Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a sneaky preview of Lakwatsa, a brand new bubble tea lounge in Ladbroke Grove.
For those of you who are a little confused as to what this bubble tea is all about, I should tell you that it’s not fizzy – and no, it doesn’t contain champagne. It’s milk- or fruit-flavoured tea with balls of chewy tapioca, which are sucked up through a giant straw. It’s a popular drink in Asia, but it hails originally from Taiwan.
Bringing this phenomenon to West London, Lakwatsa adds a Filipino twist. Indeed, the term lakwatsa means to ‘chill’ in Filipino, and that’s exactly the kind of place founder Claire Buyson has created.
Inside is cosy yet modern. Crisp lines, simple decoration, wooden surfaces. Swing seats, low cushioned stools. A menu made from wooden Scrabble tiles. It does cool in an inclusive way. In short, it’s perfect for chilling.
‘Chilling’ needs to be accompanied with appropriate drinks, but the bubble tea was almost a winner just on sight. This is because it’s served in jars. I don’t know why this is so exciting, but it takes me back to my childhood where empty jars were not seen as something to be recycled, but they were grasped like an adventure. For dipping dirty paintbrushes. Hoarding coins. Collecting insects. Empty jars are irrevocably linked with fun.
As for the contents of Lakwatsa jars, fortunately no dirty paint water or grasshoppers were found. There was just simple, delicious bubble tea (£3.40/jar).
I tried the ‘Asian favourite’, taro. I find that milk-based bubble tea can be heavy and overwhelming, so the earthiness of taro was a smart choice. The flavours were perfectly balanced and thankfully it wasn’t too heavy on the sugar. It was liquid love at first taste.
But would the other teas be too sweet without taro? I sampled the classic milk tea and it was also spot on. Banished were my memories of the sickly versions served at festivals in Japan.
Of course, no bubble tea place would be complete without fruit flavours. These range from green apple – a little too perfumed for my liking – to passion fruit, which is cool, refreshing and dangerously addictive.
To make these flavours even more tempting, a variety of popping boba (fruit juice balls) and jellies can be added for £0.50 extra. Get experimental and sample aloe vera, aiyu or even grass. I recommend the lychee.
In case you’re worrying about a sloshing stomach, Lakwatsa also serves merienda (light meals). There is a variety of pan-Asian snacks, including tempura prawns, sesame toast and spring rolls. The sauces served with these are lovely – home-made and fresh. The prawn toast comes with a sauce that balances chilli and garlic perfectly, although it’s unlikely to please your friends.
Claire Buyson has got creative in the kitchen to create a finger-food version of a Filipino classic, adobo. This innovative version has put chicken in a rice ball, allowing hungry customers to dip it into a garlic and vinegar sauce. Tasty, but be warned – the rice balls collapse easily!
Lakwatsa has great bubble tea and a relaxing setting. I’ll definitely be heading back to try some more flavours. Anyone care to join me?