My aunt returned from a trip to south-east Asia last December with an apron declaring her a “Certified Laos* Chef”. An enlightened companion, then, to accompany me to Bolaven, a restaurant proffering the very cuisine she has mastered.
This is our second visit – the first was on a balmy January evening – and the restaurant’s popularity doesn’t seem to have waned with the passage of six months or the demise of the summer weather. Open all day and for dinner, Bolaven has eschewed the “no reservations” policy in vogue across the city, and for that we are thankful when we arrive for our booking on a brisk Friday evening in July.
Nodding our way through the hackneyed recital of “plates are designed to share and will come out as they’re ready”, we order and, tout de suite, dishes appear in quick succession. Sticky rice, to start, is served with dips – eggplant, green chilli, and tomato – and traditionally rolled it into balls between (presumably heat-impervious) fingers. Sensitive-fingered (and impatient) souls that we are, we opt for spoons.
Steamed corn, a favourite from our January visit, makes a surprising but successful out-of-season reappearance. We are left wondering at this achievement – is it imported? Grown in a greenhouse? Snap-frozen? A delicious unsolved mystery.
Duck and mushroom spring rolls with a tangy hoisin sauce and skewers of chicken thigh meat served with a spicy tomato “jaew” follow. Both are deliciously moreish, but my pick of the night is the eye fillet larb. Seared beef, thinly sliced, is accompanied by cucumber, crushed peanut and lime and designed to be eaten in an iceberg lettuce “wrap”. The Certified Laos Cook presumes the traditional ingredient of buffalo bile is missing from this version; it goes down a treat in spite of this glaring omission.
“Fresh” is a recurring adjective throughout the meal. Coriander, mint, chilli, spring onion, lemongrass and lime feature centrally; the flavours are somewhat akin to those found in Vietnamese cuisine.
Dessert changes daily, and my dining companion is most happy with tonight’s offering: warm coconut sago pudding served with lychee, lemongrass syrup, and a black sesame tuile.
The wine list is brief and, suitably for the cuisine, aromatically focused. There is also a short but creatively-named cocktail menu (think “black rice” and “gingerella”), a selection of lagers, and a range of non-alcoholic offerings.
The tables are somewhat cramped; the staff a little earnest; the service a little rushed. But for the food, I’ll be back – maybe next time to sample the Day menu. “Grandma’s” pho is a self-proclaimed “specialty”, and brunch staples such as muesli, eggs and french toast are treated to an oriental makeover (coconut and mango bircher; sticky rice with fried eggs; french toast with ginger syrup). A little Laotian oasis in the heart of Mount Eden.
*which, evidently, rhymes with wow, as opposed to house, or, as I had innovatively assumed, chaos. Any guidance on pronouncing the adjectival form, “Laotian”, welcomed.
597 Mount Eden Rd, Mount Eden
Open for breakfast & lunch (8am – 3pm Tuesday – Sunday) and dinner (6pm – 10pm Wednesday – Saturday)