track spots that seem to serve as filler between apartment buildings and business centres may take different forms but the set-up is often the same: a few quirky decorations here and there, miniature tables, something acoustic playing in the background and the odd pet – a cat, a dog, a goldfish – roaming free on the premises. Charming they are, but unique? Not so much.
From the outside, you might think Elysium is just another café. The narrow storefront, a stone’s throw from Ben Thanh Market, bears the tell-tale signs of your average Saigon café. But while its interior is not a radical departure from other local coffeeshops, there’s something different about the vibe inside Elysium that convinces passersby to stop in.
On its menu, Elysium offers the very things you might expect: Vietnamese and western coffee, tea, sugary fruit drinks and the like, but there are a few interesting touches that are uniquely their own. The Elysium 6 (VND 59,000), for instance, is a concoction of rice milk, spinach, matcha and banana which works perfectly as a cool, refreshing summer beverage without the sugar shock that accompanies most fruit drinks. There’s also an ice-cold coconut coffee smoothie (VND 55,000) which provides a solid caffeine fix combined with a hint of coconut.
The other quirk that sets Elysium apart is its food menu, which exclusively features bagels (VND 38,000). While they’re not an exact replication of the dense and delicious original, they definitely hit the spot and are, in fact, a happy medium between the heavier bagels of the west and the ultra-light banh mi-style breads of Vietnam. Available accompaniments include a light cream cheese, smoked salmon, fruit and a variety of other add-ons. The café also does a series of combo deals, which include your choice of Vietnamese coffee or orange juice and one of their bagels (VND 65,000), as well as Vietnamese lunch specials (VND 35,000).
In the end, it’s the little things that count: Elysium may not be a world apart from its competition, but this quiet downtown spot stands out just enough to be endearing. Between the books and the bagels, the coffee and the colourful artwork on its walls, there’s plenty to appreciate here.