ABACUS (*****): The world of gastronomy has two famous duos: Gault & Millau for the planet, and Pascal & Renaud for Siem Reap... This local celebrity is enough for the two old pals, co-owning and animating the best established French restaurant in town since 2004.
The world of fine-dining doesn't always mean much humility; but Chef Pascal Schmit doesn't promote his skill a lot, and prefers to let his oven, pans, and casseroles express a talent which, for sure, would make him a millionaire in Saigon or Singapore. From the Dusit Thani Bangkok in the time of this palace hotel splendor, till the Residence d'Angkor, where his French-influenced cuisine with an Asian twist seduced the rich and famous. We visited the large, super clean and divinely odorants kitchen where he likes to lovingly prepare his specialties. While the active and talkative, “so-French!” Renaud Fichet, entertains his guests (mostly Asian, as the French community is tight in Siem Reap), supervises the service, or acts as a sommelier (wine is his passion) in the pleasant open-air terrace, or in the chic dining room (with a private and large VIP room). Those coming as “copains” (friends) will prefer dining al fresco. Tourists or important local people, including members of the Cambodian government, directly step into the building designed by French-Khmer architect duo Lisa Ros and Ivan Tizianel (their masterpiece is the gorgeous Templation Hotel).
Making it the French way, we had some pâté as a starter. Home-made, with pork and veal, it was not fat, compact, as authentic as the delicatessen served in the countryside from Auvergne. Spread over a lukewarm piece of crispy bread by “Le Pain du Coeur”, the best bakery in town, and paired with a glass of well-chilled house wine, “Château Le Grand Verdas, Bordeaux Blanc 2015”... we just felt like landing in France, in style! Those seeking for sophistication should straightly order “Chavignol Crostini, with Potato Vermicelli, and Thin Slices of Homemade Smoked Duck”. Exquisite, with a nice display in the plate, this would be worth a Michelin-star in Paris or London. That was not a surprise to hear that Chef Pascal was a pastry apprentice in his early culinary career: this always induces an artistic sense of detail, making each dish looking like a piece of art. The pairing by Renaud was ad hoc, with one glass of “Belleruche, Côtes-du-Rhône, Chapoutier 2015”: a friendly wine, with the bouquet of raspberry and spring garden.
As a main dish, we had a savory “Veal Medallion from Australia, with Dalat Asparagus, Cep, Black Trumpets from France”, very bistro with a remarkable sauce. A master sauce cook, Chef Pascal proudly makes it “à l'ancienne”: using only natural stock. Paired with a surprising “Casa Magrez, Uruguay 2010”: 68% Tannat, 16% Cabernet Franc and 16% Merlot, it tasted powerful, barrique with a touch of natural acidity, long in the mouth. That was, unfortunately, one of the last bottles in Abacus rich wine cellar, featuring prestigious brands like some Château-Margaux (average price USD 900) or Dom Pérignon (affordable indeed, at USD 220).
Besides his legendary, homemade “Smoked Salmon”, fish is in the place of honor on the menu with “Scallops from Canada and King Prawns from Sihanoukville in a Cambodian Sweet Basil Pesto”. Display in the plate, texture, aromas: once again, a no fault for Pascal. Recommended with one glass of “Château Le Grand Verdus, AOC Bordeaux”, a house wine at USD 5,5 by the glass, mixing Sauvignon Blanc for freshness and power, and Semillon for the lightness and fruity expression.
Back to his roots and initial passion, Chef Pascal's signature dessert, “Pear Ginger, Vanilla Ice Cream, Almond Tile and Cocoa Barry 77% Sauce” was the Legion d'Honneur on a Blue, White, Red dinner. We had it with one glass of Cointreau.
The average bill is USD 70 - 100, but can warm up if you order Grand-Crus wine or Cognac. Open daily 11am - 10pm. June only: 5pm - 10pm. Closed April 11 until 18.
ABACUS: Abacus Lane
PHONE: +855 63 763 660, +855 12 644 286, +855 92 318 528
TAKEZONO (*****): The classiest and most authentic Japanese restaurant in town stands in the center of Siem Reap, in the five-star Sokha Angkor Resort. Seating more than one hundred guests, this prestigious restaurant is astonishingly intimate compared with the other F&B resources in this pharaonic hotel (the largest in Siem Reap). It has private dining-rooms for VIP guests, which need advance reservation.
Executive chef Kunihiko Hamada has been hired from Tokyo to bring a real Japanese taste to Takezono Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. And from our recent dinner in May 2016, we can confirm that the savors of Japon came on our plate with a touch of class.
We enjoyed the supreme refinement of having our Teppanyaki prepared in front of us, by our private chef and in our VIP room! The setting looked ideal for romance, family or business dinner. The anticipating staff only interfered with our intimacy to bring us premium sake on crushed ice, mizo soup (strong on “dashi” stock), crispy salads which were so tasty that we ate them without any condiment, and a set of prime class hand-craft sushi featuring crude salmon, and the best assortments of fresh tuna imported the same week from the Pacific. Unlike in Paris or London sushi bars, fish was sliced thickly: developing a richer taste with a better texture.
Takezono is, first of all, a Teppanyaki restaurant. We got sea scallops, crunchy giant tiger prawns, and super tender US sirloin, all cooked with plenty of garlic from the “teppan”. Takenozo is also a steak-house. Japanese style, of course, but yet offering prime steaks and a well-mastered cooking time. Compared with our experience at “The New York Steak House”, a few weeks ago in Bangkok, or El Gaucho in Saigon, we found the price more than reasonable. A well-sized sirloin from Texas will cost less than USD50. We like the attractive packages on the menu: with average USD 50-80 price range for two. We are in a five-star Japanese restaurant; when it might sound costly on the Cambodian standard, it will look amazingly good value for visitors from the USA, UK, Europe… or Japan.
Don’t leave without tasting the Green Tea Sherbet: if, like us, you don’t like so many Japanese desserts, you will make an exception with this one.
Open daily from 11.30 am to 2.30 pm and 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm.
TAKEZONO (at Sokha Angkor Resort): National Road No 6 & Sivatha Street Junction Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 63 969 999
MIE CAFE (****): We loved at first sight this traditional Khmer wooden house with an outdoor patio and garden, located half way between Angkor and Siem Reap city center. The dreamed place for a romantic, definitely atmospheric dinner al fresco punctuating a sunset visit to the temples, it makes lying those affirming that Cambodia is the antithesis of a gastronomic destination.
Chef Pola Siv, recognized as the master
of Khmer Nouvelle Cuisine, mixes his freshly imported European skill
with a personal, fusion vision of the local cuisine. Which makes some
dishes taste more Western, and others more Asian. With of course some
popular Khmer musts: like the sapid “Traditional Khmer Chicken Amok”,
with lemongrass paste, coconut milk, noni leave and eggplant, or the
tender “Rib Eye Beef Lok Lak”, with mushrooms, onion, green peppercorn
stir fried with oyster sauce topped with egg sunny side up. Those
looking for a new, more interesting version of the Cambodian cuisine
should rather order a noteworthy appetizer (available from the
attractive Gourmet Menu
): “Carpaccio of Fresh Snake Head Fish Fillet”, cooked in fresh
citrus juice with Cambodian spices, grapefruit and hazelnut oil
dressing, served with a delicious poached egg tempura. On the same high
mark, and from the same Gourmet Menu, the “Grilled Beef La Ap”,
marinated with local herbs and chili, then chopped grilled medium rare
with tomato sauce and a touch of balsamic vinegar, is topped with
parmesan cheese… and red ant eggs. Cambodian eat tarantulas, worms, and
cockroach: so there is nothing actually surprising locally in the
introduction of this special ingredient into a gastronomic dish. You
can experience red ants in the distinctive “Cat-Fish Consommé”: it
gives this classic Asian specialty some power. More signature dishes,
like “Grilled Prawn with Amok Butter”, roasted somanea seed, eggplant
with coconut milk and dry cure ham, or “Fried Pork with Oven Roasted
Giant Eggplant”, bell pepper and wild mushroom, are well worth the try.
Chef Pola has been trained in Switzerland: we could realize it from the supreme quality of his “Hot and Creamy Chocolate Cake”, with vanilla ice cream, and fresh mango passion fruit sauce. Like all the master chefs, he uses the best cocoa (from Valhrona) to produce really professional pastries.
Note that all ingredients come from the
best local farms, and that the bio-vegetables are grown up in the
restaurant kitchen garden.
The bill is rather high on the Siem Reap
standards, yet more than
reasonable for international fooders. It will cost approximately USD 80
for a couple of dinners, with one bottle of refreshing “South of Africa
Chenin Blanc, The Winery of Good Hope” (USD 25 by the bottle). The
entertaining song of a colony of frogs in a pound nearby is included in
Open Wednesday to Monday, 11am – 2pm for lunch, 5.30pm – 9.15pm (last sitting) for dinner.
IL FORNO (****): This smart restaurant, which positive reviews in Tripadvisor and a fantastic mouth to ear brought to a top position among other cool eateries, stands in the animated Pub Street. A detail made us really feel like in Italy: we entered an almost empty restaurant at 7pm, with maybe a couple of clients at the bar. This is “late dinner” time in Cambodia, where local people dine between 5 and 7pm deadline. At 8 / 8:30pm all the tables and the bar were occupied by expats (no Asian the night of our visit), calling the owner by his nickname, “Ed”. Returning guests is a very engaging proof of quality.
We loved at first sight the trendy, warm
interior design. It is not
large; it is not small. Just convenient to please the eye and make you
feel comfortable. There is even a private room for
the “families” (we
are talking about Sino-Khmer, who like a high degree of intimacy), and
the tables are not too close from each other: those on a business
lunch or romantic dinner will appreciate this intelligent display. We
liked the vegetal wall refreshed by a fountain. Black and white
pictures, representing gourmet scene from vintage Italian movies,
create a clever bridge between Italian culture and gastronomy: we had
our dinner in front of Alberto Sordi enjoying “maccherone” in “Un
Americano a Roma”. Our favorite Italian actor worked up our appetite…
Open 12–3:30PM, 5:30–11PM.
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