Posted on Saturday, 8th August 2015
BELMOND LA RESIDENCE PHOU VAO –
PHOU SAVANH RESTAURANT
Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is a beautiful luxury resort and spa located in Luang Prabang, Laos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The resort is located on Phou Vao hill, about two kilometres from the centre of Luang Prabang, and is set within three hectares of lush gardens and greenery. Its hill top location means that guests are afforded with views of the surrounding hills and Mount Phou Si, Luang Prabang’s sacred hill upon where there is a Buddhist Temple. Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao combines a French colonial style with Laotian touches to create the ultimate sense of classical luxury and comfort. It’s a gorgeous part of the world and incredibly intimate and tranquil, making for a very romantic setting for dinner.
Phou Savanh is the restaurant at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao and is wonderfully comfortably and spacious. It has high ceilings and open doorways that give it an airy feel. Executive Chef Walter Andreini hails from Brussels but also spent 14 years running his own restaurant in Koh Samui. Consequently, the restaurant is a blend of east meets west, with both an Asian and a more classical French menu. The Asian menu itself is a fusion of inspirations, drawing on dishes from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, all cooked with a European touch.
There is both indoor and outdoor seating at Phou Savanh, and adjacent to the restaurant is the Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao’s Champa Bar. Both the restaurant and the bar look out onto the resort’s infinity pool, which in turn merges with a view of Luang Prabang’s beautiful green treetops and Mount Phou Si. It made for a spectacular spot to knock back some cocktails which we duly did. We tried the Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao’s signature cocktail of ‘Simply Laos’ which consisted of Lao-Lao (a Laotian rice whisky), hibiscus flower, honey and lime (USD$9.50), and a Laojito (USD$9.50) with Lao-Lao, lemongrass, mint, lime and sugar over crushed ice. Both were really delicious and refreshing.
Along with our cocktails we enjoyed some homemade Vietnamese spring rolls with pork and prawns (USD$12.50). These were served two ways, deep-fried and cold with a rice paper wrapping. Both were scrumptious, with the fillings being perky and fresh.
In the restaurant proper we began our meal with a variety of Asian starters, having decided to go down the Asian rather than the French route. The first was the Laotian young bamboo shoots stuffed with pork, lemongrass and herbs (USD$11.50). The bamboo and the pork was a good pairing. It was tasty with the filling being meaty and well seasoned, but a little bit more fat in the mixture would have meant it wasn’t so grainy.
We liked the sweetness of the prawns in a dish of deep-fried prawns with Lao beer batter and coconut chunks (USD$14) although a touch more salt was needed. Finally minced tilapia from Laos with mint, lime and toasted rice (USD$12) was really fresh with the fish proving to be meaty and sweet. It was a robust and generously sized dish, but a little more acidity would have lifted it further. Perched on top of the tilapia was a roll of fried potato strings which was stale.
We followed this up with a soup course, a Laos Mekong fish and coconut soup with mushrooms, quail eggs and baby corn (USD$16). There was a heavy use of coconut milk in this soup, more so than might be typical in traditional Laotian cooking. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the soup. The fish was sweet and the soup was rich and sweet with a creamy, coconut flavour. It was also fresh and lively from the use of lemongrass.
To mains, and a Luang Prabang style pork and eggplant curry from Laos (USD$20 – the dish at the front of the photo), was also heavy with lots of coconut milk. But I again enjoyed the flavour of the sauce, with it being creamy and rich. The pork was a touch chewy, but it had a good flavour, and it combined nicely combined with aubergine, fried garlic, red chili and fish eggs. A second Luang Prabang buffalo stew of eggplant, pumpkin, lemongrass and pepperwood (USD$23.50) was less successful however. The flavour was odd and neither of us enjoyed this dish.
Phou Savanh provided a dining experience that was very much a fusion between East and West, leading to flavours that were richer and heavier than you might traditionally find in Asian cooking. Despite this, I still enjoyed the overall Phou Savanh experience. Food wise, I particularly loved the spring rolls and the Mekong fish soup. Service wise, I found this to be particularly charming and engaging. We were the only guests in the restaurant, but I relished the natural sense of peace and tranquility that Phou Savanh exuded. And finally, I adored being able to relax in the Champa Bar, sipping those delicious cocktails. Note that prices are denominated in US dollars so the meal is more expensive that you might find in central Luang Prabang.
1. The beauty of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao. It makes for a very tranquil and romantic spot for dinner.
2. Cocktails at Champa Bar
3. The lovely service at dinner.
4. The spring rolls and the Mekong fish soup.
1. The buffalo stew.
2. Prices are higher than in central Luang Prabang, but this is a five-star luxury resort after all.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 4.25/5
About USD$40 to USD$50 for three courses. Excludes 10% tax, 10% service and drinks.