Wine, cheese and more
Being born French is nature’s way of fondly ruffling your hair and gently patting you on the bum before letting you off to play in the world safe in the knowledge that you’re one of the favoured.
Because while it’s possible that the French may indeed have the most terrifying children’s books in the world, the children of Marianne’s nation grow up in a magnificently beautiful country, with a wondrously rich cultural, artistic, culinary, scientific, literary and intellectual past and present (and, if they let themselves, future). They have a political system that promotes plurality and multi-faceted debate and believes that the state has a fundamental and positive role to play in the wellbeing of its citizens. Their attitude to the work-life balance strives to foster the sane and humane notion that we should work to live, not live to work, and then they set about that with a productivity that makes the rest of the world look lazy. Collectively, the French live longer, and better, than almost anyone else on the planet.
Yet, despite such advantages, the spectacularly weird thing is that any Frenchman worth his Sel de Guerande will be really quite depressed by all this (I blame those children’s books), which explains why so many of them are over here in Siem Reap, quite the boon for us misfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere.
So, where to go here if you fancy a dose of French food, music, culture, or conviviality? Silk Garden is as good a place to start as any. It’s a small open-air bar, just off The Lane, with a relaxed attitude. They regularly hold live music events here too (bands and DJ – keep an eye on their Facebook page), and it’s definitely the place to go if you’re hankering for crepes.
Le Triskell d’Angkor, just off Pub Street, also does fabulous crêpes, stuffed with French cheeses, meats and sauces, including delicious black pudding.
For a more refined touch on French cooking (forgive me Bretons), then the first place that anyone with even a passing knowledge of Siem Reap will tell you to go is Abacus. It is consistently one of the highest rated restaurants in town, for everything from the food to the ambiance and the service. Abacus can be enjoyed in three different ways: a classy, air-con room, as a gorgeous garden restaurant, or in the al fresco covered bar with a more relaxed vibe. Abacus serves French classics, with an occasional pinch of Asia. Examples include marinated duck breast served with parma ham vegetable spring roll, spinach wild honey and star anise reduction, or how about the pan fried beef tenderloin, creamy spinach, baby potato and sauteed wild mushrooms, ginger sesame sauce.
For more quotidian French food, head to Barrio while it’s still on Sivatha Boulevard. It’s closing on August 15, and will re-open in September on Wat Bo Road. Barrio serves French food as it’s eaten in France, snouts and all, and is very popular among good food fans. The menu includes French onion soup, terrines, Toulouse sausages (ed: OMG), a delicious roast chicken, and even andouillettes for hardened Francophones. The tables are topped with red gingham cloths, adding a whimsical, romantic touch.
Le Malraux gets a mention here because although its short, and excellent, menu touches on French, Khmer, Italian and international food, the ambiance is unmistakably French. The classy bistro-style interior couldn’t come from anywhere else in the world, and the nightly collection around the long, chatty bar has a distinctly Gallic air.
The Laundry Bar however is the French bar par excellence: laid-back and totally cool in that French not even remotely trying way that gets would-be-cools around the world all hot under the collar. The perfectly pitched music selection is a strong part of the attraction too. Whether you’re on the tan leather benches in the open-plan interior, or sitting kerbside, the drinks here flow as easily as the conversation.
On the other side of the river, the French Cultural Centre holds French lessons, has an extensive library if you wanted to catch up on your de Balzac in his proper language. They also have a very pretty little cafe to the side, with some excellent coffee and cakes including, of course, delicious croissants.
The Lane, behind Pub Street, Siem Reap
T: (077) 855 633
Le Triskell d’Angkor
Opposite ANZ Bank near the old market, Siem Reap
T: (017) 681 103
Road No 6 to the Airport, pass the Angkor Hotel, and turn right at the ACLEDA Bank; the restaurant is 100 metres along on the left
T (063) 966 156, (012) 644 286
No. 7, Sivatha Boulevard, Siem Reap
Corner of Sivutha Blvd and Street 7, Siem Reap
T: (063) 966 041
Old market area
French Cultural Centre
Wat Bo 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.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Siem Reap