Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cambodia 2014: Restaurants in Siem Reap

And now we're back to the Cambodia posts! Today I wanna tell you all about the different restaurants we visited on our holiday. This was our first visit to Siem Reap, and we chose places to eat based on recommendations from locals and friends, TripAdvisor reviews, and just by what looked good while we were walking around town!

Bhopa Angkor
512 Street 23
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 63 964 928

Bhopa Angkor is a hotel overlooking Siem Reap river, with a pleasant and slightly upmarket restaurant serving Khmer food. This place was recommended to us by our awesome temple tour guide Pat, and we really liked it. We'd built up a huge appetite trekking around temples all morning, and appreciated the generous portions, icy drinks and cold towels.

Mixed fruit shake - $3.50
Taro chips

Chicken Amok Lemongrass - $8.00

We were glad that they did a chicken version of the national dish, amok, so that seafood-avoider Sandra could try it too! (Amok is a fragrant, zesty and mild curry, which can be served as is, or steamed in a little banana-leaf basket or other container - here it was in a coconut.)

Chicken Curry - $8.00

Steamed Rice - $1.50

Angkor Palm
Phasar Chas Area (Old Market)
Pithnou Street
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 63 761 436

Angkor Palm is in the old market area, and comes highly recommended by Lonely Planet - and now, me! As with Bhopa Angkor, Angkor Palm was our choice for a relaxing lunch after another huge morning of temple trekking.

Angkor Palm

Lime shake - $2

Deep-Fried Eggplant - $2.50

Deep fried eggplant is always a winner, and the one here was great - crisp and light, and squishy on the inside. The lime dipping sauce with kampot pepper was delicious as well.

Sandra and I shared their famous Angkor Palm Platter for One, and a plate of beef with long beans. I thought it would be a good way to try a lot of Khmer specialities in one go. The Platter for One was a very generous serving - I actually think it's easily enough for two people, so I'm glad we didn't order one each!

Angkor Palm Platter for One - $8.50
Beef with Long Beans - $5.00

Let's have a look at the items on the platter in more detail:

Angkor Palm Platter for One - $8.50
Clockwise from the top: fresh spring rolls; green mango salad with smoked fish; green chicken curry; fish amok; stir fried water spinach; pork spare ribs.

The fresh spring rolls, mango salad and green curry were very familiar to me, being very much like the Thai and Vietnamese versions that are ubiquitous here in Melbourne, just a lot milder. The fish amok was full of firm, fresh white fish pieces in a delicately spicy sauce. I always like water spinach, and the version here was crunchy and fresh and had a nice salty sauce. Finally, the pork spare ribs were quite toothsome and very tasty.

Rice and a dessert were also included in the platter - they gave both of us a dessert even though we only ordered one platter - yay.

Babor lapov - Sweet potato and coconut soup

The babor lapov was a sweet coconut milk soup with sago pearls and soft pieces of sweet potato. It reminded me of our Malaysian bubur chacha, and was very good. (We actually learned to make babor lapov at the cooking class we took, so I'll be sharing the recipe with y'all in the next few weeks!)

I was very impressed by Angkor Palm, and if you don't have a lot of time in Siem Reap, this is the place I'd suggest.

Sugar Palm
Taphul Road
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 63 964 838

Sugar Palm seems to be quite well-known - Gordon Ramsay visited here once to learn how to make amok, apparently! Earlier that day, when we asked the front desk at the hotel to organise a tuk tuk to Angkor Palm, three different staff were all like: "Oh you mean Sugar Palm? I know Sugar Palm!" We figured that was a good enough recommendation to try it for dinner!

It was really nice to sit on the first floor balcony as the sun set.

Sugar Palm

Angkor Can - $2.00

Angkor beer is super light, perfect for warm nights!

Khmer Chicken Satay - Marinated chicken pieces, skewered, pan-seared and served with a thick peanut sauce - $4.50

Grilled Eggplant - Grilled eggplant topped with mince pork stir-fried with oyster sauce - $6.00

I loved the grilled eggplant - smoky soft eggplant topped with pork mince. So good! There was a recipe for it in the cookbook we were given at the cooking class - can't wait to try it at home!

Khmer Crispy Noodles - a traditional dish of crispy rice noodles accompanied by pork, tofu, sprouts and our special sauce - $6.00

We really liked the crisp, puffy texture of the noodles - perfect for soaking up all that flavourful sauce.

The Blue Pumpkin
#563, Mondul 1
Svay donkum
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 63 963 574

The Blue Pumpkin is a popular bakery and cafe with branches throughout Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We stopped in for deeelicious ice-cream after our dinner at Sugar Palm - they have a great range of classic and local flavours. I got a scoop each of peanut and coffee, and Sandra got passion fruit and green lemon. The peanut flavour was my favourite!

Peanut ice-cream, Passion Fruit ice-cream

Upstairs at The Blue Pumpkin is an air-conditioned lounge with free WiFi and comfy couches. We came here one afternoon to enjoy gigantic icy drinks and escape the rain.

Iced coffee, Mango slushie

BBQ Lovers
Corner Pub Street and Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 63 964 575

We came across BBQ Lovers one night when we were shopping in the Night Market. We were hungry and had no idea where to go - we just followed our noses and the smell of barbecue was too good to resist!

BBQ Lovers

BBQ Lovers

BBQ Lovers barbecue a range of meats and seafood, as well as offering cooked dishes.

Stir-Fried Yellow Noodles with Beef and Vegetables - $2.00

Tiger Prawn - $2.50
Beef Skewer - $1.25
Pork Rib - $2.50

Haus Bremen
Street 26
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 99 490 774

And then this happened... yup, an authentic German restaurant. After five days of Khmer food with loads of lemongrass in it, we were really craving something Western. We searched different restaurant options on TripAdvisor, saw a picture of schnitzel and the decision was made!

Haus Bremen

It took us a little time to find Haus Bremen - it's in a quiet, residential part of town, and even though we showed our tuk tuk driver a map, it took quite a bit of driving around until we found it. (I saw a tiny German flag on an electricity pole on the corner and was like: "That must be it! Turn right!")

Haus Bremen is owned and run by a German man and his Vietnamese wife - we had a chat to them and they've lived in various cities in South East Asia and are currently settled in Siem Reap. They serve various traditional homestyle German dishes - think Schnitzel (Zigeunerschnitzel, Jägerschnitzel, Cordon Bleu), half chickens (halbes Hähnchen), Kassler, sausages, Frikadellen, Gulasch, Rinderrouladen (beef rolls) and so on.


We ordered schnitzels with Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes with onion and bacon). Just like at home in Germany, the salad was served first. It really tasted like Germany!

Gemischter Salat / Mixed Salad

Jägerschnitzel mit Bratkartoffeln - Hunter's Schnitzel (mushroom sauce) with Fried Potatoes - $6.00

Cordon Bleu Schnitzel with Bratkartoffeln / Fried Potatoes - $6.50

The food really, really tasted like the food that Sandra's mama in Germany cooks. Sehr lecker! It was strange to be eating the type of food Sandra grew up with in the middle of a totally foreign city, but totally awesome.

Between Wat (Pagoda) Polanka & Catholic Church
Phum Slokram
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ph: +855 17 363 284

The last restaurant I want to tell you about is Marum, a training restaurant for former street youth. My friend Penny suggested it. Penny and her friend Michelle are currently volunteering in Battambang (what legends!), and came to Siem Reap for the weekend to visit and catch up.


It was lovely sitting in the open air with all the sparkly lights in the trees.

Appetisers: Pickled vegetables, salted peanuts, ant larvae

Marum serves sharing plates with no single influence - Khmer, Western and pan-Asian flavours all make an appearance. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even order tree ants, silkworms and duck embryo! We were... not feeling particularly adventurous though. I did, however, try the ant larvae that were provided as an appetiser - they were kinda salty and a little mushy.

Passionfruit and Sugar Cane Freeze - $3.00

We ordered a few dishes to share - and looking back it seems we were really in the mood for deep-fried food!

Top Left: Wild Mushroom and Brie Rice Balls with Marum Leaves and Beetroot Mayo - $5.25
Top Right: Pumpkin and Roast Duck Croquettes with Citrus Hoisin Sauce - $6.25
Bottom Left: Curry Spiced Rice - $1.50
Bottom Right: Taro and Chive Dumplings with Citrus Ginger Soy - $4.00

Jasmine Tea Smoked Chicken with Orange Honey Glaze on Chinese Broccoli - $6.50

I really enjoyed the tea smoked chicken - it was lightly smoky and very tender, and had a nice, slightly sweet citrus honey glaze.

Top Left: To-Die-For Chocolate and Kampot Pepper Cake with Passionfruit Syrup - $5.50
Top Right: Banana Fritters with Palm Sugar Caramel and Lemongrass Galangal Ice Cream - $4.00
Bottom Left: Coconut Crème Brûlée with Kaffir Lime and Cashew Short Bread - $4.25
Bottom Right: Mango and Coconut Sushi Wrapped in Pandan Sesame Crepes - $4.00

Desserts were very nice overall, except for the crème brûlée, which was a little eggy. The mango and coconut sushi was a fun way of combining traditional South East Asian Flavours. Penny and Michelle loved the banana fritters with their crisp coating of coconut and sweet drizzle of palm sugar caramel. My favourite, however, was the chocolate cake with kampot pepper. Fresh green peppercorns were folded throughout the cake and in the passionfruit syrup, adding a mild spiciness. It worked really well!

And those were the restaurants we tried in Siem Reap! Our hotel, Shinta Mani Club, had a great restaurant too, but I'll tell you about that when I write about the hotel. Soon!

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Siem Reap? How do you choose where to eat when in a foreign city? Have you tried insects before?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

I was recently gifted a sample of the new range of Yarra Valley Cheese fresh cheeses from the lovely Mel at Squawk Media, and wanted to make something a little special with it. Y'all know I never need an excuse to stuff my face with pastry, and I thought a light and fun springtime tart would be a good use for the cheese.

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

This tart, whilst being my own recipe, is in a similar vein as the sweet potato galette from the original Ottolenghi cookbook, which is one of my favourite recipes of all time. The final flourish of fresh parsley, chopped chilli, garlic and olive oil is genius! (*Bows to Yotam and Sami!*)

So, back to my tart: buttery puff pastry is covered with sweet caramelised onions...

Sliced red onion

... and slices of roast capsicum (I used jarred, but roast your own if you are feeling energetic!)

Pastry, caramelised onion, roast capsicum

Next comes a sprinkling of pine nuts and your fresh cheese. I used the "Herby Cow" fresh cows milk cheese that Yarra Valley Cheese sent me, which has herbs and garlic mixed through. I believe this cheese will be coming to supermarkets soon, but you could use any fresh cows milk cheese as an alternative. (E.g. quark, queso fresco, Boursin etc.) Of course, you could use chèvre goats cheese, which has a similar texture and is manufactured in the same way, but that is made of goat milk, so it will have that distinct goaty flavour.

Herby Cow!

Ready for the oven

Then bake it until the pastry is all puffed up and cooked through, and the pine nuts and cheese are lightly golden brown. Then you brush it with the garlic / parsley / chilli / olive oil mixture, cut into slices and INHALE.



Whilst being very impressive, it is quite easy to put together, and it's more about assembly than labour-intensive cooking. In fact, I made it for a weeknight dinner for my parents - I prepped the ingredients at my own home after work, then took all the ingredients to their place, assembled the tart and baked it. It was really a low stress affair! I imagine leftovers would be good either cold, or reheated in the oven, but don't count on having any.

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts
An original recipe by Sarah Cooks

2 red onions
1 sheet puff pastry (1 x 375 gram packet of Careme pastry)
1 x 450 gram jar roast red capsicum
120 grams fresh cow's milk cheese (I used Yarra Valley Dairy "Herby Cow". Substitute quark, Neufchâtel, queso fresco, Boursin etc.)
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 small chillies
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 210C.
Peel and finely slice the red onions (a mandolin is useful here). Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a non stick pan and add the onion slices. Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have cooked down and are soft and golden brown in parts. Set aside to cool.
Place the pastry on a lined baking dish. Using a sharp knife, trace a 1 centimetre border around the edge of the pastry. Within the borders, prick the pastry all over with a fork.
Arrange the caramelised onion over the pastry.
Drain and roughly slice the roast capsicums, and arrange over the caramelised onions.
Crumble the cheese over, followed by the pine nuts.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through.
Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic, chillies and parsley, and mix with the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
When the tart is cooked, brush it with the olive oil mixture. Cut into slices to serve.
Serves 4 as a light lunch
Sarah received the Yarra Valley Cheese Herby Cow as a complimentary sample.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Italian Yum Cha at The Grand Dining Room

Italian Yum Cha trolley

The Grand Hotel Dining Room
333 Burnley Street
Richmond, VIC 3121
Ph: (03) 9429-2530
Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Last weekend I was invited to try Italian Yum Cha at The Grand Hotel in Richmond. Lately I've been trying to limit the number of invitations I accept, not only so that I don't overdo it with rich food and alcohol, but also to give myself some downtime, so that I have energy for family and friends, for work, the gym, and even for cleaning my flat (boring but necessary!) However, the prospect of Italian Yum Cha sounded to good to resist!

For the first four Saturday and Sunday lunches in November, The Grand is putting on an Italian Yum Cha (or "bere vino") as part of Good Food Month. They've raided op shops for cute nonna-style crockery, borrowed a steamer trolley, and put together a fun menu of Italian bites to be served yum cha style in their dining room.

The Grand Dining Room

Aperol Spritz Ice Tea

The yum cha started with a pot of Aperol spritz "ice tea", which was a complimentary inclusion for each table. It was low on alcohol, only slightly bitter and very refreshing - it tasted great and I thought it was a cute touch.

So, how does it work? The Grand has created a special yum cha menu - the items come around on trays, but you can also order directly from the menu if you are decisive and don't want to wait! Like regular yum cha, food is charged on consumption. Individual items range from $6.50 to $14.50. The menu is huge, with sixty-three different items available - we did our very best, but only made it through a small selection of what was on offer. My suggestion is to try not to get overwhelmed by the friendly waitstaff and their trays of pretty, pretty food - don't simply accept everything you see (hard, I know!), but have a good look at the menu and order anything that you definitely want to eat so that you don't run out of space before it comes around.

Now, on with the food...

Crudo di cobia - crudo with egg yolk, pickled enoki mushrooms and cress - $10.50

Cobia is a very oily, rich fish (I've seen it called "Wagyu of the sea" before). Here it was served in generous slices, topped with more richness in the form of egg yolk and parmesan cheese, with freshness from pickled enoki mushrooms and cress. Normally I'd think to avoid cheese and fish, but the cobia was robust enough to match the parmesan. Yum.

Baccalà mantecato su bruschetta - creamed codfish on bruschetta - $6.50

I found the creamed codfish a little on the salty side, especially as it was served in such generous quenelles. (I know baccalà is salted cod, but still!)

Roast capsicums - $6.50

Roast capsicums are roast capsicums, so I don't have much to say about these, except that they were very nice, and incidentally, a good way to get some vegetables and a bit of lightness in what was otherwise a carb-and-protein-heavy lunch. (Not that carb-and-protein-heavy meals are necessarily a bad thing!)

Lingue di gatto - le fave, menta e ricotta salata - Cat's tongues - fave, beans, mint & ricotta - $6.50

I can't not order a dish with broad beans - the broad bean and mint puree was light and summery, and I loved the the texture combo of fresh whole beans, smooth puree and crisp biscuit.

Gnocchi al burro e salvia - Potato gnocchi with brown butter and sage - $8.50

The gnocchi came highly recommended by the waitstaff, but I was always going to order this anyway, because brown butter and sage are just The Best. The gnocchi were nice and light, the crispy sage was delightful, and there was an oozy pool of nutty toasty brown butter. Heaven.

Lasagne di cinghiale - wild boar lasagne - $10.50

We didn't see the lasagne di cinghiale (wild boar lasagne) come around on trays, but I saw it on the menu and had to try it. I'm so glad we did, because it was great! It didn't taste too gamey, and had nice layers of creamy bechamel and rich tomato-boar sauce.

Capesante con spaghettini di zucchini - Seared scallops on squid ink spaghettini - $10.50

The scallops were fresh, generously sized, and perfectly cooked - seared on the outside and just cooked within. The little nest of squid ink spaghettini was actually made of julienned zucchini strips (how paleo of us!), which had a nice tender-crisp bite to them.

Polpette di vitello - Veal meat balls with napoli and herbs - $8.50

The polpette di vitello (veal meatballs) were excellent! They were incredibly light and fluffy, and the tomato sauce was rich and delicious. I wish I could make meatballs like this at home!

Costolette d'agnello con puree di carotte - Two-point lamb rack on burnt carrot puree - $14.50

As you can imagine, we were very full by this stage, but we were told we simply had to try the lamb cutlets. These were cooked on the rare side of medium rare (perfect for me!), were super tender and had a lovely salty crust on the outside. The slightly sweet burnt carrot puree and salty eggplant crisp were great complements. Order the lamb chops if you go!

Bombolini - Italian donuts with crema pasticceria - $10.50

The bombolini, mini donuts filled with custard, were very nice. I don't think they really needed the fancy plate decorations - they were nice enough to stand up on their own.

Cannoli - Fried and stuffed sticks of heaven - $6.50

There were two flavours of cannoli - one plain and one chocolate - both were great, and impressively, didn't taste or feel greasy at all. Rather, they were light and crisp and all too easy to eat.

Semifreddo al torrone - Nougat semifreddo - $8.50

The best of the three desserts, however, was the nougat semifreddo. If you only have room for one dessert, I suggest this one! It was dense and creamy, with little crispy sweet pops of caramel and nougat throughout and generous flecks of vanilla seeds.

Thanks to Barnie from The Grand for the invitation and to the team for a great lunch! Based on the quality of the Yum Cha, I'd definitely want to go back to try their normal menu - lots of the yum cha items appear to be miniature versions of the dishes they serve in the Dining Room. Who's up for an indulgent dinner?

Sarah and Sandra ate as guests of The Grand Dining Room.