Lao Cafe | Enjoying the Food of Laos in London

Lao Café has been serving the delicious food of Laos to Londoners since it opened last year, in a two storey site between Covent Garden and Charing Cross. The story of Lao Cafe is the story of co-founder Saiphin Moore.

Born in Northern Thailand to native Lao parents, Saiphin grew up on a mountain farm, where she learned to cook by helping her mum prepare family meals. Even as a child, Saiphin was an enterprising girl, growing and selling her own coriander crops.

At age 16, she took her first steps into the restaurant trade, opening a noodle shop in her parents’ front room. The noodle shop was immensely popular, customers travelling from across the province to enjoy recipes featuring crops from the family farm.

Two years later, she left Thailand to find work as a nanny in Hong Kong. Forging friendships with traders at her local food market, Saiphin was soon offered a part-time role in a Thai restaurant while she continued as a nanny. Eventually, she set up her own businesses, first a Thai food takeaway and later a sit-down restaurant. It was also in Hong Kong that Saiphin met her husband Alex, who worked in digital marketing.

After 18 years living in Hong Kong, the last six with Alex, the pair sold up and moved to London in 2006. Here, Saiphin continued her tradition of cooking with seasonal, local ingredients, supplemented by increasingly available imported Thai ingredients. She first sold her food at markets and to office workers, often selling out before the end of lunch, just as she had in her childhood noodle shop. After a permanent market stall on Brick Lane, Saiphin and Alex found a home for their first permanent Thai restaurant in London.

Taking over the lease of a traditional British caff, they decided to keep its existing name, Rosa’s. Since their first Rosa’s Café opened in 2008, the pair have expanded the brand quickly and there are now 13 Rosa’s Cafes in London.

Many of the dishes of Northern Thailand are Lao in origin, unsurprising given the proximity of this part of Thailand with Laos’ Luang Prabang Province to the East, and the shifting borders of the various kingdoms that ruled this region. Saiphin often shared some of these Lao-Thai dishes on the menu of Rosa’s, but it was not until Alex and Saiphin ran a dedicated Lao food pop-up in the location of what was intended to be another branch of Rosa’s that they decided to create a permanent Lao restaurant instead.

In Lao Café, the focus is on Laotian cooking, including some of Saiphin’s Lao family recipes from her childhood. The dining style is sharing everthing family-style, dishes of chargrilled meat and fish, spicy curries and soups, and fresh and punchy salads.

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

I made the mistake of scheduling my first dinner at Lao Cafe on the same day as I’d already had a huge lunch, and in the high temperatures of early July, neither of us had a huge appetite. Starting with tall glasses of sweet and milky iced coffee to cool off, we chose just a few dishes from the tempting menu. Next time, I’m going with an emptier belly!

First, a papaya salad from the Tumm section, with six variants available. We chose Tum Lao, the Lao style version (£10.50), for a full-on punch of flavours. The portion is generous, and perfectly balanced, and made with less chilli than typical, at our request. Perfect!

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

Next, a classic order of Jee Moo (chargrilled pork skewers, £8) served with a super hot chilli dip. Hard to pull off the skewers, but worth the effort, this was deeply flavoured meaty heaven.

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

The Sai Oua (herbal northern sausages, £8) was my favourite item, the plump little sausages soft and with a wonderful herb-richflavour. We loved them eaten together with the thinly sliced raw ginger, lettuce and mint leaves served alongside.

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

Sticky rice is a staple, considered the heart of any Lao meal and the Khao Niew (sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, £3) was excellent. I loved the firm, chewy texture and fragrant taste.

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

Lastly, we picked a soupy curry, Om Gai (£11), which was made a touch milder than usual at our request. It still packed a kick, but was at the same time a comfort-food dish, very much in the home-cooking style.

Next time, I’m keen to try one of the Laabs (dry salads), more of the grilled items such as poussin and a whole fish, one of the Mor Fai (hot pots) served in a traditional pot over charcoal, and some stir-fried noodles.

Save for later:

Lao Cafe, a casual restaurant in London, offers delicious authentic food from Laos

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
26 Comments to "Lao Cafe | Enjoying the Food of Laos in London"

  1. Janice

    That looks totally delicious, love those pork skewers and the sticky rice in a banana leaf, you don’t get much more authentic.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Really good, simple, and most of it quite different to food I’ve had before.

    Reply
  2. Heidi Roberts

    This is a new cuisine for me – I need to try it soon! I love it when someone successfully brings their homeland food to London and it is successful!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, it’s great isnt it, we are so lucky to be able to try so many cuisines right here in London.

    Reply
  3. Greg

    Love Lao food! We actually have good friends who run the only Lao food stall in NYC. Great to see that there is a Lao restaurant in London. Sai oua is delicious and the stew looked good with the dill. Wonder if they have nam khao on the menu.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Oh fantastic, so you’ve already tried it. I’m keen to get back soon and try more of the menu!

    Reply
  4. Mirela

    This looks delicious! How did you find this place? Did you try Laotian cooking before and purposefully looked for a place serving it?

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I went to Rosa’s Cafe for Thai food, run by the same people. You can read a bit more about their story by expanding the link in the first paragraph above. So that’s how I found about about the owner’s family background and her interest in both Thai and Lao food. Have been meaning to visit here since it opened but as always, it took me a while!

    Reply
  5. Christen

    I have never had food from Laos before, but I’m really interested to try it now! All the pictures are great – and making me really hungry right now lol

    Reply
  6. kaveyeats

    It’s true that you can find AMAZING examples of several Asian cuisines in London!

    Reply
  7. Erica Edwards

    Mmm, tasty! I’m not sure I’ve ever tried cuisine from Laos. Is it more similar to Thai or Khmer/Cambodian gastronomy? Spicy? Vegetarian options? You’ve left my mouth watering for sticky rice wrapped in bamboo! Or even better.. mango sticky rice! Yum.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I’m not familiar with Khmer/ Cambodian cuisine so I’m not sure, but certainly has much in common with many Northern Thai dishes as there has been a lot of movement of population in that region over the centuries. There were some veggie options but the menu isn’t huge. I think Makhuer Yao (spicy chargilled aubergine salad) and Om Hed Bai Ya Nang (mixed mushrooms soup) may be veggie but you’d need to check that fish sauce etc. aren’t used.

    Reply
  8. Cynthia

    The Jee Moo looks like they are perfectly cooked! I’ve never tried Laoation curry and would love to do so. I’ll have to check out this cafe the next time I’m in London!

    Reply
  9. Mel Butler

    Lao Café in London looks like a great little spot for Asian food. I live in London, so I will definitely check it out, especially for the chargrilled pork skewers and the Sticky rice. That definitely makes me hungry.

    Reply

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *