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BOOCiti launches forward-thinking cafe

Boo Cafe, the next frontier of the Boo brand, brings a community-oriented perspective to Ha Noi’s see-and-be-scene. Lucy Sexton reports.

Community concept: Patrons enjoy the nosh and layered atmosphere at Boo Cafe's new modern space.
Community concept: Patrons enjoy the nosh and layered atmosphere at Boo Cafe’s new modern space.

For most restaurants, the food itself is the make-or-break factor, but at Boo Cafe, which opened up just last week on Ba Trieïu, it’s only one asset among many.

Boo Cafe, perched above the famous Boo boutique and fashion brand, is an extension of several forces breathing new life into a rapidly progressing Ha Noi.

The two partners, Do Viet Anh, the mind behind the Boo Company, and Thuan Nguyen, former doctor and now co-owner of Com Ga restaurant, joined forces.

The partnership grew less from a concrete vision of a new cafe-restaurant and more from a faith in the promise of a dynamic union of personalities. Boo Cafe is therefore way more than it seems. Digging just a little deeper reveals currents flowing from NGO, environmentalist, youth and fashion worlds.

Thuan – a former public health doctor, turned restaurateur, LGBT community leader, and now director of a Clinton Foundation HIV youth project – is a man with his finger on the pulse of international and local progressive movements.

Do Viet Anh, the bizz-wiz, managed to build his Boo Company from the round up into a multi-tiered fashion brand, Bootential youth leadership programme, and now restaurant business.

The cafe, and Boo Company at large, is a rare breed in that the business mantra is not “monetary profit at any cost”. Instead, the guiding principle behind Boo’s many appendages is that doing good work can be profitable for the wallet, for the community, for the individual and now for the stomach too.

The Boo name as a platform

Boo Cafe designed with an eco-friendly vision in mind, translates well aesthetically. Reusable bamboo straws, beer bottles reworked into vases or napkin holders (for sale) and recycled corrugated iron on the exterior of the cafe patio slip in subtle messages about reappropriating everyday materials.

The free-range chicken farm, the home-grown veggies from local farms and the bio-technology used to filter the water without any chemicals are statements as much as they are things to be enjoyed and consumed.

Farm to table: Boo Cafe offers a variety of salads and dishes sourced by farms personally visited by the owners. The farm to table connection has become increasingly popular in global dining movements. — VNS Photos Thai Ha

The cafe also envisions itself as an inclusionary space for people to be free to be themselves. On opening night Thursday last week, the place was packed. Dance groups, “It girls”, singers like Mai Khoi and even unexpected older Vietnamese crowds happily enjoyed live music from Duong Tran Nghia from The Voice.

Patrons seemed at home, snapping photos with their phones, chatting with older family members, or holding hands on a date–no matter if it was between boy or girl or otherwise.

Boo Cafe’s mission is to make an inclusionary space to be enjoyed by all people, all types of couples, people with disabilities or stigmatised diseases and kids handicapped by life at an early age.

The staff undergoes mandatory anti-discrimination training. Staff is welcomed to be open about their sexuality if they so desire. Handicapped people have a reserved spot on the ground floor. The two chefs behind the western-fare menu were once street kids, picked up by the famous Koto school and went on to train at 5-star hotel restaurants.

The cafe staff reflects Thuan and Anh’s commitment to helping youth. The service, still in its nascent stages of refinement, would be worthy of critique if the wait staff wasnt so endearing. For many of the young floundering waiters, this is their first opportunity to work in a professional environment.

Thuan and Anh will continue pulling from their respective youth organisations, Bootential or the Bill Clinton project at Ba Vi. Whether it be serving in the cafe or husbanding crops to be plated in one of Boo’s salmon steak and wasabi mashed potatoes dishes.

Boo image

The design’s slick, clean and modern lines mixed with self-aware touches of cutesy humor contrast with the immediate surroundings on Ba Trieu. But despite the contrast, it fits in with the recent restaurant design trend following the likes of The Kafe on Dien Bien Phu. It’s a popular aesthetic best described as an urban-Asian spin on western rustic.

Boo Cafe

Address: 2nd Floor BooCiti, 308 Ba Trieu, Hai Ba Trung

Tel: 0439784629

Price Range: VND75,000-300,000

Dishes to try: Salad Rau Mam, Ga Cajun Xien, Ca Vuoc Ap Chao

Comment: Fashionable Asian-western fusion cafe

The 3rd floor cafe, which combines air-conditioned rooms and a semi-covered outdoor patio, boasts some great views and has a dynamic spacing that can easily convert into an event venue. Its best asset is the view, particularly great on opening night when an impromptu bike parade celebrating Viet Nam’s U-19 win over Myanmar took over the avenue.

Ba Trieu’s normal hustle and bustle, the well-known Boo Boutique downstairs and lunch time workers from Vitcom Center should keep a steady flow of customers cycling through the cafe. The prices are equivalent with mid-range competitors like The Kafe and Cousins in Tay Ho, but unlike its competitors it’s not in a touristy area.

The menu, like the cafe’s design, is a take on western dishes like eggs benedict, lasagna ragu and prawn risotto. They have an extensive drink menu of “homegrown” smoothies with curious names like Dream Whips Aloe Vera, pressed juices and coffees garnished with shortbread cookies.

If you want to stay longer and watch the world go by, follow up with an inspired dessert like panna cotta cappuccino.