So if you’re staying around the traveler’s den in the Pham Ngu Lao vicinity and sometimes you gotta face the reality that you’re craving for familiar looking food and if that’s Italian, then come around this street, Bui Vien St.. Just turn right from De Tham St. if you’re coming from Pham Ngu Lao St. direction.
At first, we were looking for a salvation from a humid night and this place looks nice and it’s air conditioned, also equipped with brags like ‘Best Coffee in Town’ and ‘”Stylish and Zen-like”, said Lonely Planet’. Though it’s not great as it was said, but feels comfy nonetheless once inside. If I compare it personally with cafes in Indonesia, Stella’s definitely lacking in sense of architectural and interior, but for the cleanliness, I have give up my thumbs for that. Also they provide Wifi connection as well as other hotels and cafes around the vicinity. By the way, that’s one of the reasons why I love Vietnam because I didn’t feel that far from home so I can communicate easily with everybody back home. And as for Stella to provide me that, it’s a blessing indeed!
As for the menu, you will see extensive Italian with a very considerate price. Starting from the antipasti, pizza, risotto, pasta, burgers, and even Vietnamese dishes all fit in the menu. Since it’s focusing for Italian dishes, best to just pick that only. As for the coffee, you’ll see the regular things there. It’s unfortunate, however, that the waitresses have difficulties in English, so be sure to just point and remind them if they’re forgetting something. A friend of mine had to wait longer than the serving time of my risotto dish only for a Lipton iced lemon tea. Risotto normally served around 20 minutes.
We visited the place twice by the way and that night was our first of course. We had our dinner earlier and looking for a nice place to sip a cold coffee or any other cold drinks. I had myself a Cafe Cannella (VND 45,000). It’s an iced double espresso with cinnamon syrup, vanilla, milk, and cream. Sounds good right? But it’s not. I suppose it’s because the nature of Vietnamese coffee. The acidity is low yet the bitterness is not that high also which actually fits in if you blend it with fresh milk or condensed milk but if you work it Italian way, that’s probably a bit too much if you’re not a specialized barista.
Shots of liquors and wine in glass are also quite cheap if you compare it with Indonesia. Indonesia only unrestrict itself in Bali while the rest of the country seem to enforce heavy taxation for certain commodities like these. For instance, a bottle of Chivas Regal in Tan Son Nhat Airport duty free shop costs only US$ 32, while in Indonesia it may cost more than US$ 100. In Vietnam or in this case Saigon, where foreign travelers are everywhere to be seen and most of them are expecting cheap price for everything especially in third world countries. So there it is, Saigon offers cheap price for liquors and that’s just great for any drinkers. You can get as low as VND 5,000 to VND 10,000 anywhere in this city!
My friends, by the way, ordered 2 glasses of wine, one shot of tequila, and a bottle of local pride, Saigon beer. A bit hungry, we also ordered a large size pizza for everybody. Since we can’t eat pork and the assumption that all bacon and ham were made out of pork in Vietnam, so I picked the safest for us and that’s the Large Size Gorgonzola Pizza (VND 109,000). The ingredients are very simple. Only tomato sauce with olive oil and topped with one of my beloveds, Gorgonzola cheese. Can be either made of cow’s milk or goat’s milk. I’d rather presumed it was made out of goat so it become more exotic for our tongues.
A friend of mine was quite surprised but since the pizza was so firm, salty, and tasty, we didn’t mind at all! It was just great though I actually question the consistency since a few days later it was not that good anymore. That also applies for the Vietnamese dish my friend had, Sauteed Beef with capsicum & broccoli (VND 69,000). Even so the other 2 dishes my other friends had, Seafood Noodle Soup (VND 69,000) and an Italian dish, Spaghetti Pescatore (VND 109,000) made out of assorted fresh seafood, garlic, white wine, chili, and Napoli sauce, which they claimed good. I didn’t taste it myself so it’s a risk but I can vouch for the Italian even though for the inconsistency.
As for me, after waiting for more than 20 minutes as I watch my friends finished their dishes, mine’s at last came. Risotto Asparagi (VND 99,000) that consists of Arborio rice with asparagus and parmesan cheese. Very succulent, cheesy, and comes with a large portion. Perhaps the composition may be too little, so next may want to try the more meaty risotto.
So despite of the inconsistency which I found tolerable, Stella is still worth the visit. A good place to cool down from the heat, provide more than just a mediocre Italian, and average coffee with a quite cheap price. Well, that sounds harsh, but truly, I kinda like the place and perhaps it’s because that I miss Vietnam a lot these days..
The Judgment (based on scale of 10 score plus the comments):
1. PRICE (7/10)
Price range from VND 50,000 to VND 100,000 which you may found quite cheap, but definitely not the place for locals.
2. INTERIOR (6/10)
Feels like an American diner joint, but I like the seats outside in the direction of the street. Provide Wifi and a good place to respite from the heat but definitely not that Zen-like like what Lonely Planet said.
3. SERVICE (6/10)
Hindered with language difficulty where other cafes around already employed people with better English. A prominent place like Stella should improve in this but nonetheless, the waitresses were helpful.
4. TASTE (5.5/10)
Good Italians, not really consistent but still worth the visit. Best not to try the Vietnamese though.
5. OVERALL (6.125/10)
Address : 121 Bui Vien St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Website : http://stellacaffe.com/ (see the menu here as well)