The merging of French and Vietnamese styles is everywhere in O’Douceurs, which has Vietnamese pop music playing quietly in the bckground and a scene of Paris on the wall. But the first thing that draws your eyes when you walk in the door are the pastries, shining row upon decadent row like presents wrapped up in multicoloured paper.
Co-owner Silen Garrigues trained as a pastry chef in France, later working in Switzerland, where he met his Vietnamese wife-to-be Dung, and then moved to Hanoi three years ago. Their small bakery/café has now been open for a year.
France Meets Vietnam Meets Warren Buffet
The few tables near the counter downstairs were empty when I arrived, but upstairs nearly every table is full of patrons sipping either Vietnamese or Western-style espresso coffees. The grey and white tones and simple decor of the room are made homier with potted plants and warm incandescent lighting. I choose a comfy-looking sofa under a shelf stocked with French-English dictionaries, various Livres de Poche, some Vietnamese novels, and, oddly, a biography of Warren Buffett, settling down to enjoy a well-made Americano (VND35,000) that comes with a small cookie and fresh milk.
The coffee is delicious, but the pastry is better. One bite of the Paris-Brest (VND38,000) is enough to make me forget the coffee, the patrons, and even Warren Buffet. Light, creamy, nutty and not too sweet, as the almond pastry melts in my mouth the minor worries of daily life in Hanoi melt along with it. Suddenly I am transported to a roadside cafe in a small French village. Who has lessons to plan? Certainly not me, as my name is now Anne-Marie and I spend my time running through golden fields of wheat.
When the pastry is eaten I must return to reality. Silen and his cream-coloured Labrador Su Kem happen to come in as I’m about to leave, and we start chatting. Although he and his wife have not really had a day off in the entire year O’Douceurs has been open, they will soon add even more work for themselves: they’re expecting a daughter any day now, and are building a new kitchen on the third floor for Silen to run pastry classes.
They also hope to expand the café/bakery to more locations in Hanoi, then Danang, Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Vietnam.
“You can never reach perfection,” Silen tells me. “But as long as you keep trying, you will improve.”
Silen and Dung will keep trying; they have made a very good start with O’Douceurs — Kate Robinson
O’Douceurs is at 91 Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi