Kep is famous across Cambodia for its fresh seafood, and in particular its crab. Its signature dish, fried crab with local pepper, is spectacular. However, the crabs have been well, over-crabbed, and the average size sold in the market has declined over the years. A lot of restaurants in town are no longer serving Kep crab as over-fishing is having an impact on their stocks and also destroying the nearby coral and grass reefs. At this rate, Kep is going to have to re-imagine its attractions very soon.
You can still eat seafood at the market — our chef friend tells us goldband snapper, red snapper, calamari and tuna are more sustainable choices. Outside of your guesthouse or hotel, there are two main places for seafood in Kep. The first is a group of wooden deck restaurants by the crab market and the latter is a series of covered wooden platforms facing out over Kep Beach. All should be able to supply you with a basic English menu that spreads beyond crab to a range of seafood. An important note for both venues is to be sure of just how much food you are ordering and what it is costing before you start eating — just to avoid any unpleasant situations at the end of the meal. Crab is also available in a similar fashion on Koh Tonsay.
Of the strip of mostly rudimentary restaurants at the crab market, other than decor, there’s probably not a whole lot to distinguish them. Kim Ly is most popular, possibly due to its Lonely Planet acclaim. For taste and price though, La Mouette (Seagull) gives it a run for its money, with two barbecue-roasted crabs for $6.50, and Holy Crab also comes recommended by expats. La Mouette also hosts live music from time to time. Some shacks have smaller decks tucked away upstairs, for even better sea views. A more upmarket addition, La Baraka boasts an incongruously classy blue-lit bar and decor which steers away from the usual beer advert bunting. If you’re feeling crabbed-out, the thin-based pizzas, croque monsieurs and well-provisioned salads make a pleasant change. An extensive cocktail list, including a B54 and a 666 (sambucca, Jack Daniel’s and tequila), and the comfortable upstairs deck means this is a popular location for sundowners. The Democrat offers a gently relaxed vibe, and also holds cooking classes every day except Wednesday.
Away from crabs, most guesthouses have their own restaurants and bars. Veranda has the best views, the widest cocktail list, a bakery and is resoundingly popular among foreign travellers. The $8 buffet breakfast is worth every cent, with an eclectic selection including cheese, delicious bread, noodles, freshly made omelettes, pastries and fruit. The Beach House is set beside the swimming pool, so ideal for a lunchtime break, while Kep Lodge has a good mix of Khmer and Western food — and a pool table. Mr Mab’s at Spring Valley Resort has a special menu or barbecue every day with an inventive street food buffet around the pool on Saturdays.
At the bus station, the Signature Cafe serves up shakes and sandwiches, crepes, galettes and other French standards like croque monsieur. Cheap eats can be found at Kep Market, if you’re at that end of town. Noodle soup, pork and rice and fruit can be had for less than a dollar at the stalls outside or in the dingy cool of the market itself.
On the road east towards the Koh Tonsay ferry pier, Breezes is a dreamily romantic spot with seafood dishes from $6, sandwiches and wraps from $5. They also have tapas, including treats like grilled squid with chilli jam ($3.50), or Chinese dumplings for $4.50. Their fish dishes come in a full-flavoured array of styles, including ceviche, carpaccio, tartar or grilled. This is a real retreat, and once you’ve finished dining in the very Med-feeling building, which is open-sided, all the better to catch those passing breezes, you could head out to the beach beds for a digestif and simply relax. We loved this place.
Another location with incredible romance, the Sailing Club transports you to summertime on Cape Cod, with its light blue clapboard building boasting a wraparound deck and a proper boat dock. This is one of those places that’s not as expensive as it looks and feels. Food specials, with a focus on seafood and crab, are listed on the chalk boards on the walls. Happy hour doesn’t extend to weekends, but at $4 for a cocktail it’s not going to break the bank to enjoy the lovely atmosphere, right on the ocean, with a sandy beach that’s kept miraculously clean even in rainy season. Saturday beach barbecues and Sunday brunches are popular, so it’s worth reserving a table for a waterfront spot. A range of sport is on offer, too, including volleyball, ping pong and water activities such as sailing, kayaking and windsurfing. The Sailing Club holds movies nights on Wednesday evenings as well, with a kid’s screening at 18:00 and a second screening at 19:30 for the grown-ups.
Slightly fancier and pricier with a smart casual dress code, The Strand is within the Knai Bang Chatt complex next door. Complimentary tasters, a choice of three- or four-course set menus and beautifully presented dishes make this a delight. When we last visited, The Strand was offering a special deal on dinner, with three courses (and a bottle of wine, when ordering for two or more, two glasses of wine if for just one person) for just $25 per person, an incredible bargain.
For some more low-key style, you could head out to Chez Bebe just past Kep Market, then take the second right. We didn’t manage to make it out there, which was strange because we heard they make killer margaritas.
On the small square overlooking the beach, l’Epi d’Or is a French patisserie offering some of the best croissants and pastries we’ve found in Cambodia. And coffee fans should head to Kep Coffee beside the Sokimex on Koh Tonsay Pier. This beautiful little spot serves up a small menu of delicious homely fajitas ($4), soft tacos ($2) and pizzas (from $5). They’re best known for their desserts though, and a tempting array of cakes bewitches from the cabinet. The chocolate cake with espresso chocolate frosting ($2) is divinely moist and rich. The couple who owns Kep Coffee are enormous fun, making this a pleasure to visit on every level.
Further out, Le Pain De Jade is a lovely spot with a real seaside feel, and views straight out to the water, all made out of hessian cloth and reconditioned wood and pallets. They make French bread in a wood-fired oven, and serve up delicious, beautifully presented breakfasts and lunches.
The long-running Led Zepplin Cafe is now hillside at the beginning of the national park, up the road from The Veranda. A wooden deck overlooks the hillside with views to the sea, accessed by quite a steep wooden walkway. They serve cheap eats, with sandwiches and salads from $3 and crepes from $2.25. A takeaway service is available for customers venturing further up the hill, aided by an exhibition of useful local information and detailed hand-drawn maps, with suggestions for places to visit, such as Sunset Rock. The owner has done a truly commendable job of marking out trails with yellow signs and encouraging more visitors to explore the park.
Kimly Seafood Restaurant: Kep Crab Market; T: (012) 345 753; open daily 08:00-23:00.
La Mouette: Kep Crab Market; T: (012) 435 480; open daily 08:00-23:00.
La Baraka: Kep Crab Market; T: (097) 461 2543; open daily 09:30-23:00.
Holy Crab: Kep Crab Market; T: (097) 632 3456; open daily 08:00-23:00.
The Democrat: Kep Crab Market; T: (097) 367 7745; open Thurs-Tues 11:30-22:00.
Veranda Natural Resort: Kep Hillside; T: (012) 888 619; open daily 07:00-22:00.
Signature Cafe: Bus Station; open daily 07:00-21:30.
Kep Lodge: Pepper St; T: (097) 879 526; open daily 07:00-22:00.
Mr Mab: Spring Valley Resort, Kep Hillside; T: (036) 666 6673; open daily 07:00-23:00.
Breezes: National Route 33A; T: (097) 724 3324; (097) 823 2642; open daily.
Sailing Club: Knai Bang Chatt, Kep; T: (078) 737 995; open daily 10:00-22:00.
The Strand: Knai Bang Chatt, Kep; T: (078) 333 686; open daily 07:00- 22:00.
Chez Bebe: Past Kep Market; T: (078) 340 790l open Wed-Mon 16:00-06:00.
l’Epi d’Or: Kep Beach; T: (036) 636 3997; open daily 07:00-19:00.
Kep Coffee: National Route 33A; T: (089) 612 481; open Tues-Sun 07:00-20:00.
Le Pain de Jade: Seaside Road (behind Kep Market); T: (096) 744 9612; open Tues-Sun 06:00-18:00.
Led Zeppelin Cafe: Kep National Park; open daily 09:00-17:00.