A tranquil, bohemian coffee and culinary outpost in the charmless, backpackery end of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Nola is one of my favourite cafe finds to date. Downstairs is dimly lit and a bit more bar-like, but head upstairs and it’s like an art students’ sharehouse meets quirky granny’s loungeroom. Mismatched vintage furniture, old gramophones and musical instruments, potted plants and a choice of loungeroom, rooftop terrace or two other cosy terrace rooms await.
The noise of the narrow, congested streets below could barely be detected as I settled in for a refreshing juice (real! no sugar!) and beef pho cuon Ha Noi – delicious fresh rice paper rolls filled with tender beef and fragrant herbs reminiscent of those found in famous Vietnamese soup dish pho. I’d only eaten pho cuon in Saigon before and these were a world apart, so I’m glad I’ve finally tried them at the source.
Go for: the peace, the pho cuon (38,000 dong – around US$2), the original decor
Not for: slick surrounds or the most hygienic kitchen (if the idea of a chef with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth while cooking offends, this isn’t the place for you!)
Nola Cafe, 89 Ma May, Old Quarter, Hanoi