Nanchao Xin Jie, Qiyi Lu, Yuexiu District.
Guangzhou is really embracing the concept of the cool cafe with great flair and equally cool design. Here are a few that I’ve come across, some which are – at the time of writing – brand new. How anyone stumbles across this one is a mystery as it’s tucked away in a dead end lane behind one of Yuexiu’s main thoroughfares. In all honesty I was tipped off courtesy of one of the local expat mags and I have to admit they produced a winning arrow in their article. Inside is a calm oasis and one to idle the time sipping or daydreaming, though the place is practically a living daydream.
Xiniu Lu, Yuexiu District.
Coffee: Latte with Toast and Maple Syrup
It took some finding as the road it’s on forks and of course I took the wrong one. Eventually after a lengthy detour my route came full circle and I found it a stone’s throw from where the road splits (if you’re heading there, it’s the left fork). The cafe is amazingly chic in its odd box assortment of vinyl, plant life and books. It is however not cheap. A basic latte (in a Ketchup cup – not what I want to be thinking of when I sip on cafe) and toast will cost a whopping 60+rmb. If you wanted one of their speciality toasts, say with Nutella banana it moves up to the 80 mark. That’s twice the amount of a tall latte and pain au chocolate at Starbucks! Around £8 in Sterling. While I am there one of the very stylish women (she’s there with a friend or colleague) in crisp white blouse and black trousers discards half her toast before leaving. I mention to the very amiable host that it’s a waste but in China it’s a cultural faux pas that you don’t finish to show appreciation or in case the host puts another helping down (this is mostly evident with the house water being refilled at varying restaurants across Guangzhou). The host (whose name escapes me) is well educated at Wuhan University (one of the best outside Beijing) and speaks fluent English. He also allowed and trusted me to take photos prior to purchasing and that’s one of the reasons I returned a few days’ later. So, cafe beautiful, produce lovingly made to each customer order, just be forewarned to take some serious currency!
Qiaoyi Yi Lu, Tianhe District
If Lok Chuck is quirky sophisticated then HAY is damn right full on Design with a capital D. That said it would be ill informed to say that quirky is omitted, it is after all still Asia and who would be calling in here? Women, and in Asia this means not only femininity to the max but also an almost guaranteed liking for anything cute and whimsical. That said since coming to the middle kingdom I’ve become rather partial to Hello Kitty and Miffy as my students know only too well. It takes a while to enter HAY because I am waiting for a photo session to end so I can take my own pictures. Coupled with the fact that for a side street (off the more busy Tinahe North Road) there seems to be no end of vehicular interruptions! Once inside its chic and almost Germanic sense of cool minimalism it is down to business. Again this is coffee by design and on the steep side, a blended house special will set you back 48rmb. Again I chicken out and settle on the standard latte at around 30.
Tianhe Nan Yi Lu
Coffee: English Breakfast Tea
This one is the more pokey, quaint and more homely of the lot. Run by an Australian woman whose accent I fail to place and that is because like myself she was carted off to a different part of the world – though not the other side of it as in my case. Nope for her it was the somewhat exotic Papua New Guinea; a land surpassed only by Central Asia as an offbeat wilderness, a last frontier. I mention this because it is with this knowledge that the wooden tribal masks adorning the place begin to make sense. I once had one similar from Fiji. I had the misfortune to stumble on the WANTOK right after HAY above so had already had my fix of expensive coffee that day. Had I known this place also served tea I would have ventured there first.
A few weeks elapse before my return journey back to this unusual locale – right behind Parc Central mall and its Apple store but seemingly a million miles away in terms of mood (due to the dim lighting and foreboding masks). It is somewhere between your rich aunties place and a Pitt Rivers style museum of Asian art. Hoping on some more conversation with the Aussie woman; as they are quite often the only people who will chat to me, was not to be and her absence leaves myself, the barista, a South African keen on the word ‘fuck’ and a few orientals, possibly local, in attendance. I have already decided on the English breakfast tea and manage to spill the top layer of it across my shins and worse my white shorts. The damage isn’t too bad and I continue. Something it does have in common with the HAY is the toilet, though modern it suffers from old pipes and so no plying the thing with any paper (there is a wicker basket for the unpleasantries). The barrister meanwhile is telling his tale of woe regarding sleep deprivation amid arguing neighbours and how listening to sex would be more entertaining which I partially agree with but neither are much fun. Getting back to the cafe itself, there an additional selection of breads on sale. I am not sure whether the (coffee) beans are or whether this is just another accessory along with the masks.
*Like the bakeries, cafe culture is on a rapid rise in Guangzhou, the Aussie woman mentions quite a few of those mentioned and others have sprung up within the last year. Whether or not any of these sink or swim remains to be seen, so apologies if any mentioned here have disappeared at the time of your reading. I am toying with the fact of not mentioning cafes or eateries in future and leaving this to lifestyle mags.