Upmarket local fare
Cambodian food does get a bit of a bad rap compared to its neighbours, for numerous reasons of varying soundness, and it can seem incongruous therefore to even associate the words “posh”, “Khmer” and “nosh” (a bit like trying to think of snazzy Welsh food), but associate them you can, and the rewards for doing so in Siem Reap are rich indeed.
There’s no point in beating around the bush: there’s no longer anywhere else to launch an upscale culinary voyage anywhere in Cambodia than at Cuisine Wat Damnak. It is such a monumental leap into another realm of flavours that you will never have experienced before, and are deeply unlikely to forget, that you can’t afford the risk of missing it in case the planet is invaded by aliens and you have to cut your holiday short. Cuisine Wat Damnak focuses on Cambodian ingredients and recipes but executes them with French know-how and flair and the result is magical. Diners choose between two set menus (five courses for $17 and six different courses for $24), which may unsettle the control freaks among you, myself included, but trust me, you’re in good hands. The chef, Joannes Riviere, knows exactly what he is doing, and the journey from amuse-bouche to dessert is perfectly conceived and balanced. In keeping with Cambodin traditions, where fish is a staple food thanks to the abundance of the Tonle Sap, this is moreover a must-go destination for fish-lovers especially. If you have specific dietary requirements, it helps if you advise the restaurant in advance.
Fans of the creative can make their next booking for A-HA, a contemporary and stylish wine bar and restaurant in the centre of town that offers a delicious selection of tapas trios that feature some of the best elements of Cambodian cuisine. Most of the other dishes lean towards the international, but A-HA is still worth a visit for those with an interest in Cambodian food that goes beyond a fish amok.
A relatively recent opener is Square 24 on Street 24 in the Wat Bo area. This very contemporary open-sided restaurant allows you to select your combination of meats, vegetables and sauces yourself in a twist that I thought wouldn’t work at first, but actually does extremely well. The results are really delicious, the service is lovely, and the setting romantic in the evenings. Definitely worth a trip if you’re looking for a cut above the Pub Street scene, but your wallet isn’t too stretchy.
I wouldn’t exactly call it posh, but the setting at Cafe Moi Moi off Charles De Gaulle Avenue is so special that it elevates the whole dining experience. An open-fronted wooden pavilion looks out onto a small court-garden that is green and lush and bursting with birds and butterflies and beautiful darting lizards and skinks. It’s the kind of place you could sink into for an entire afternoon if you have the time — and then come back again the next day for more. The food is a mixture of Cambodian and Japanese and while it may not, on the Cambodian side, offer much that is wildly beyond what you’ll find elsewhere in town it is nonetheless extremely good and generously portioned. Their fresh lime juice is a great big glass of gorgeous refreshment, and not one of the mean-pours you find in too many places in Siem Reap — the subject of a future post I think…
Cuisine Wat Damnak
Wat Damnak Area
T: (063) 965 491 / (077) 347 762
T: (063) 965 501
Street 24, Wat Bo Area
T: (063) 5555 492
Cafe Moi Moi
General Oung Oeng Park
Off Charles De Gaulle Avenue (Road to Angkor Wat)
T: (092) 255 563 / (012) 627 277
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.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Siem Reap