As you walk in Cakes & Ale, you are hit by the 1950s colour palette and Jacques Brel playing over the speakers. Metal fan wind rustles the beaded stork curtain, and a blissed-out dog and cat clack along the tile floors.
Painted metal screens partition the L-shaped interior from a comfortable terrace, populated with the same classic couches and quiet young people. Out here, fish provide the low rumble of continuous, enthusiastic life.
The owner and chief cake-maker — whose name I didn’t get, perhaps because there was no awkward pause in our conversation where such formalities are typically exchanged — put all these disparate elements together in the hopes of achieving one feeling: comfort.
Why are there tampons available in the bathroom (inside a little cloth bag, with a warning I ignored, for “gentlemen to keep out”)? “I want it to be comfortable.”
Why aren’t there flowers outside? “I want it to be natural, for the inside to match the outside.”
From the accordion to the Sunny Computer console, to the cabinet television with dried flowers and yellow rotary telephone on top, it seems like home. Someone’s home, the home we all sometimes wish we could go back to.
Menu-wise, cakes and ale isn’t too different from your other cafés in the pre-L’usine price bracket, with juices and coffee options falling into the VND30,000-and-up range. The juices are good, and their lattés are serviceable, although not the wisest choice coffee-wise (with a thin and bubbly layer of milk foam covering the concoction — although bonus points should be awarded for the waitress’s quick replacement of my sugar-filled latté with a sugarless one).
As far as cakes, the selection changes every day. Throughout my two visits, I had the owner-recommended menu mainstay flan — “it’s a secret recipe,” said the owner, passed down by his grandmother — a no-bake cheesecake and a bouncy, three-tier chocolate mousse cake. They were all good, of the light and springy variety of cakes, satisfying but not quite decadent. They also run baking classes.
The ales weren’t our choice either time, but the selection on that front is a bit more decadent, with a decent selection of Trappist ales rating in the hundreds of thousands.
But in the end, the consumables aren’t the main criteria to judge Cakes & Ale on. The phrase “cakes and ale” was used by Shakespeare to refer to the good things in life, and on that front Cakes & Ale hits the mark. — Ed Weinberg
Cakes & Ale is at 6B Cong Truong Quoc Te, Q3, HCMC — down the Papa’s Café alleyway, up one flight of the stairs to the left of Papa’s. Check facebook.com/cakesandale23 for more info