Sunday, 24 January 2016


Go quickly - the countdown has already started.

For three months until the end of February, the Laos Cafe pop-up is in residence on the corner of Wilton Street and Gillingham Street, Victoria, and according to London Foodie, it is the only place to find Laotian food in London. So there are two good reasons to visit sooner rather than later. A lonely outpost it may be, but its genes are good, the brainchild of Saiphin Moore, based on the home cooking of her childhood. Laos Cafe is using the space that she will be transforming into a new Rosa's Thai Cafe due to open in a few months' time. 

Seafood Noodle Salad

These are fresh, vibrant and light dishes, little changed, it would seem, from the SE Asian home: ingredients grown on the family plot (and plenty of herbs) cooked quickly over charcoal, full of strong flavours and a variety of textures. Featuring salad, fish and noodles or rice, with chilli and fish sauce, it is close to the cuisine of its cousins in Vietnam or Thailand, but also quite distinct from either. 

Aubergine Salad - silken aubergine with a sharp lime sauce
Spicy Pork

In an interview in The Telegraph, Saiphin vividly describes her childhood growing up in Phetchabun (a province straddling the Laos / Thai border), and her memories capture something of the freshness that is the hallmark of the food in her new venture: 
"At lunchtime, we all ate sticky rice and papaya salad.
Green papaya grows easily in Thailand - every house has a tree at the back. We smashed the garlic with green or red chillis (we preferred the Laos style - really spicy) and added tomatoes, fish sauce and anchovies.
People in the village would gather the watch.
I loved it so much they called me the master of papaya, and every time I smell chilli and garlic it takes me straight back." 
Fragrant and spicy Pork Skewers
The sharing plates are substantial here, not the case everywhere.  A highlight is the sticky rice, a foil for the lighter, zesty flavours of the other plates; the brown rice (it is actually red) is especially good, nutty and full of flavour. There is a short wine list and cold beers or hot jasmine tea, but only one desert.

Brown and white sticky rice steamed in banana leaves

The decor is minimalist, a few old b/w photos giving the briefest flavour of South East Asia, but this is a pop-up after all, in a temporary space soon to be refurbished.  The emphasis overall is on the simple, but that does not mean the food lacks care or attention to detail, while the service is helpful (and patient with those less familiar with Laos) - an extra batch of Pork Skewers is quickly put together to take home, along with salad and dipping sauce.  

It does what it says on the tin.
 25 Gillingham Street


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