In Siem Reap, we were looking for great local cuisine. I usually use various sources to find good local cuisine by searching travel websites and blogs, asking for advice from hotel concierges, and talking to locals. This usually provides a nice list of possibilities.
This restaurant was among those suggested by the concierge at Navutu Dreams Resort where we were staying. “Try this”, he suggested simply. So we did.
When you enter this tiny restaurant, you don’t notice anything special; a simple, minimalist interior, no white table cloths or exquisite flower arrangements. But you are immediately greeted by a young, smiling Cambodian, and then seated at a table and given two menus. One of the menus is a-la-carte and the other is the chef’s family-inspired gastronomy menu. After studying the latter more attentively, we felt, that it was worth trying. The same guy asked if we had any allergies or food we don’t eat. It was then that I noticed an ant on the menu, and I mentioned it. “No problem, we will take it away,” he smiled. We ordered some dishes, including the marinated beehive, which was on the menu. It looked a bit odd, but decided to wait and see.
It was time to order drinks. The wine list looked quite good, but we glanced at the drinks paired with the menu – cocktails made with local spirits. I was suspicious about the number of syrups used, but the waiter assured me that the cocktails are created by the restaurant and definitely not sweet. Finally, we agreed to have the drinks that were paired with the menu.
I have to admit – it was the best food we’d had in Siem Reap, and one of the best experiences of Asian fusion I’ve had in Asia! And believe me, I have eaten in many nice places.
Each of the eight dishes we ordered was mouthwatering and nicely presented. For example, the simple rice flower dumpling, with wonderful filling and galangal sauce, tasted heavenly. The garlic marinated pork shoulder skewer had a strong garlic odor, but was tender and delicious. Even the local Lok Lak seemed like we were tasting it for the first time.
Okay, I have to confess I did not finish the beehive, but I admit that it was more of a psychological problem.
And the local cocktails that were paired with the food were great as well. My absolute favorite was the Hot Kiss with fresh lime, pineapple juice, vodka and hot red chilli. The Khmer rice coffee was equally tasty.
The price for the dishes and four great cocktails was less than $40 USD. A splendid feast worth 3 or 4 times more.
The smiling Cambodian who greeted us explained every dish, and even repositioned the plate if the waiter positioned it wrongly. When I asked if the chef was young, he answered, “Yes – and very local. It’s me.”
So we got to know the very gifted and persistent young Cambodian chef, Mork Mengly, and his enthusiastic young team, who provide great service while striving for perfection.
Mengly told us his unique story. His parents cooked well, and he inherited their love for great food. The boy then spent three years in the food market, day and night working and eating with locals, understanding food and local tastes. He also experimented with flavors and colors, and adding new ingredients to the local food. He studied at École d’Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule in Siem Reap. In 2013 he won a cooking competition in Phnom Penh and worked in boutique hotels. Then he and his friend and business partner, Hang Bora, went to Singapore for inspiration. When they returned, they opened the Pou Restaurant and Bar (Pou means Uncle – which vendors in the market called him).
When you see the shining eyes of Chef Mengly, when he speaks about Cambodian food, how he strives to use ancient ingredients, and introduce this food to the world, it becomes clear that he will become a famous chef – and quite soon. So hurry to the Pou Restaurant and Bar while you don’t need to book a table long in advance…
The address: What Damnak Road, opposite What Damnak in Siem Reap. Tel.: 0969718088
Open every day except Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.