Peter Cornish experiences the relatively new Old Compass Cafe with an emphasis on sustainability and the arts. Photos by Vinh Dao.
In a city full of cafés it can be hard to stand out and find a place to call your own. The Old Compass Café has managed to position itself as a quiet oasis of calm amidst the city’s chaos in just a few short months.
Tucked away on the third floor of a 1960’s apartment block, down a hem on Pasteur, between Le Loi and Le Thanh Ton, this boutique café offers a hard-to-find respite from the traffic outside, whilst harnessing the energetic, artistic creativity of its many patrons. Light and airy during the day, the décor blends modern and vintage with reclaimed tiled and wooden floors, white walls, comfortable seating and large, architectural plants.
Although the space was originally intended as a restaurant, this wasn’t what the current owners, Mark Bowyer and Duong Dang were looking for when they stumbled across the small apartment in central District 1. As colleagues at Mark’s travel business, Rusty Compass, they were searching for a centrally located space where they could host clients,
One of their goals was to create somewhere they could bring their travel clients and introduce them to Vietnamese culture and cuisine. This has become a central theme to the café’s menu with a Vietnamese set lunch menu, changing daily, and holding pride of place on a large chalk board.
Each day the kitchen staff travel to local markets to select seasonal ingredients, following the local custom of one main dish, one vegetable dish and one soup, with both meat eaters and vegetarians catered for. The meal is hosted around a large communal table, set in the centre of the café, and follows the traditional Vietnamese eating style of shared dishes.
As well experiencing freshly prepared Vietnamese cuisine, guests are introduced to the culture of Vietnam and the stories behind each food and combination of dishes made for them. The set lunch costs VND150,000 and includes a coconut or fresh Vietnamese coffee.
The menu is simple and offers a choice of breakfast, lunch dinner, gourmet sandwiches, pastries and desserts. I tried the roasted vegetable baguette of eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and pesto which was soft, juicy and wonderfully flavourful. I also tried the Lamington and a cappuccino because it would have been silly not to.
The café tries to be as sustainable as possible. Drinks are served without straws unless specifically requested, and water is served from glass rather than plastic bottles. The café also operates a no-smoking policy, although there is a small balcony that smokers can retire to.
The Old Compass has become a home to Saigon’s creative and artistic community, hosting regular cultural, literature and live music events throughout the week. As both a musician and photographer, large prints of Mark’s photos hang on the wall and he can often be found strumming his guitar as the evening progresses. The vibe is intimate and homely, something certainly welcome in the centre of town.