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Kanji: dedication to detail

Kanji's Japanese manager Satoru Yasuike with chef Mike Wong. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

The Japanese are often seen as meticulous, sometimes to the point of obsession, in most things they do, whether it’s engineering, floral arrangements, designing a fast-train network – and especially in the preparation and presentation of food.

Dedication to detail is right there before you when you enter the Almond Hotel’s new Japanese restaurant Kanji, two years in the planning and one year in the making.

While most Japanese restaurants have a sushi bar, this place also has a tempura counter and a noodle one so guests can watch how their dinners are created.

The decor is stylishly subtle, there are two Teppanyaki rooms – where food is theatrically cooked on a hotplate before your eyes by expert chefs – and three Tatami (private) dining rooms.

Waiting staff are by your side at the mere raising of an eyebrow.

Managing director of the Almond Group Luu Meng already oversees the hotel and five Phnom Penh restaurants – three Yi Sangs (Chinese), Malis (Cambodian) and the Topaz (French).

But it has been creating Kenji from scratch that has been his year long focus, recruiting Japanese cuisine experts and training locals to form a 17-strong kitchen team, who are creating authentic, yet modern dishes.

“I have been marinating this idea and thinking about bringing the best of Japanese restaurants to Phnom Penh for two years,’’ he tells 7Days before Thursday’s lavish launch attended by 250 guests.

“I wanted to make sure we got everything perfect, because we want it to the best, and a big part of that was hiring Satoru Yasuike to be the manager.”

Yasuike spent 10 years in Tokyo kitchens before moving into management.

“I wanted to make sure we would be opening a true Japanese restaurant, so I arrived one year ago because I wanted to be here from the beginning,” he says.

The next and most important step was hiring a chef: Malaysian Mike Wong, who has worked in Japanese restaurants in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and most recently Waikiki in Hawaii over the past 15 years.

“Most of the produce is sourced from Japan, including the rice, and we have fresh fish for sushi flown in every week,” he says. “What I am bringing here is sophistication in presentation and cuisine that is contemporary and with a twist.’’

After arriving six months ago Wong built his team, and has spent the past four months training them in every aspect of running a successful and real Japanese restaurant.

Sake is like a nut to a bolt for Japanese food, but few know that there are different styles and Yasuike has created a list of 14 sakes from five versions, with detailed explanations of each on the smartly designed menu.

There is also an extensive list of the stronger shochu spirit – some made from sweet potato, and other types from rice, barley, sugar cane and sesame.

The wine list is extensive, starting with four white house wines to choose from. Meng says they were selected carefully. “We got together a group of friends who know their wine and had them do blind tastings of many wines and score them to create our list.”

Kanji is located in the Almond Hotel at 128 Sothearos Blvd.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marcus Casey at



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