Everywhere I travel lately I just can’t stop running into bars selling tapas. These little ‘mini-dishes’ seem to be taking the world by storm. They’re enjoyed particularly by those (like me) who like to have a graze on multiple plates alongside a drink.
Tapas is actually the name given to a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They are brought out per order and may be served warm or cold. In many bars around the world, the tapas model has evolved into an entirely new cuisine. Think of it like international dim-sum that goes well with a drink.
Allegedly, tapas were designed to encourage conversation as people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal. Other reports have it that tapas were originally served on small plates so patrons could cover their drinks for protection from flies (but what, I ask, would protect the tapas?). Whatever their history, going to a tapas bar is both a delicious and sociable way to eat out. Great for a business meeting too.
Whilst some restaurants around town have already been selling bar snacks for some time, I-Beam is Vientiane’s very first Tapas concept bar. Set in a purpose-built location on Setthathirath St Opposite Wat Ongtue, the bar was a very long time in the making. The building had been ‘in progress’ for so long that soon everyone forgot all about it. Then, just before Pii Mai this year, I-Beam suddenly and without warning threw open its doors and the tapas began pouring out. The proprietor? None other than the man who brought us the already successful Le Silapa.
I visited I-Beam with a few friends and took a booth area near the back of the bar. The decor is an interesting blend of bright colours and dark tones but not displeasing in style. Seating is elegant yet comfortable and a wide bar allows for lots of mixing between patrons. It’s the sort of place you can visit alone without coming off like a bar-fly. The building renovation was designed by famed architect Selena Sourignosack and she did a good job setting up the atmosphere. It was still early when I visited but I can imagine the place filling up on the right night.
Menus soon arrive on little clip-boards and it’s time to order.
The menu is quite extensive with a broad range of dishes including snacks such as giant olives or quails eggs, a good range of soups, warm entrees like pan fried scallops and a whole host of kebabs, else cold cuts and liver terrine. Some dishes also include interesting uses of Lao fusion. There is certainly enough variety to keep your mouth busy between conversation, and even the most gastronomically challenged should find something to their liking. If not, have another drink! There’s a very good selection if wine, good spirits and cocktails but sadly only a limited range of local beers (and if you’re anything like me then on a very hot night you want a good beer with your food instead of wine). You should finish up with some dessert tapas; I recommend the black choclate ganache, a rehashing of the notoriously decadent La Silipa chocolate mousse. Next some excellent coffee.
After a visit to I-Beam your stomach won’t go home disappointed but your bank account may be a little dented. For the atmosphere, the food and the drink, however, it’s certainly worth it. You can find I-Beam Tapas and Wine Bar on Sethathirat St opposite Ongtue temple by the alley that goes to the Lani Guesthouse. It opens every day from 5pm to 11pm. Weekdays, there are free hors-d’oeuvres between 5pm and 7 pm.
Tel: 02055614092, 021254528
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