I am a big fan of the Rosa’s Thai restaurant chain, so when I heard owner Saiphin Moore was opening a Laotian restaurant in Covent Garden it was immediately on my radar. Found on Chandos Place, Lao Cafe is the first restaurant in London to serve Laotian food, a pleasing cross between Northern Thai cuisine and the food of Vietnam.
The Lao Cafe is a chic urban space, the sort of eatery that feels appropriate for hungry backpackers or business people popping in for a quick lunch. The patterned tiles, rough wood and caged hanging lightbulbs reminded me of the trendy cafes and coffee shops of Bangkok.
The menu was a little overwhelming… I wanted one of everything… and it was tricky to work out which dishes worked together. We looked to the sweet smiling waitress for help, and between the three of us managed to decide on a few of the restaurant’s specialities.
The obvious difference between Thai food and Laotian food is the lack of coconut. The dishes at Lao Cafe were decidedly more dry, with dressings rather than sauces. There is a big selection of dry salads, spicy salads and papaya salads, each of varying heat. For main course opt from the grilled meats, curries, hot pots or stir-fries.
‘Laab Pla’ (whole deep fried fish with laab sauce) was a highlight of our lunch. The fish was beautifully cooked, a silky light flesh topped with generous lashings of vinegary dressing, tangy onions and vibrant herbs. The ‘Jee Kor Moo’ was also very memorable and didn’t last long on our table… tender and tasty chunks of marinated pork neck meat. Simple papaya salad and sticky rice were the ideal accompaniments to the flavour-filled dishes.
Desserts obviously aren’t big in Lao, as there is only ice-cream on offer at the Lao Cafe… but after feasting on the delicious savoury dishes a palate-cleansing bowl of ice-cream was all we needed to finish our meal.
More information and book a table at Lao Cafe here.