Neighbourhood: Osborne South
Address: 696 Osborne Street S
Phone: (204) 415-4847
(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)
Osborne South’s latest newcomer, Champa Bistro dares to be a one-stop spot for Far East flavours—Thai, Laotian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese all mingle on the menu. Classic Asian plates like Thai green curry and Vietnamese beef pho are taken up a notch with local ingredients and smart presentation, but what sets Champa apart are playful fusion creations that can’t be found in any other Asian kitchens.
To understand the dual nature of the menu, look to the mother-daughter team of Vanhom and Koulab Phommarath. Vanhom focuses on tradition—some of the classic dishes are family recipes from Laos—while Koulab, who spent most of her childhood in Steinbach, comes up with creative twists for the eatery’s trendier dishes. As a result, few kitchens in Winnipeg are able to cook across cultures as seamlessly as Champa Bistro.
Start the evening with tradition: soup is an essential course in all Asian cuisines. The Champa chicken noodle is far from the standard Campbell’s version. The unassuming clear broth simultaneously explodes with heat from chiles and sour from lemongrass. Egg noodles the size of udon are wonderfully chewy, proving made-from-scratch ingredients can’t be beat.
It’s mostly the appetizers that showcase Champa’s panache for fusion.
Here, a mixture of Asian flavours such as wasabi, lemongrass and teriyaki appear in creative fusion dishes geared to North American tastes. The teriyaki beef tacos are a must-try. A trio of crispy fried wontons cradle mounds of saucy beef strips. The burly meat is given fresh relief with a topping of creamy coleslaw. The crunch factor is pleasing, but more so is the lingering bite of wasabi in the salad dressing.
The garden balls are Champa’s interpretation of the Middle Eastern falafel. The panko-crusted balls break open to reveal a mélange of round chick peas, kidney beans, peppers and herbs. Alternate between creamy cusabi and pineapple-curry dipping sauces to add Asian personalities to the balls’ subtle flavour.
Entrées like seafood ravioli and lemongrass chicken also reflect Koulab’s deftness in merging Asian ingredients with western preparation. In the former, translucent wonton rosettes filled with ricotta and mushrooms are plated in a pretty floral shape. House-made tomato sauce, fragrant with fried leek and bodacious scallops and prawns, is heaped over ravioli; the dish is deep and satisfying, but the rice flour pouches are surprisingly light.
At a mere $16, lemongrass chicken is of stunning value. Two pieces of roasted chicken, prepped in a lemongrass-garlic marinade, arrive bronzed with a thick layer of candied teriyaki coating. Add some spicy tomato salsa on the side to relieve gooeyness. A mountain of coconut milk-infused jasmine rice is a treat in itself and contrasts nicely with the crisp julienned vegetables.
Champa Bistro’s traditional vs. modern theme is also paralleled in the décor. Bold paintings of abstract urban scenescape and shiny silver feature walls transform the original brick and beam interior of the former rustic Italian eatery into a hip, smooth bistro. In addition to 40 seats on the main level, a second floor lounge designated for private parties, replete with flat screen TVs, is a retreat for large groups toasting a night out.
Champa Bistro is open Tue-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm; Tue-Sun 5-10 pm. Loung is open Fri-Sun 5 pm-1 am.