Friends: I am proud to share with you this wonderful report about an iconic restaurant in Laos from my London friend Jane van Marken. It’s the result of a conversation we had on Facebook after she returned from Luang Prabang, where she revisited an iconic restaurant that she feel in love with long ago as a backpacker. Thank you Jane! (Photos coming shortly.)
By Jane van Marken
It was 10 years ago that I first arrived hot and bothered in Luang Prabang after dusk, just as the mosquitos really started to bite.
Heaving my backpack up the steep slope of the Mekong River, I congratulated myself on having survived two days of rigorous river travel that I regarded in equal parts as entirely breathtaking and a mammoth test of endurance.
I barely glanced back down to the working long-boat, where workers were busily unloading its contents of rice and concrete. The boat had rescued me from an uncertain night on the lonely banks of the mighty Mekong after my long-tail speed boat had broken down, leaving me properly stranded hours from this most glorious and romantic of locations that South East Asia has to offer.
I checked in the closest guest house, threw down my worldly belongings and took a cold shower (very welcome, but not optional). And then I set off to find the best joint in town in order to restore the balance from the reality of being a $15-a-day backpacker with Champagne tastes, to one who was more than ready now to live it up and take in the full beauty of this recently announced World Heritage town.
L’Elephant: ‘One of the most memorable meals of my life’
My nose easily found my way to L’Elephant, the restaurant that sits in proud French Colonial glory on the corner of two implausibly quaint streets.
And it was love at first sight.
L’Elephant was all swirling ceiling fans, wicker chairs, bamboo blinds and a wrap-around terrace that was filled to the rafters with laid back diners sipping cold beer Lao’s and G&T’s [gin and tonics] undergoing osmosis at a remarkable rate.
I sat down and enjoyed one of the most memorable meals of my life. Needless to say, balance was restored.
A few weeks ago – over the Easter break, I had great pleasure in returning to the gentle and beguiling city of Luang Prabang.
This time with my husband. And this time I arrived in style.
I was eager to find out how L’Elephant had fared. It turns out, incredibly well. L’Elephant began back in 1999 by Yannick Uplavan and Gilles Vautrin and to my delight it’s still the fanciest, favourite place in town for a delicious meal and a good dose of that intoxicating feeling of being thousands of miles from anywhere, yet being exactly in the right place.
I was welcomed back in manner of celebrity when they realised I was a returning farang (foreigner). “You’ve come back! 10 years? We’ll give you our finest table!”
Worth the wait
The meal itself was worth the wait and I couldn’t help feeling incredibly pleased that the quality and experience really was superb and not a mirage from my days as a backpacker with parched taste buds.
The aubergine and feta gratin, let me tell you, is just sensational. I discovered later when chatting to the lovely Berenice at the sublime Amantaka Hotel that the dish is the big favourite amongst staff, the town expats and guests alike. One guest asked Berenice to accompany him to L’Elephant four days on the trot with every meal featuring the aubergine and feta gratin. It’s that good.
We loved our main courses too: poisson du Mékong à la Moutarde pour moi and for my husband the coq au vin (rooster, not chicken). I raised an eyebrow at that one but he assured me it was absolutely delicious as he lapped up the last of the sauce. As to the address of L’Elephant, it’s near the Wats (temples) – but I won’t tell you where. Picking your way through these charming streets past chickens, geese, cats and sleeping dogs, not to mention the gentle unhurried and welcoming Laotians, just follow your nose and discover it for yourself.