Cuisine: Lao – occasionally written as Laotian
Table for: Two (slightly wind-swept and soggy) friends on a Friday evening
Can you book? We didn’t, and it doesn’t say so on the website
What we ordered:
To drink: Two glasses of prosecco. Each. We were celebrating.
Then, because the waiter insisted: The fried bugs of the day…
Mains: Chicken soup with a side of brown rice, house salad (minus prawns), aubergine and egg salad
To finish: Two glasses of Milk Tea
What we spent: £70.88 including tip
You may have heard the name Rosa’s Thai before; authentic modern Thai food served in seven locations across London, from Chelsea to Westfield. I’ve been meaning to go to one for the past three years – I love Thai food. It feels lighter to me than a lot of Indian dishes, much as love them too.
I wasn’t intending to go to the Lao café. I was meeting a good friend to celebrate some very good news, and we couldn’t be doing with the three hour wait to get into the Barbary (so back on the Bucket List that one goes). She ducked in out of the rain to the Lao café on the basis that it looked exciting from outside – and this instinct has served us well on many occasions, as a couple of foodies with an eye for street food and a habit of taking chances on places that become new favourites.
It is a striking place – fairly small, but detailed and full of colour. The left hand wall is vividly painted with the beaming face of a smiling woman; coppery pans hang opposite it; the tiles are patterned; the lightbulbs exposed. This is the new permanent home of the hugely successful pop up expansion of Rosa’s Thai cafés and, so the manager told me, at least, the first Lao restaurant in London.
The menu, in a word? Meaty. A month or so ago I was all set to give up animal products for good – pretty much every dish includes them here, from fermented sausages to ant eggs. So it ought not be top of your vegan hitlist, and will be best enjoyed by foodies with an open mind and curious tastebuds. And for everyone else, it shouldn’t necessarily put you off.
The staff were really friendly and accommodating; my papaya salad had the prawns removed, and was delicious with the spice of chilli and the crunch of fruit and veg. The meat-free option of the aubergine and egg salad was SO much tastier than I could possibly do justice. Tal’s dainty portion of sticky rice came wrapped in a leaf – cute – and her green chicken soup (also delicious, and too much to eat) was served steaming in a terracotta pot at the table. So experience-wise, and on taste, I couldn’t fault the mains. My two dishes, technically small plates or sides, came in at around £8 each, which felt reasonable for an impromptu dinner.
It was experience that made us try the fried bugs of the day. The vegan on my shoulder told me not to do it, but then again, I’m not a vegan. My favourite part of travel is food, and my favourite thing about food in London is that you can travel the world without leaving your city. So, in the name of experience, we were served a small bowl of fried crickets and something with the name bat in the title…. Apparently bugs have been donned ‘the food of the future’ because they are so cheap, readily available, and full of protein. Me, personally, I’m good with chickpeas and lentils. I tried it for the experience, and I wouldn’t recommend the taste (nor the £2.50 for the education). Sorry.
Overall though, The Lao café felt like a lively and colourful place that would be great for friends to meet for a casual dinner – if everyone’s up for trying something new, and you don’t mind your wine being served in a tumbler (not the way to our hearts, we like ’em on stems). The food I had I would eat again and again, and it’s a much more cultured option than the big chain restaurants nearby in Leicester Square, where you’ll likely be ripped off for distinctly average food that you could refuse anywhere. All things considered? Maybe not the ideal cuisine for me, but based on taste and presentation of the food, the push I needed to seek out a seat at Rosa’s Thai very soon.