Restaurant Review: Catina Café

Representing a marriage of old and new, Catina Café (151/6 Dong Khoi, D1) mirrors the past and present of former rue Catinat (now called Dong Khoi) – a street once under French rule and home to a handful of colonial buildings that are still in existence today. Walk through the famous Art Arcade, past paintings and souvenirs, up the small staircase and first-time visitors may mistake this relaxing café as someone’s living room.

Originally a residence, the house has been in the owner’s family for years. After spending time traveling and living in Australia, she (wishing to stay anonymous) developed a passion for cooking and decided to open up her family home to the public, to share her childhood memories and delicious home cooking. The continuous theme of expressing the past while celebrating what’s new resonates throughout the café with soft, neutral colors of grays and browns, custom-made modern wooden benches and chairs ornamented with soft burnt orange cushions, and vintage photographs of old Saigon sprinkled across the walls – “welcome in, make yourself at home” is the vibe. Interior design is another one of her great passions and is reflected in her travel collection of paintings and accessories, which she now proudly displays at the cafe.

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After making ourselves comfortable we decided to start with refreshments. With an extensive list of drinks to choose from – coffees, teas and fresh squeezed juices – I went with the rejuvenating Lemongrass and lime juice (VND60,000) to start and my friend chose the Raspberry, strawberry and grape mixed with mandarin smoothie (VND80,000). Both were perfect refreshers after coming in from the humidity. We also tried their special Catina Green Tea (VND60,000) which was surprisingly just as green in color as the name yet it still housed a natural flavor.

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Glancing over the menu, Catina has something for everyone — Western and Vietnamese options as well as healthy and sweet indulgences. Ranging from breakfast options like yogurt with mixed fruits and kumquat (VND60,000) to more unique Asian dishes such as fermented purple sticky rice (VND70,000), your delicious banh mi (VND70,000) and Vietnam’s popular fried spring rolls (VND85,000). Italian lovers can even choose a spaghetti bolognese (VND125,000) or a selection of cheeses, salami and pate (VND130,000) to satisfy their palettes.

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With the owner’s recommendations, we went with some of her favorite homemade dishes. We paired the Catina vermicelli soup with beef, tomato and pineapple (VND80,000) with a banh mi style baguette stuffed with sautéed chicken (VND70,000). The soup was unique in that the pineapple added a tangy flavor to the perfectly seasoned broth and the banh mi had a mouthwatering garlic sauce paired with the tender chicken and cilantro seasonings that kept us wanting more. The owner expressed her concerns for sourcing fresh ingredients and keeping the flavors consistent in each of her homemade dishes. Since opening two years ago, this has been Catina’s mantra from the beginning.
Our appetites were craving for more so we decided on the Steamed sticky rice with cotton meat and Chinese sausage (VND70,000) and a serving of Fried breadfruit (VND60,000). For those who haven’t tasted this type of dish before it’s worth a try. The sticky rice and the salty, dry cotton meat paired with the sweet and flavorful sausage left us scraping the plate clean. As for the fried breadfruit, we decided it might give french fries a run for their money. Commonly mistaken as actual potatoes in this form, the breadfruit is indeed an actual fruit. So that means it’s a healthy treat, right? After dipping them in butter and adding a little sprinkle of sugar the healthy aspect went out the door but it was well worth it.

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We rounded out our meal with a Catina banana cake (VND40,000) and Corn cake (VND60,000) for dessert. For all you banana lovers out there this banana cake is the one for you with its melty warm temperature and fresh bananas and the corn cake was a winner as well. Although it may not sound appetizing eating corn cake, paired with flavors of coconut, peanuts and whipped cream frosting — it was a light and special treat.
The owner explained to us that she cooks for her guests like she cooks for her family and this was apparent in the details of each dish. We felt right at home. For those who want delicious Vietnamese cuisine, Catina Café can satisfy this urge while also catering to Western appetites. Whether you’re looking for a quiet reading spot, a place to people watch from the balcony overlooking the street or a new lunch alternative — you won’t be disappointed.

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