Villa Opera: Homely High-end Italian in Vientiane
I have found a quiet bit of Italy in Vientiane where the homemade pasta is bellissimo.
After the closure of the Italian restaurant L’Opera, near the Mix Fountain, Mr Pino Peruzzi has re-opened for business with another Italian Restaurant, called Villa Opera. Villa Opera is situated just one block back from the Mekong River on Rue Panya Sri, just behind The Spirit House. After the 7 month refurbishment of an old run down French Colonial Villa it is difficult to imagine what the building used to be like as the refurbishment is to a very high standard, maintaining the traditional exterior with a very modern interior.
If you have previously eaten at the Italian L’Opera you will pleased to find most of your favourites on the menu here. This restaurant is not the place for a cheap meal with antipasti and appetizers priced from 50,000-300,000 kip and mains that include Kobe Steak at 1.5m kip per 200 grams. There are, however, some reasonably priced options with various homemade pasta dishes at around 95,000 kip per dish.
The restaurant was easy to find, occupying a corner on the street, and there is plenty of parking. I received a warm welcome from the owner, Pino, himself on arrival. The restaurant has plenty of seating with nice cozy corners for two and also larger tables for families and groups. The interior is bright, with colored glasses, and is minimal and modern. It has a feel of style and sophistication without being over the top. I felt very comfortable.
The staff seated me at my table and quickly brought me a menu and a large bottle of still water. They soon poured the water before I had chance to confirm I wanted it (I cannot complain about the speedy service but please never assume I want to purchase the water without asking).
I was also quickly brought some complimentary traditional Italian bread, topped with rosemary. It smelt divine with the rosemary on top and was very fresh. Like most breads, it was a little dry, and I would have appreciated some Italian olive oil and maybe some balsamic vinegar to dip my bread in.
Pino came over whilst we were browsing the extensive menu and informed us politely that the restaurant was not fully open yet. They are still awaiting their traditional pizza oven so they can do pizzas but not in the traditional oven. For me this did not matter because I wanted to try the homemade pasta.
For starters I tried the ‘Bruschetta di Salsiccia’ and the ‘Zuppa di Pesce’ (Spicy Seafood Soup). The waitress informed me at the time of ordering that the seafood soup was quite spicy which for me is okay. The starters took about 15 minutes to arrive because everything is made fresh to order, but this was not a problem because I was nibbling on the Italian bread.
The Bruschetta was two pieces of toasted bread with cheese and Italian sausage on it. It was very nice and the Italian sausage was particularly tasty but the flavors were quite simple. By contrast, the spicy seafood soup was a bowl of many flavors, from the fresh seafood broth, to the lemongrass, to the chili and the seafood, alongside all the other herbs and spices. For me the soup had a perfect balance of chili that did not overpower the subtle flavors of the squid, prawns and fish, yet enough to add a little kick to the dish. I will definitely be reordering the spicy seafood soup on my next visit.
Whilst eating the starter there was no offer of fresh salt or pepper, and no one checked back that everything was okay. This may be because the staff are still going through their training. I remember from eating in L’Opera there was always the offer of fresh salt and pepper, and always a quality check back.
For the main course I tried the ‘Homemade egg ribbon pasta with lamb ragout’ and the ‘Lasagne Verdi al Forno’ (Baked Spinach Lasagne). I was keen to try these dishes because both are made with homemade pasta and I am a huge lover of homemade pasta rather than the dry pasta you usually buy in the minimart. The egg ribbon pasta was beautiful and light and reminded me of a recent holiday in Rome, Italy. For a moment I could close my eyes and pretend I was back there. The ragout sauce was plentiful and enough to cover the pasta, with a good quantity of premium pieces of lamb that melted in my mouth.
I enjoyed both main dishes but with so much choice of other dishes including classic pasta dishes like ravioli or carbonara, and pizzas, and risotto and other authentic Italian favorites, I will choose something different next time.
Despite being rather full from the starter and main course, I just couldn’t resist trying a dessert. There was no dessert menu but instead the waitress brought over a tray with one of each dessert on it to peruse. The desserts looked extremely tempting, and despite my efforts to try something new I went with my favourite classic Italian dessert, ‘Tiramisu’.
I have eaten Tiramisu in Italy about five times and each time it has been slightly different in terms of cream/sponge/alcohol mix. The Tiramisu at Villa Opera has a thin sponge base, and was very heavy on the cream and light on the liquor. I prefer more sponge, soaked in Marsala and a little less cream, particularly after two other courses when I am feeling a little full. I found it a little too heavy at the end of a meal. Note: there are no prices on the dessert tray so you will need to ask for these.
I will definitely return to Villa Opera because I really liked the relaxed homely feel of it, made even warmer by the personal greeting from the owner, Pino. I also thoroughly enjoyed the homemade pasta with the authentic taste of Italy. Depending on your budget, this might be a place to visit more for a special occasion rather than a regular place to dine.