The first birthday dinner of 2019 was a leftfield choice. Lao Café is the only Laotian resto in London, possibly the UK. One of us had been to Laos (not me) so knew what to expect – leaning more towards Thai food than Vietnamese but quite distinctive. I was happy to try it out.
Lao Café’s interior is refreshingly modern and zappy with a great big mural on one wall. We had a table in the window. In fact we’d commandeered two tables to cope with the amount of food that we’d ordered, so I felt a bit guilty since there was a queue at the door by the time we left but the owner didn’t seem to mind.
I sucked on a glass of wine while perusing the menu – my interest was immediately piqued by ant eggs. This was a new thing to me. I’d have them as part of a Lao mushroom curry. Alongside that we took a Lao papaya salad and a fish dish for two with some grilled sticky rice.
“You want that spicy?’ enquired the owner. ‘Yes please.’ She looked sceptical. ‘One, two or three chillis?’ I looked at Karen for guidance but she stared back inscrutably. ‘Three, why not?’ ‘You’re sure?’ I sensed a challenge being laid down. I nodded resolutely but ordered a beer just in case.
I definitely needed that beer! The heat was slow to arrive but ferocious when it did. In a good way. At least that’s what I said in between glugging down cold booze by the brace. The fish was excellently cooked – meaty and bony so requiring delicate knife skills. Ant eggs were less of a delight, although the curry they rode in on had an excellent depth of flavour with a high mushroom content that would make it a good lunchtime option. The Lao element to the papaya salad appeared to be hard-shelled baby mud crabs, which I was happy to deposit alongside the fishbones uneaten. I was also less than enamoured of the grilled sticky rice, though that may be due to the fact that I’d had a tooth extracted at the weekend and the hole in my face rapidly turned into a sticky rice mine.
Despite ordering less than the recommended amount of two salads and two mains we still couldn’t finish everything that was brought to us. The service was outstanding – really friendly and quick. I especially liked the feller with the low slung jeans who brought us the wrong bill (lower than we expected) and quite happily admitted his own doofishness about it. Even at the higher rate the bill was reasonable for this part of town for the amount of grub/drink we’d got.
I’ll be back to Lao for curry but without the ants or crabs – this is a place where it’s good to know your way around the menu.
To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).