Photo: Kampot's famous pepper.

Eat and meet

Kampot has a good selection of places to eat and drink, with more variety than you might expect. Not that long ago, Kampot’s riverside boasted a handful of mostly decent bars and restaurants and a quiet stroll along here was just that — quiet. How things have changed. Now the riverside running north and south of the Old Bridge is a heaving, noisy, sizzling mass of bars, restaurants, blind massage parlours and souvenir shops, and making a choice between all the offerings presents something of a quandary.

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At the top of the riverside food chain, both literally and metaphorically, Rikitikitavi offers a very well thought-out Khmer and Western menu at ever so slightly above average prices, but then the food is more than ever so slightly above average standards. And to be honest, compared to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, it’s still cheap. A bacon and cheese burger will set you back $8.25, while the Cambodian favourite (and heartily recommended) pork with rice (bai saik chrouk) is $3.50. They have an astonishing range of premium Scotch and serve illy coffee. The setting in a beautifully converted old rice barn is lovely, and they offer great views over Bokor from the first floor seating area. Cocktail hour just happens to coincide with the gorgeous sunsets you’ll find from here.

Sour fish soup for one.

Sour fish soup for one.

Virtually the longest-running of them all, though it used to be buried way out in the boonies, is Rusty Keyhole, still the most popular restaurant on the riverside with seating spilling on to the street outside. The extensive, mostly Western menu includes shrimp and pepper, barracuda and chicken with mushroom sauce, but the biggest draw is the ribs. A half-rack will set you back $6, or you can go for the full monty with the Dino Rib, 1.5kg of pork ribs for $14.50, or half that if you finish them in half an hour. Make sure the owner’s about before ordering, as standards aren’t always what they could be when he’s not.

In between the two, Bokor Mountain Lodge serves up a wide menu of huge breakfasts, strapping salads, burgers, grills, pizza and more. An eggs florentine will cost $5, while the full English is $7.50. Next door to Bokor Mountain Lodge — and under the same ownership — Kampot Curry House serves up cheap and tasty curries for a fiver, including rice and homemade nan bread. The menu is short, and changes regularly, but seems to hit most of the sweet spots.

Hit me.

Hit me.

Further along, Ecran Noodles Dumpling & Peking Duck Restaurant serves up fabulous noodles and dumplings for $2.50 a pop, and you can watch them being pulled and twisted into shape before being added to soup or dished up steamed or pan-fried. As the name suggests, you can also pick up Peking duck, with a plateful of deboned meat just $3 per 100g, or you can tuck into a delicious duck and noodle soup for $4.

Just off the river, but still within spear-chucking distance of it, you’ll find l’Osteria beside the Old Market, a homely Italian restaurant with some great platters and good pizza, and the house wine is cheap and very quaffable. For one of the most delicious pizzas you’ll find in town (nay, the coast), head to Ciao Restaurant, a streetside Italian in a lean-to (Khmer style). Here, a one-man (and his mama) band turns out top-notch homemade pizzas and pastas from a short menu. Seating is on a couple of rickety benches and stools so guests invariably end up chatting among groups. The house wine here is ridiculously cheap (and quaffable), and all in all, it’s rather magical. Don’t miss it.

Night time grazing and dodgems.

Night time grazing and dodgems.

Breakfasts are more than well covered in Kampot. You could aim for the hearty at Bokor Mountain Lodge, or hit up l’Epi d’Or for some of the best croissants and patisseries we’ve found in Cambodia (in fact it’s better than a lot of the places we know in France, and we lived there for two years).

Epic Arts Cafe offers good meals along with house-made cakes and other snacks. The breakfasts are quite good and we recommend the bagels with apple cream cheese. They employ deaf people in an inclusive working environment and profits go to support their education project for deaf and disabled young people. Try out some of the sign language in the menu, or sign up (pun intended) for a Friday class. Around the corner, Cafe Espresso “don’t make regular coffee”. Instead, they’ve brought a little bit of Melbourne coffee culture with them, and their ethos runs from roasting and grinding coffee beans on site to baking yummy pumpkin bread served with their own yoghurt. Customers take their time over eggs Benedict or sipping the alcoholic ginger beer in the understatedly hip surroundings.

Out for a beer? Oh Neil’s on the riverside is open late, serving a good range of drinks along their coin-encrusted bar. Also by the river, Madi Bar and Bar Red are pleasant and often lively spots to sink a few jars with live music on Thursday nights. Moi Tiet (“one more”) beside the Old Market is a cool French late night hang out, which also has live music from time to time and a garden out the back if you want to get away from the street. Along the riverside, more “hole on the wall” than “hole in the wall” Nelly’s Bar is a very cool hangout underneath the shelter of a magnificent bougainvillea. It’s a very informal affair, and manages to be busy every night. For something a little more stylish, Le Comptoir is a lovely little wine bar, with a short but balanced wine list, and also serves up cheese and charcuterie platters.

Noodle me.

Noodle me.

Away from the river
Fruit shake stands open up in the evening along the old bridge road — a yummy taste sensation for a few thousand riel. These stalls also serve cheap fried noodles, soup, rice porridge and Cambodian desserts. The new Night Market, near the Durian roundabout, also has barbecue and hotpot stalls for a truly local experience with free karaoke performances.

For dining out of town, head to the The Greenhouse on the road to Teuk Chhou. Their extensive menu of French and Cambodian cuisine is beautifully prepared and served up in a beautiful riverside location.

Mea Culpa serves fantastic wood-fired pizza. And it lives up to the hype. Set in an outdoor patio beside the hotel of the same name, this place is worth the 10-minute walk south of town. The staff is as kind as the Australian owner, and seem genuinely excited to serve exceptionally good food. While the pizzas are as good as pizza gets, try to squeeze in an appetiser, as these are equally top-notch. They stop serving at 18:00.

Food stall at the old cinema.Food stall at the old cinema.

Food stall at the old cinema.

For a touch of romance, the fairy-lit terrace of La Java Bleue has a daily wood-fired barbecue with barracuda, sword fish and steaks served with sauteed potatoes, seasonal salad and garlic bread. Leave some room for the creme caramel or flambe bananas, which will have you oohing in delight. They were closed for renovations when we visited but recommendations for this spot were very heartfelt.

Out of town
If you’re looking for an out of town option, consider the Secret Lake, which is far too big to be a secret, and makes for a pleasant day trip. There’s some thatched bamboo platforms where you can recline over a beer or order in lunch, and it’s a lovely place for a swim. Nearby, Starling Farm pepper plantation also has a restaurant, but any of the farms in the area are usually welcoming of visitors.

Another option, along the far side of the river from Kampot, the Teuk Chhou rapids are a nice spot for a drowsy picnic and a beer in one of the Khmer-style cabanas along the river. The rapids could now more accurately be described as “slowpids” since the building of a dam just around the corner. A hammock can be hired for 3000 riel, and there are dozens of shops and restaurants on the other side of the road that’ll sell you beers and grilled chicken and more. Some cunning wags have set up a seemingly arbitrary road block just before the rapids and now charge foreigners $1 to get there. We checked and apparently it’s legitimate, though frankly, for $1 we’re not sure it’s worth caring even if it is a scam.

Bokor Mountain Lodge: River Rd, Kampot; T: (033) 932 314; open daily 07:00-23:00.
Cafe Espresso: St 731 (between St 722 and St 724, Kampot; T: (092) 388 736; open Tues-Fri 08:30-15:30, Sat-Sun 09:00-16:30.
Ciao Restaurant: St 722, Kampot; open daily 18:00-21:00 (or until the food runs out).
Ecran Noodles, Dumpling & Peking Duck Restaurant: River Rd, Kampot; T: (010) 249 411; open Wed-Mon 11:00-21:00.
Epic Arts Cafe: St 724, Kampot; T: (092) 922 069; open daily 07:00-16:00.
Kampot Curry House: River Rd, Kampot; T: (017) 712 062; open daily 17:00-22:00.
l’Epi d’Or: St 729, Kampot; T: (093) 800 110; open daily 07:00-19:00.
l’Osteria: St 724 (Old Market), Kampot; T: (012) 309 048; open daily 10:00-22:00.
La Java Bleu: St 726, Kampot; T: (097) 517 0023.
Le Comptoir: St 733 (Opposite Auberge du Soleil); T: (085) 264 239.
Madi Bar: River Rd, Kampot; T: (092) 387 771; open daily 18:00-late.
Moi Tiet: St 724 (Old Market), Kampot; T: (071) 431 4987; open Wed-Sat 18:00-02:00.
Nelly’s Bar: River Rd (Junction St 735); T: (096) 863 9793; open daily 15:00-02:00.
Oh Neil’s: River Rd, Kampot; T: (015) 207 790; open daily 17:00-03:00.
Rikitikitavi: River Rd, Kampot; T: (012) 235 102; open daily 07:30-21:30.
Rusty Keyhole: River Rd, Kampot; T: (012) 679 607; open daily 11:00-23:00.
The Greenhouse: Teuk Chhou Rd, Kampot; T: (088) 886 3071; open daily 07:00-20:45.

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