Looking at Blue Lagoon’s unassuming sign on the side street by Luang Prabang’s National Palace in the Old Town, it’s difficult to imagine that the lane leads to a romantic garden space complete with a brilliantly-designed gourmet restaurant. After all, its name is similar to that of any good number of pubs and bars scattered around Southeast Asia. Had I not known that the restaurant is one of the city’s best places to dine, my expectations might have been a whole lot different.
The restaurant, famous for dishing out fantastic Swiss and European dishes, is owned by Chef Somsack Sengta, and his story is fascinating. The Luang Prabang local started out as a tour guide before being adopted by an affluent Swiss family and subsequently heading to Switzerland to study the culinary arts. There, he worked at three restaurants (starting out as a dishwasher), eventually returning to Laos to start Blue Lagoon 13 years ago. His idea is simple, to preserve the traditions of Laos by juxtaposing them with the skills he developed in the Central European country.
It shows in his prodigious use of herbs and greens, from his spinach soup appetiser to the herb butter for the bread, as well as his decision to use prawns instead of the more popular lobster for his rich bisque. At first glance, the dish looks pretty ordinary, but Somsack uses fresh dill, a spice that he loves. As he tells me, the herb has a refreshing strong flavour, and Laos is perhaps the only country in the region that employs dill so much in its cooking.
He does a splendid lamb fillet, sourced from New Zealand and cooked to a perfect medium. Tender to a tee, you’ll want to complement the meat with some smooth red wine rosemary sauce, and potato gratin that’s lovingly cooked with crème fraîche. Then there’s the Luang Prabang wurst, which in case you were wondering, is sourced from a German butcher right in the city itself. The mildly spicy pork sausage is based on the Laotian speciality, and is usually eaten during marriages, religious ceremonies, and other festivities. In this case, the festivity is all in our tummy, fried till firm and served with an addictive sweet chilli sauce.
If Blue Lagoon is known for one thing, it would be Somsack’s one-year-old insect menu, which sees several ant creations (think black ant eggs in coconut soup and red ant egg tuna salad) as well as a grasshopper tagliatelle. Having already sampled so many dishes, I opt for his red ant egg raspberry sorbet dessert, which the team makes from scratch. As for the taste of the red ant eggs, they are creamy, crispy, and taste like a certain je ne sais quoi – you’d have to try to know. Bizarre, I know, but it is part of Lao culture.
The lack of ambient music in the restaurant means conversations from neighbouring tables can easily be overheard, but otherwise, this is an excellent joint to enjoy a tranquil, quality dinner hidden away from the night market bustle, with all the works: professional and attentive staff, French impressionist paintings, potted plants, rustic wood pillars, and all.
Blue Lagoon Restaurant is located at Ounheun Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos 06000, p. +856 20 59 252525. Open daily 6pm – 11.30pm.