Many moons ago Len proposed a very silly and naïve wager … that Zarese and I couldn’t cook for four nights a week (two nights each) for a month. Zarese and I had already agreed to do it, so the whole thing seemed pretty pointless. Particularly considering Len had sampled my Moroccan tagine (yes – I did bring Moroccan spices with me from Australia), which gave a pretty clear indication that we were capable of more than slap dash toast and beans. Irrespective, he thought we were all talk, so the three of us agreed that the loser/s (i.e. Len) had to cook the winner/s (i.e. Zarese and I) a three course meal.
So long story short, Zarese and I cooked for four nights a week for a month. Easy peasy. We even threw some desserts into the mix, with Zarese making cheesecakes (note the plural there) and choc-chip cookies, and I whipped up some chocolate crackles and a delightful coconut-pineapple, tapioca pudding.
Result – Len owed us a three course meal.
So last Sunday witnessed the grand opening of what is now fondly known as Len’s Kitchen. To be honest, Len’s surprise at Zarese and I’s commitment (and competence) to cook made me pretty apprehensive about what he would, or could, feed us – so much so, that I may have had a pre-dinner meal in anticipation of the fail …
However, to our surprise, Len’s effort in the kitchen was both substantial and appetizing, warranting an equally substantive critique of the experience. So in the same vein as The Michelin Guide, I offer you the Foodie Freestone review of Len’s Kitchen.
Foodie Freestone – Guide to the Cuisine of Lao PDR
Len’s Kitchen – Winner of Best New Entry
Opening in late 2013, Len’s Kitchen has taken a while to make its stamp on the Vientiane culinary scene, but with the award of the Foodie Freestone – Best New Entry, things are about to change for this little known eatery. Tucked into a quiet pocket of the city, off busy Nongbone Road, Len’s Kitchen offers a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of Vientiane’s busier streets. Head Chef and joint-owner, Mr. Leonard, may be relatively new to the restaurant game, but isn’t afraid to experiment, and offers an exciting dining experience. Recognizing the angst that modern-day diners are subjected to when presented with a complicated and excessive menu, Mr. Leonard has pared things back, offering a single entre, main and dessert. The food focuses on highlighting the best organic vegetables and grains on offer in Lao PDR, presenting a wholly vegetarian menu. The drinks list is similarly unpretentious, offering one well-matched red.
Ratings given below are based on the Foodie Freestone ‘thumbs-up’, ‘thumbs-down’ system. Five randomly selected diners were asked to rate each course, therefore the highest score any course could receive is five ‘thumbs-up’.
Entre comprised a slow-roasted pumpkin soup, seasoned with cumin, yoghurt, a soupçon of fresh dill, teamed with a pan-toasted baguette. A clear effort had been made with the construction of this dish. Appealing to the senses, the colour, aroma and texture were all pleasing. On-the-verge-of-mustard yellow, the consistency of the soup was smooth and creamy, with the flavour was mild and earthy, with no bitter aftertaste. Overall, the dish was soothing, and suited to chilly weather.
FF Rating: 4 up / 1 down (the Head Chef ranking his own dish low on this one)
The main was two-fold, and included a vegetable, split pea curry and a spicy Szechuan eggplant stir-fry, supported with a farm-fresh organic brown rice.
The curry may not have been as visually appealing as the soup, but nevertheless presented as a rich and hearty dish. Filled with a strong peppery, though not overpowering, flavour it warmed the cockles, and was complimented by the simple, natural flavours of the rurally-sourced rice.
Though drenched in oil, the eggplant stir-fry was a soul-destroying, taste sensation. With its melt-in-your-mouth texture, and caramelised sweetness, it tasted some-what like slow-roasted BBQ pork ribs. Sep li li!
FF Rating: 4 up / 0 down (one of the diners abstained from this vote)
The dessert was advertised as being a surprise, which it was – crushed Tim Tam on a bed of tri-flavoured ice cream. Whilst the dish may have been constructed in Len’s Kitchen, the various elements were clearly not ‘home-made’ and were catering to the mundane dessert consumer (driven by sugar content rather than flavour). Irrespective this dish can be described as super, sickly, sweet, goodness; and was still acceptable and enjoyable, at least for those that could eat it. (Unusually for a restaurant of this grade the diners were encouraged to supply their own gluten-free, lactose-free desserts. In this instance the GF/LF dessert supplied was a lovely little choc-coco ball concoction provided by Zarese)
FF Rating: 4.5 up / 0 down (the lack of GF/LF preventing this dish from getting a 5 for 5)
The Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon was unrated.
Final Score and Comments:
Total score: 12.5 out of a possible 15 and awarded Best New Entry. We were surprised with the level of effort put in, and actual culinary skill presented. Well done, and thank you.
Ambiance: Dining is al fresco, the overall ambiance was top class, complete with real candles. The Christmas tree may have been a bit dated, but added some good colour to the scene.
Bathroom Facilities: Considering the developing world context, good quality bathroom facilities can never be underestimated. The facilities at Len’s Kitchen were well kept, though oddly connected to a bedroom, resulting in potentially awkward post-meal encounters.
Food Hygiene: An inspection of the kitchen area was conducted and things were found to be up to scratch. The presence of a dog was initially questioned, however again, given the developing world context, this was considered to be acceptable.
Affordability: Interestingly, Len’s Kitchen operate a free meal policy, so it was a real bargain.
How to Get There:
Specialties: The unexpected highlights of the night included excellent company and conversation, and the in-house entertainment provided by DJ Tupac Tremors.
FYI Len – I’m just kidding about the pre-dinner meal 🙂