Yesterday, I introduced you to Sandra Reynolds, creator of new cookbook The $120 Food Challenge. Today,…
For chef Aiden Xindavong, family is everything.
So eight years ago he left Australia to return home to Laos to reunite with his parents, grandparents and enjoy the sort of food he has loved since childhood—including his Grandma’s exemplary marinated chicken.
The day before he left the country, however, Aiden met Bianca Fong at a party. They kept in touch and after a year in Laos, Aiden returned to Australia to reunite with Bianca. The couple got married and last year welcomed a beautiful son Kendrick.
But the call of traditional Laotian food remained, and no matter where the couple went in Canberra, they could not recapture the essence of a family meal, nor Aiden’s Grandma’s chicken.
So Aiden and Bianca have taken the leap to set up their own restaurant, with a promise to deliver the fresh, authentic flavours of Laos in an unhurried, hospitable and warm setting.
They have taken up a small space on Kennedy Street in Kingston which is full of warm wood, exposed brick, pendant lights and candles.
“It’s all about bringing friends and family to the table to talk and bond, to laugh and to share dishes together,” says Bianca, “just like they do in Aiden’s village”.
While Aiden is an experienced chef, Bianca grew up in Melbourne and worked in the luxury retail sector for Tiffany and Dior, before moving to the IT sector in Canberra. But she professes an obsession for food and said it was time for her and Aiden to chase their dream of a restaurant.
The name “Champi” is an homage to a small village along Xadone river in Champasak Province, Southwestern Laos, which is where Aiden’s family live. They eat from organic plantations, fish they catch and livestock they raise themselves.
Aiden and Bianca cannot wait to start serving customers Grandma’s Free Range Chicken which is marinated in fresh herbs and a touch of anchovies, and then chargrilled and served with a papaya salad.
Unlike mainstream Thai and Vietnamese food, which the couple say is often overpowered with sugar and thick sauces, their dishes rely on fresh green herbs and chilli for punch.
“Nothing is blended, it’s all combined in a mortar and pestle,” says Bianca.
She also extolls the virtues of traditional sticky rice cooked in the traditional Laotian rice basket which should “stick to the food but not to fingers!”.
Aiden will be joined in the kitchen by a 20-year veteran Amphol Namjaisat and eventually, a smaller takeaway menu will be available.
But when Champi opens, Aiden and Bianca want to welcome their customers and make the experience an hospitable one.
“For us, customer service is something that is really lacking in a lot of restaurants, and we want that to be a point of difference,” says Bianca.
Then it is a matter of letting the food speak for itself.
Dishes such as the Chu Chee Curry of Crispy Soft-Shell Crab with coconut cream and lime leaves, the Grilled Sticky Caramelised Pork Belly with a pickled Thai salad, and the Kingfish Ceviche with lime, chill, fresh dill, crispy onions and chili dressing.
There’s also another dish of Grandma’s—her Tom Zaap homemade hot and sour pork ribs soup with a blend of fresh lemongrass, galangal, lime, tamarind, and herbs.
Champi offers a Street Wok menu, curry options and a selection of zingy salads, including Champi’s Signature Larb with chargrilled minced chicken, coriander, mint, lemongrass, fresh chili, lime juice and roasted sticky rice powder, and a selection of noodles. There are some vegetarian options and desserts are an exotic affair including Mango Sticky Rice with sweet coconut cream, and a signature Fried Bao with pandan ice-cream and toasted coconut.
Bianca is a wine-lover who has had a hand in creating the wine list with plenty of local favourites including every Asian meal’s perfect accompaniment, the Nick O’Leary Riesling.
Having fed friends and family, and had a traditional blessing from the monks. Champi is opening to the public on Thursday.
Where: 17 Kennedy Street Kingston
When: Opens Thursday 3 March, then open seven days, Sunday– Thursday 5-9:30pm, Friday – Saturday 5- 10pm