Cambodia – Cuisine Wat Damnak

Needless to say, my love of eating out can be taxing financially, especially when it comes to fine dining. While planning my trip to South East Asia my main focus was delicious, cheap street food and local cuisine, but then I started wondering about “finer” restaurants. This led me to discovering Cuisine Wat Damnak. Located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cuisine Wat Damnak was listed at #50 on San Pellegrino’s list of Asia’s Top Restaurants and offered a 6 course set menu for only $28 USD ($35 CAD). This was an amazing value. Another key selling point for me was that the restaurant focused on traditional Cambodian flavours and ingredients, and sourced locally. Exactly what I look for in every meal when travelling.

Atmosphere: The restaurant was located in a beautiful, open two storey house, far from the neon lights of Pub Street in Siem Reap. Tables were available outside in the garden, upstairs decorated with influences from traditional Cambodian houses, or inside on the more modern first floor with air conditioning. The Hubby and I opted for a table inside. The dining room was refined yet relaxed and comfortable with diners spaced out for privacy. Conversations were soft spoken and I could feel the excitement at each table as courses was served.

Service: We arrived after a 10 minute TukTuk ride from our hotel and was greeted by the hostess, Chef Riviere’s partner Carole Salmon. All of the servers were local Cambodian residents, who took wonderful care of us throughout dinner. Wine and water glasses were tended to, crumbs cleared and each dish served with a detailed explanation. At the end of our meal, Chef Rivière came by the table to serve a selection of local fruits. He described each fruit in detail and chatted with us about our meal, a wonderful personal touch.

Food: Chef Joannès Rivière was born in a small town in France and has been living in Cambodia since 2003. After working as the executive chef for one of Siem Reap’s most acclaimed hotels, Chef Riviere opened Cuisine Wat Damnak with his partner in 2011. The couple both speak fluent Khmer and the restaurant reflected their passion and appreciation of Cambodian cuisine and culture. Featuring a tasting menu that changes bi-weekly and only locally sourced or foraged produce, Cuisine Wat Damnak combined the best of local flavours and French cooking techniques.

The night we visited, there were two tasting menus available with 5 or 6 courses. One featured more seafood while the other land animals. I chose the seafood-centric 6 course menu, while The Hubby chose the other. What blew me away with each course was how rich and aromatic the flavours were. Just the hint of lime used was more fragrant than a bag of limes I can find at the grocery store. Each dish was also balanced with aspects to sweetness and acidity.

Our tasting menus consisted of:
1. Amuse-bouche of a refreshing cucumber salad
2. Prawn and tiger eggplant salad with herbs, prahok and peanut emulsion
3. Angkor stout braised beef roll
4. Caramelized palm sugar and star anise slow cooked pork, crispy shank, lotus root, stem and seeds
5. Pan fried Sanday fish, pumpkin and coconut tree heart stew, moringa, toasted rice and coconut puree
6. Honey cured Bantey Srey cantaloupe with tapioca pearls, lemon basil sorbet and Phnom Kulen vanilla meringue

1. Amuse-bouche of a refreshing cucumber salad
2. Pomelo and wild ginger leaves salad, candied pomelo skin pickled chicken
3. Rice wine steamed Mekong langoustine with Kurata pepper, Makassar fruit salsa
4. Blue crab clear curry with Chhlang fish, water lily stem and pounded feroniella
5. Stir fried boneless frog legs with wild mushrooms, homemade oyster sauce and holy basil
6. Cambodian cinnamon and darks chocolate light ganache, caramelized cashew nuts and puffed rice

Both menus had stronger and weaker dishes. I loved my pomelo salad, The Hubby’s Beef rolls, my Langoustine, his Slow Cooked Pork and my Frog Legs. We both really enjoyed my wonderfully chocolaty dessert with the crispy, airy puffed rice.

If visiting Siem Reap, I’d highly recommend making dinner reservations at Cuisine Wat Damnak for a world class dining experience at an amazing price. Later on during our trip, we also had dinner at Nahm in Bangkok (#22 World’s Best Restaurant) for double the price and frankly, I enjoyed our meal at Cuisine Wat Damnak more.

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