If you're in need of a steak in Vientiane, there's only one place to go, really. And that is Pimenton. This Spanish-style steakhouse has been dishing out the prime Angus steaks, pork ribs and pretty much anything meaty with great gusto since 2013. Both the quality of the dishes and the general ambience is no doubt helped along by the giant open grill behind the bar. Not to mention the slick and sophisticated interior with its polish cement floors, slabs of polish wood contrasted with black metal, and floor to ceiling windows.
Pimenton (which means 'paprika' in Spanish) is owned and managed by Lao-Spanish husband-and-wife team, Serge and Regina Selbe. There's a generous set lunch menu - on my first visit there I had an enormous portion of house smoked, chargrilled pork spare ribs, plus salad and chips and a dessert. I certainly couldn't finish it all. Though I tried - it was very moreish. They also do burgers and salads and fish... it's a big menu.
In the evening, there's gin cocktails and a long wine list of Spanish, Latino and Australian wines, and tapas.
There's also steak. A lot of steak. Imported, hormone-free steak from Thailand and Canada, as well as 100% grass-fed New Zealand, and certified Japanese Kobe beef. Black Angus, Tenderloin, Ribeye, T-bone... you get the drift. In Vientiane, you're not going to find better.
Unless, perhaps, you want to cook your own.
And now there's a happy solution for that - pop next door to La Tienda ('the store') which just opened this week.
When Serge, who worked as a chef for many years in the US, opened Pimenton, a good source of meat was at the top of his wishlist. Ideally, he wanted that meat to be from Laos but this wasn't available, so he decided to set up their own. He is now a part owner in an agribusiness called XP Trading. Among other projects, they run XP Farms just outside Vientiane, which raises and processes pigs and chickens.
Now, they've just introduced a few head of cattle and La Tienda plans to butcher their first cow before Pi Mai.
Nigel Blair is the head butcher and chef d'cuisine at Pimenton and La Tienda. He prepares all the meat for the restaurant and the store. La Tienda has a smoking room and an ageing room, where they are already dry ageing hunks of beef, a process that increases flavour and tenderness. Nige is particularly excited about this; the first dry aged beef in Laos.
All the meat sold at La Tienda is fresh and the local meats are prepared on the premises. There are sausages, smoked ham, mince, steak, and cured and smoked salmon. And this is just what they're starting with; I'm sure Nigel has plans for more.
There are also a few condiments like tinned sardines, marinated peppers and a wall of Spanish wine.
Last but certainly not least, they have their earthenware pottery for sale - plates, bowls, jugs, platters and more. It's really quite lovely.
So, what are you waiting for? Get down there and stock up for Pi Mai. Just save me some of the dry aged beef. And maybe the beetroot gravalax. Mmmm...