Temple of Taste ~ Siem Reap

Beautiful little Siem Reap is justly famed for the eye popping splendours of Angkor Wat and the many surrounding temples. Who would have thought that this small country town holds not one but two extraordinary places to sample fusion Asian cuisine blending the recipes of Cambodia with its exotic herbs, vegetables, fruit with a modern and updated twist ? Not we ! But read on.

Enter Cuisine Wat Damnak and Embassy.

Last night it was Embassy’s turn. Thanks to Bill’s gregariousness a boyish Dell executive had insisted at Cuisine Wat Damnak that we try it.

Run by the Kimsan “twins”, Pol & Sok who have trained in France and Thailand and also with a former member of His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk’s kitchen. Keen to showcase Cambodian dishes, produce, herbs and flavours they have researched in the National Archive.

These influences show in their finesse handling delicate and complex flavours.

The restaurant is light and airy, dominated by a balaclavaed Fornasetti with attitude. Perhaps this is a subtle cri de coeur of the self-proclaimed “twins” (showing too their sense of humour when you look at both of them). They have the same family name.

We note too that all the staff are female, clad in impeccable whites, smiling, courteous and incredibly efficient.

It’s a set menu (US$28 plus US$22 for wine pairing) that changes monthly to reflect what’s in season and what’s best at the market.

To start: A chilled Nicholas Feuillatte with an Embassy take on Khmer Street food: fresh lotus seeds that you eat from the pod, laksa marinated chicken in banana leaf, a light custard and a nutty thing that we didn’t quite manage to identify.

The appetizer to follow was a wonderful mix of textures and tastes: Smoky fresh river prawn salad, crunchy tempuraed & tiny winged beans, fragrant sesame seed with young palm coconut heart ice snow.

This was followed by steamed bean curd tofu, yellow eggcellent, lime juice and leksa leaf sauce (Vietnamese mint) topped with dry pork (imagine the thinnest julienne of pork) – a delicate layered mix of soft tofu and creamy custard. This was served with an Italian Pinot Grigio – Tommasi which worked well.

Next: Beef cheek Kampot style hot and sour soup, charcoal- grilled eggplant, sweet chilli and Krosang fruit – a Cambodian sweet-sour-spicy soup, the beef base creamy and full-flavoured, perfect with the smoky lusciousness of the eggplant showcasing the complexity of the Kampot pepper. This was served with a Kampot Pepper coms & marigold petals – a pepper tea – which gave an extra dose of this fabulous pepper flavour.

A refresher was served here:

Fermented riceberry wine granité, rice paddy herbed spiced foam.

Though out of fashion these days this was a perfect way to cleanse the palate after the full-flavoured soup and necessary for the delicacy of the next dish.

The first main course was a perfectly poached sea bass in pickled ginger with jackfruit seed purée and green tamarind sauce. Simple and elegant.

This was paired with a Mad Bay Chardonnay from Western Australia. A nice drop.

The second main course was slow-cooked chicken marinated in light curry sauce, wild ginger powder, baked cassava potato & fried organic brown rice paired with a G Bertrand Saint Chinian Syrah Mourvèdre from Languedoc ~ a moist chicken with the lightest curry sauce so that the delicate chicken flavour was still present (a great juggling act). The fried rice was nutty and delicious, once again complex but letting the natural flavour of the rice come through as well. The Saint Chinion was perhaps a little on the robust side for the delicacy of this dish.

All the dishes had been perfectly portioned so that when the grand finale dessert came we weren’t groaning with excess but rather excited to have our tastebuds primped and delighted (again).

Pumpkin and Battambang orange custard, Kampongcham cashew nut crumble, smoked coconut sorbet.

The Battambang (Cambodian) oranges are tarter and more ‘orange’ flavoured (I’m not kidding) than your usual orange. I’ve noticed this because I take my freshly-squeezed orange juice straight (without the usual South East Asian addition of lots of sugar).

The dessert was light and luscious. Surprising flavours and textures all rolled into one and the parsley added a fragrant (and not off-key) note to the ensemble.

This was served with a Freixinet Carta Nevada cava from Spain.

A perfect treat in this warm and welcoming town. We walked back to the Golden Butterfly Villa very happy little Vegemites, as happy as can be.


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