MONDAY 2 JANUARY 2012 • A MEAL TO REMEMBER
It is night time. I am in a lovingly kept little garden with 4 tables within. I am about to dine – alone. I am not sad nor lonely; on the contrary – I am by myself and that is a privilege, a luxury.
This little restaurant Cuisine wat Damnak was recommended to me by the head chef Alexis Voisiin of the Orient Express hotel where I’m staying (La Résidence d’Angkor), which also offers an excellent dining experience .
Here the place is unassuming, a little terrace with 6 tables, a garden with 4 tables and a 20 seat indoor restaurant .
It was my intention to have a quiet reflection about my trip over four continents but the food I was served prompted me to tell you about my experience.
I had an excellent basil Mojito and then turned to the wine list which was a bold move as there was only one wine by the glass (an Australian Sauvignon Blanc; excellent too).
The headline of the menu said it all: the style of the cuisine was reductive but as I found it out for myself, said it all… "Cambodian Cuisine".
There was a choice of two menus, six courses each, including an amuse bouche - all the produce sourced from the area. I felt a little worried. First, I had no choice; second, I was not keen to eat six courses!
When the first little amuse bouche arrived, I understood that I shouldn’t have worried! A little salad of green mango and a few leaves sent from heaven: fresh, crunchy, warm in the mouth; the perfect way to start.
Then the second dish arrived, served by unknowing staff, but with huge smiles on their faces. Madame Carole, the boss’s wife, was actively involved. She carried and shared his passion, she passed it on to both her team and to the guests, with humility and generosity.
Fresh rice flake pancake with shrimps, mango and punitive sauce. Oh mon Dieu, this man can cook, he is blessed! The pan-fried little rice cake, was crispy outside and melting inside: a neutral flavour offset by a truly gorgeous sauce made of mango and peanut, a supreme command in the spicing, warm in the mouth, long flavours so perfect, complex but no sophistication: simply delicious.
My second glass of Sauvignon Blanc arrived. The night would be good, even better.
The fish arrived: again unfussy presentation. The pan-fried fish, Chlang - a local river fish - sat on stringent herbs that I had seen at the market that morning, and a few vegetables, crisp and tasty, moist and delicious. Hyacinth blossom brought a delicate perfume: what a fabulous, intelligent infusion of amaranth and hyacinth!
I was as happy as if I was with my loved one. Those moments are rare when you know that you are in the presence of a very gifted craftsman.
Quail curry with braided pumpkin and long bean. Again a huge winner: the lightly gamy lean quail breast was supported by a rich starchy pumpkin cube "au naturel" and the long beans provided the texture.The lightly curried coconut sauce had been through a reduction process, making it silky and rich. By now I was in heaven.
The last dish was awesome: something I tasted but didn’t finish, and that was a shame: a rich dark palm sugar crusted the Verne brûlée, rich… but dig deeper to find the prize: the rich, mealy, sticky rice; heavenly!
Remember this name: Joannès Rivière. He and his wife Carole have created a place to treasure!
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Raymond Blanc's new book, Kitchen Secrets, featuring recipes from Kitchen Secrets Series 1 & 2 and many more, was published by Bloomsbury on 14 February and is available to buy online from Amazon, from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Brasserie Blanc, Maison Blanc, and from online and retail bookstores.
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