A couple of friends told me about this newly opened cafe just near the water tower [which, if you live in Vientiane, you'll know is a major landmark]. With its hip Bangkok-esque outfitting, "really good" coffee, and child-themed name, my interest was piqued.
Once Upon A Time sits on busy Dongpayne road just past the 103 intersection. It's only been open a couple of weeks and it's already very popular with the local crowd, as well as the odd expat living in the area. At lunchtime, it's hard to get a seat upstairs or down.
As soon as I enter the cafe, I feel like I'm somewhere else, probably in a hip Thai shopping centre. Once Upon A Time subscribes to the popular raw, industrial look, a trend that's sweeping cafes around the world. There's the exposed brick walls and pipes, industrial-styled light fixtures, polished cement floors, and the thick wooden bar with its gleaming metal coffee machine. Its owners have invested a fair bit of time and money into this place.
Upstairs the look continues with vintage-style couches and lots of natural light. It would be a great spot for a private cocktail party. And in the bathroom (located upstairs), there's more exposed copper piping and an enviable 'live edge' wooden bench (yes, that's really what it's called).
Then, in the midst of this hip, grungy look is a somewhat quirky twist. The cafe is, after all, called "Once Upon A Time", the epic start to every fairy tale. Look up and you'll see Disney dolls and lots of them, as well as boxed collectable figurines further back. There's also an Elsa and Anna stained glass window, and even a Peter Pan shadow light out the back.
So, we've established that there's more than meets the eye at Once Upon A Time cafe. Have I piqued your interest yet? Let's get onto the food. It's a short but interesting menu that's probably in the development stage.
I'm not sure what the crab porridge or the pulled chix burger are but the burgers in general are good value. They come with homemade sweet potato chips and a tangy mayonaise. The mushroom soup also has chicken in it (a heads up for the vegos) and "tastes like cake". If you don't speak 5-year old, this means it tastes predominantly of flour and butter; not unpleasant but not the dominant flavour you really expect in your soup. And the original French crepes are sizeable, stuffed with bananas and drizzled with chocolate.
And last but by no means least, the coffee. One friend described it in a moment of enthusiasm as "the best coffee in Vientiane". Big call. There was a young female barista behind the bar at that point. He said later that subsequent cups haven't been as good. So, while it may be a contender for Vientiane's best cup of coffee, consistency is the sticking point.
But if there were a list for the best babycinos in town (and I do write a food blog, so why not?), Once Upon A Time may win the title.
Must try: Crab burger, coffee and babycino
Tip: If you're after a weekday lunch, go early. It fills up fast.
Once Upon A Time cafe is on Rue Dongpayne just past the 103 roundabout heading towards ITECC. There's limited parking out front.