In our very first week in Vientiane, when the kids were already driving me mad with school holidays (and no friends in a new country), I rounded them up and took them out to lunch. While they're not the greatest of dining companions, I am determined with unfounded optimism to train them in the art of sitting still and consuming food with grace and appreciation. It will happen one day (truly).
Makphet was the lucky recipient of our first family foray into Vientiane dining.
I picked Makphet in particular as it is a well known and falang-frequented restaurant with Lao food that might appeal to a younger audience. Besides, I was sick of sandwiches. While the young scamps didn't eat much, our friendly waitress immediately provided colouring pencils and paper, cheek squeezes, and the food arrived super fast, three ticks in every parent's book when dining out.
Fast forward a few months and I returned to Makphet minus the children but with my trusty dining companion and translator, J, who we'll now just call Mde Xairung. (Xairung means 'rainbow' and there is a back story there but we'll tell it another time).
Makphet is a restaurant that supports the vocational training of disadvantaged young Laotians, and their families through education. It is run by Tree Alliance, which also has four restaurants in Cambodia, and is similar to Koto in Hanoi which helps get kids off the street and into education and training.
A not-for-profit dining establishment that also promotes sustainable employment gets another tick in my book. And if it turns out some good food in a beautiful surrounding, that's all the better.
Makphet is right in town in a French-style two storey building painted a lovely yellow with green and white window trimmings. Inside framed artwork adorn the walls and the windows look out onto a tree-filled garden.
We were served by a young man called Cham (pronounced 'Jun'), from Bolikhamxay province east of Vientiane. A friend had recommended Makphet to him. He has been working here for 18 months, first in the kitchen for a year and now on the floor. Cham says he much prefers it here to his hometown, and if his slick hairdo is anything to go by, I'd say city life suits him too.
We also tried to chat with a young waitress but she was much shyer and we only managed to catch that she is 15 and from Vientiane city. She is new, prompted by her aunt who wanted her to study here.
We ordered a rosella freeze and a coconut milkshake which looked just like cocktails and tasted even better.
Onto the food, and egged on by my curiosity (this is research, after all), we ordered several dishes - crispy rice cake veggie stirfry; fish laap with choy sum, toasted rice and fresh mint; grilled eggplant, lemongrass, galangal and peanuts; fresh spring rolls; and the ever-present basket of sticky rice. Everything arrived very promptly and beautifully presented.
The green fish curry was lightly spiced and really tasty. I also loved the eggplant with its deep smoky flavour and more eggplant jeow piled on top. The fish laap was also delicious, light with a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs, lime and chilli to give it a bit of a kick. And the pieces of crispy rice cake on top of the veggie stirfry I'm sure were fried in pork fat because they tasted just like crackling. Yummy.
It is great to see so many vegetarian dishes on the menu here (pork fat excepted). We also enjoyed a couple of delectable desserts - sesame encrusted balls with coconut ice cream and the lime cheesecake.
Makphet is off Quai Fa Ngum, behind Wat Ong Teu.