After three years in operation, Cuisine Wat Damnak made it on to the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015, but this is likely to be only the beginning of great stuff for this small, unpretentious and fantastic establishment. Owner-chef Joannes Riviere and his wife Carole Salmon are dedicated to bringing you the best of Cambodian food, with a twist or two. What they create here is so good it transcends boundaries and will set you up for a truly memorable meal.
The roots of the dishes are unmistakably Khmer, with lots of fish, fresh herbs and ingredients chosen for their seasonality. But they are prepared with a knowledge and understanding of the ingredients that is very much rooted in Riviere’s training in France. His endless creativity can be seen in dishes such as stir-fried boneless frog legs on a dry Vietnamese soup, or perhaps a Mekong langoustine with yam bean crispy pancake, cucumber and tomalley emulsion. And even when you think you’re about to tuck into something simpler, the power to surprise is still there. This man can make a chicken broth that will stop you in your tracks.
The arrangement for ordering is simple. Diners can choose from one of two set menus offering five courses for $24 or six courses for $28. Cambodia is highly dependent on the Tonle Sap as a protein source, and that focus on fish is reflected in the menu here. Those with divergent preferences or allergies are well catered for, though call in advance to let them know about these. In a mark of the deepest respect from the owners, the short wine list is also very good value.
The restaurant is set in a traditional Khmer-style villa, which has been modified downstairs so that diners can enjoy their meal in air-conditioned comfort in an elegant but unfussy room. Alternatively, there is seating in the garden, or upstairs in a relaxed dining-lounge area.
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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