They say that the restaurants with minimal decor often serve the some of the best food. This surely is the case when it comes to a visit to Lao Village in Fairfield. Tucked away down a street which could be mistaken as empty, this little joint can be easily overshadowed by the extravagant Fairfield RSL across the road. I have vague memories of visiting this restaurant when I was a child. We would always go here for ox tongue and sticky rice until my dad figured out how to re-create it at home, so we haven’t been ever since.
As per usual we order pretty much the same things at every Laotian restaurant we go to. There’s the staple ox tongue, lao sausage, paw paw salad, larb (raw beef salad), nam khao (crunchy ball salad) and sticky rice.
Besides “yuck”, I think when most people think of ox tongue they associate it with korean BBQs. The laotian way is kinda like grilling a fillet of the tongue and then slicing it into thin strips. Possibly my favourite laotian dish but unfortunately, most of the ox tongue ($8) was slightly on the chewy side; possibly having been grilled for too long. For me, the perfect ox tongue has to have slightly crisp edges but remain tender and juicy.
In my opinion, larb (beef salad) ($8) should only be eaten raw. I know people may have issues with raw meat and feel safer if the meat has been thoroughly cooked, but it just tastes better when served raw (I’m sure you can probably get it cooked if you ask). In comparison to the larb we have at Twelve Spices, this one isn’t as heavy-handed with the shallots and coriander (a good thing) but the ground rice is a little too fine, I like it slightly coarse for the additional textual component. The flavours are nicely balanced although it does punch more of a kick for mild, but that’s what the complimentary cabbage is for, to dampen the spiciness.
There are two pawpaw salads offered. I prefer the Lao version over Thai; the difference is that the sauce for the Lao version is crab/anchovy based whilst the Thai version is tamarind/fish sauce based. Lao pawpaw salad ($8) features long slivers of unripe papaya which is bashed with a balanced sweet, sour, salty and spicy sauce and topped with dried shrimp. This salad is crunchy and wonderfully balanced in flavours.
Something we don’t normally have at asian restaurants is quails. A large serving of quails ($13) offers 12 pieces of fragrant and fried quail, served with a dipping sauce of salt, pepper and lemon. Bargain! Yes it is fiddly to eat, but the succulent and gamey meat makes it all worth while.
The raw prawn salad ($12) is loaded with chilli and served on a bed of shredded raw cabbage, with a squeeze of lemon juice, the prawns are “cooked”. There’s a bit resistance as you bite into these soft squishy prawns but the shredded cabbage provides a nice contrast of texture and flavour to numb the fiery and bold flavours used to dress this salad.
Possibly the best Lao pork sausage ($8) I’ve ever had at a restaurant. Filled with aromatic spices and having a texture completely different to others, the crisp exterior and soft and juicy innards keeps me coming back for more.
Nam khao (crunchy ball salad) ($8) is possibly the ultimate fried rice out there. The rice is shaped into balls and fried until crispy, upon service they are smashed up, leaving a medley of crunchy chunks of rice and fluffy rice to be devoured. What also makes this fried rice special is a sour element contributed by the Laotian-style cured pork. A must try dish!
To round off everything that we had, prawn tom yum soup ($12) was ordered. Fragrant with a balanced and subtle sour and sweet flavour, this soup definitely hit the spot to calm down the heat from all the spicy dishes we had. The best thing about finishing our meal off with this soup is pouring it in a bowl of sticky rice and chowing down on it.
The service is quick and friendly and the food comes out when it is ready as oppose to coming out all at once. But the best thing is that it is cheap and authentic. There is a local vibe to this small restaurant and it does often get fairly busy, we were here on a Tuesday night and it got packed as we were finishing up. So if you feel like you don’t know much about Laotian food, I’d recommend you check this place out, all the items on the menu come with pictures to assist you in making a decision which is a bonus.