Eat and meet
Occheuteal and Serendipity BeachThis area has a good selection from beachside shacks and bars through to fancy European restaurants.
Otres BeachMom’s Kitchen is a streetside hang-out attached to a small general store whose long tables and benches are filled with hungry travellers almost all day long. Mom herself is there cooking up typical Khmer fare on two outdoor gas burners, including breakfast ($2 - rice with soy caramelised pork and pickled vegetables -- and, seriously, there are few better ways to start the day if you’ve already got your clothes on), noodle soup ($2), fried rice and noodles ($1.50/$2.50 with chicken or pork), and barbecue meats, as well as more Western-influenced dishes like omelette, pancakes and sandwiches. All best washed down with a nice iced Khmer coffee with sweet milk (75c). The food here is tasty and the best value you’ll find along Otres. The service is sometimes a little haphazard. When it is, just chill, order again and remember that the only thing you’re losing is a little beach time.
More than just a guesthouse, Mushroom Point has gone all out to be taken seriously as an eatery as well, and they’ve succeeded so far as we can tell. Almost every guesthouse or hotel owner in the vicinity that we asked recommended it, and a lunch there more than proved they were not afflicted with sunstroke. They grow a lot of their own herbs and salad ingredients, make their own breads and muesli, and also work hard to ensure that the maximum of waste is recycled or reused as compost or pig food. You can eat either in the garden complex or beachside, though the relative quiet, and gently relaxed vibe of the garden seems more appealing to us. The menu offers a selection of pizzas, including a margarita ($6), a ‘Khmer’ pizza with chicken amok, coconut milk, chilli and mozzarella ($6), or the chilli con carne pizza ($8), among many others. They also have lepinjas, an Eastern European bread that is like a cross between a nan and a pita, which they stuff with all kinds of things like chilli con carne, or chicken schnitzel. Their fish amok was the subject of intense raving by one person we spoke to.
Chez Paou is another place that comes highly recommended by those in the know, including the presumably hard to please general manager of a world-class resort. Chez Paou blends beachside relaxation with some classy turns on the menu which features French food, pizza, pastas, salads, steaks, sandwiches and fresh seafood at mid-range prices. In the evening, the restaurant service continues but a deeper bar vibe kicks in, and occasionally an impromptu live music session might kick off. The atmosphere then is really lovely.
Papa Pippo is the creation of Papa Pippo and son, this is a relaxed beachside hangout that also happens to sell awesome Italian food with fresh homemade pastas, pizza and piadinas. The pizzas range from $3.50 to $6.50, and include some real tempters such as one with German sausage, and other with Italian sausage, a prosciutto and jalapeño pepper, and a divine sounding tricolore with tomato sauce, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil and parmesan. For the pastas, you can mix and match your pastas and your sauces, which include carbonara, vongole, bolognese, arabbiata, as well shrimp, courgette and cream, Italian sausage with mushrooms and cream, and many others. The Norma, with aubergine, mozzarella and tomato sauce ($6.50), was stunning; a rich, full-flavoured sauce, with plenty to indulge in. They also have a selection of stuffed pastas, ravioli, that they’re very proud of. If you prefer something a little more substantial, a small selection of mains includes beef and pork meatballs in tomato sauce ($7), or maybe breaded mixed prawns and squid on skewers ($6.50). The atmosphere here is very relaxed, though the service remains good. They have pub quizzes on Tuesday nights, and live music on Thursdays.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking into the beach restaurant at Tamu, especially at night. Two pyramid-shaped thatch roofs shelter the dining area which is so much larger than anywhere else on Otres. But the space is used well, with plenty of room between tables giving a sense of intimacy accentuated by the candlelight. But while the setting may be lovely, the menu is anything but pretentious, including burgers, pasta, salads and more. It’s certainly a little pricier than other places along the beach, but there’s nothing here that is liable to break any but the most brittle bank. The service was perfect on the times that we visited even though it was busy.
An offshoot of Done Right, Blame Canada is an uber-relaxed beachside hangout, with a distinctly masculine vibe though, it must be said, not of the seedy variety. It just looks like the kind of place that most guys dream of when they’re picturing their dream bar. Nothing’s overdone or pretentious. It could probably do with a good scrub but it’s dark enough so who’s going to notice or care, and the main ‘design’ feature seems to be a sense of humour, and the cannabis leaf on the sign outside. The bar downstairs has a pool table, and there’s also a top deck for catching any passing breezes and enjoying the view. They sell all the things you expect a bar to sell, and they throw some seriously fun-looking parties.
After visiting Shin during the day and thinking it kind of okay, we later discovered, but too late for us to personally verify, that it is a favourite party venue for Otres -- the kind of place you won’t want to leave and so may require you to write off the next day, and very possibly the one after that too. We should have paid more heed to the signs on the bar inviting us to join in the “Shenanigans” every Wednesday, with live DJs and music, 75c beer from 21:00 to 23:00, and all night food, especially the very highly rated sushi. Other nights are much more relaxed.
Chez Paou: Otres 1. T: (016) 955 493
Mom’s Kitchen: Otres 1
Mushroom Point: Otres 1. T: (097) 712 4635, (078) 509 079. www.mushroompoint.com
Papa Pippo: Otres 1. T: (010) 359 725. www.papapippo.com
Shin: Otres 1. T: (096) 289 6217
Tamu: Otres 2. T: (088) 901 7451. www.tamucambodia.com
Sihanoukville townHidden down a nondescript sidestreet in downtown Sihanoukville, Ku Kai offers some of the best Japanese cuisine you’ll find in town and it’s very affordable as well. Their building looks more like someone’s home, and the small outside sign is in Japanese, so be prepared to miss it on the first attempt. Their menu has offerings like marinated deep-fried fish ($2.75), eggplant with grated radish and ginger ($2) and braised pork and potato ($4), along with more traditional offerings like prawn tempura (US$4.75) and pork katsu ($4.75.) They also have daily fish sashimi choices ($2.50-$3) which are so fresh they taste like they’ve jumped from the ocean directly to your plate. The braised pork belly ($4) we ordered came to the table glistening and looking succulent. It was fall-apart tender, and could well have been the best pork belly we’ve ever had; we can also recommend the fried eggplant with minced pork ($2.75.) Portion sizes are large and we wound up taking some home with us. With an elegant and romantic ambience, Ku Kai would be a great choice for a quiet date night. Cream walls are accented by dark wooden furniture and a few potted plants. A little play area with games is available for children, so parents can leave them to play while enjoying their meal. The main chunk of Ku Kai’s business comes from Japanese tourists and a few long-term expats. Despite their lack of advertising or helpful signage, they do a good business and it might be best to call ahead for a reservation.
Another strong Japanese player which is, according to the owner, the only Japanese restaurant in town with a Japanese chef, Cafe Sushi is a smart, compact air-con restaurant that may be a little pricier than surrounding restaurants, but good sushi always is. They offer an extensive menu of sushi and sashimi as well as grills, yakitori, noodles and more, as well as daily specials of, for example, octopus, tuna, and salted grilled fish. They also offer fishing tours for those who would like to catch their own dinner.
Holy Cow took its name from a local bovine with mysterious healing powers. While a bite of the beef cottage pie may not be curative, it sure is comforting. The menu is mostly Western, with hearty breakfasts (from $1.50 for toast to $4.50 for a Big Fat Fry Up), sandwiches, pasta dishes and some real comfort offerings like cottage pie ($5.50), grilled fish with Dijon sauce ($5), pork chops with mashed potato ($6) and jacket potatoes with real hunger-busting fillings (from $4 to $5.50). Cambodian dishes are here too, including the not-often-enough seen Cha Kroeung, a tangy, dry-fry sauce with galangal, peanut and coconut, as well as chicken in ginger, and Cambodian sweet and sour soup (both $3.50), among others. Vegetarian options are thoughtful, not forced. For the food alone, Holy Cow is generally considered unmissable by those in the know, but the setting is lovely too. A typical Khmer villa is broken up into discrete spaces, and it feels almost like you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home than a restaurant. Upstairs, a small shop sells crafts, clothes and jewellery.
The Dao Of Life is a vegan restaurant/creative arts centre/social community/events venue/and more all wrapped up into one whose openness and diversity reflects that of its founders who are Argentinian/Italian, Swiss/Canadian/English and English/Bangladeshi. They offer a vegetarian menu, which is actually vegan it turns out, that includes their famous veggie burger ($4.50), made up from sweet potato and black beans topped with salad and homemade cashew nut cheese, and served with white cabbage coleslaw. Other stars include zucchini fritters with a cilantro and lime dipping sauce ($4.50), and spiralised zucchini linguini ($4) with sautéed cherry tomatoes and garlic, olive oil, balsamic and slivered almonds. And just because they’re virtuous, it doesn’t mean they’re not also naughty. Dairy-free home-made ice cream ($3) made with a banana base comes in divine sounding chocolate, espresso and peanut flavours, with loads of toppings to choose from. They’re also very proud of their juicing menu, and offer a range of detoxing, cleansing immunity boosting flavours, including green juice, which is a high-speed way of getting a whole tonne of veggies and all the goodness they carry into your system. And if that sounds a little too sober for you, they even have vegan wine. Yoga classes, zumba classes, live music and performances are just a small part of the programme here. Not to be missed.
Stepping through the wrought iron gates into a romantic little garden that houses Starfish Bakery and the Starfish Project shop and massage rooms is really like stepping into another world. The gritty, sordid atmosphere of Sihanoukville is washed away as you pass the stone fountain that looks like something from an elegant English garden just bursting with roses. There are no roses here, but instead the garden is festooned with lacy ferns, bamboo and the entryway is flanked by two leafy banyan trees. All the profits from the shop, bakery and cafe go to supporting local Khmer people in rural areas by providing housing, sanitation, medical and educational programs. As if that wasn’t good enough, the food is really lovely, especially the bakery. The bread, yoghurt and muesli are all freshly made in the cafe, as are the divine cookies and cakes. They serve a simple selection of sandwiches and salads ($3.50 to $4.50), as well as mezze, quiches and fajita wraps (all $4). The cookies are worth the trip alone. Besides the cafe, this site is also home to a shop selling well-finished and attractive crafts created by disabled Cambodians across Sihanoukville. There is also a blind massage room, with a one-hour Japanese shiatsu massage for as little as $7. Highly recommended.
Striving hard to support young Cambodians carve out their own futures, the Don Bosco Hotel School is a full service hotel and restaurant where many of the staff are completing a two-year training programme in hospitality, English and computer skills. More than 400 students have graduated since 2007, equipped with the skills necessary to kickstart their careers. The restaurant is inside the hotel and serves up a short menu of Khmer and Western favourites, including sandwiches ($4.50 to $5), pasta ($3.50 to $6), pizza ($5.50 to $7.50) and specials like a South African Bunny Chow ($6.50), which is a chicken curry served inside a crispy bread loaf. The atmosphere here is a little bit school canteen-like, but the staff put a smiling, keen effort into service that you won’t find in any school canteen. Nor would you normally find wine in a school canteen. The list here is short -- five reds, five whites -- but very well chosen, and the pricing is even better. It’s worth a trip just for that and the chance to enjoy a few glasses, and perhaps a plunge, by the large, stunnning outdoor pool.
Cafe Sushi: #25 Ekareach St. T: (034) 934 800. www.cafesushizen.com. Open 11:30 to 13:30, 17:30 to 22:00.
Don Bosco: Street Ou-Phram, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 934 478. www.donboscohotelschool.com. Open from 06:30 to 21:00.
Holy Cow: Ekareach St. T: (012) 478 510. www.holycowcambodia.com. Open 09:30 to 22:00.
Ku Kai: #144 7 Makara St. T: (012) 593 339. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 17:00 to 21:00.
Starfish Bakery: #62 7 Makara St (behind Samudera supermarket). T: (012) 952 011. www.starfishcambodia.org. Open 07:00 to 17:30.
The Dao of Life: #375 Ekareach St. T: (097) 706 1144. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 21:00.
Victory HillThis is the centre of the backpacker quarter above Victory Beach and has a good selection of places offering cheap fare, along with an ever changing array of newer and flashier places.
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