By day a relaxed hangout spot, by night a relaxed cocktail bar: new Australian-run watering hole and eatery Che Culo brings casual, high-quality service to Cambodia
With its high, peaked roof, patterned floor tiles, curved alcoves and cut-out bricks, Che Culo – a new Australian-owned bar in BKK1 – has something of a Mediterranean theme. The food too has Greek, Spanish and Italian influences; small tapas-style dishes at night and light pastas, salads and sandwiches during the day.
“It’s loosely based on that whole [Greek island] Santorini, Italian and south of Spain feel, but done really well using local materials,” said manager and co-owner Nick Hattingh, 31, a typically laconic 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry in Australia who has a tattoo of the bar’s logo on his left arm (acquired following a particularly boozy free-flow Sunday brunch at the Sofitel).
“We haven’t imported anything. Everything has been locally sourced. Even all our ceramics – plates and stuff – are made in Siem Reap.”
Hattingh opened the bar earlier this month with fellow Australians, Locky Paech, 34, who Hattingh had worked with back home setting up and running various award-winning drinking holes such as Sticky Bar, the Norfolk Hotel, Eu-de-Vie and The Forresters, and architect and builder Daniel Jury, 34.
Hattingh said he had been on his way to open a bar at Koh Rong Samloem when he got a call from Paech, who had been offered the opportunity to renovate and run a bar in Phnom Penh and needed partners. Meanwhile, Jury, who was a friend of Paech’s in Adelaide, was roped in to design and oversee construction.
The trio chose the name – an Italian exclamation literally meaning “that ass” but used for something closer to “what luck!” or “lucky bastard!” – based on the Mediterranean feel, but it also seemed to sum up their feelings about the project. “I mean, how lucky are we that we get to open a bar like this in Cambodia?” Hattingh said.
During the day, Che Culo is open and breezy, with a chilled electronic and hip hop soundtrack.
At night it’s dimly lit, but still airy, with a techno pulse. Expats carouse with espresso martinis and whisky sours at the high bench tables and in the cosy alcoves or with cigarettes on the wooden garden patio out front. Meanwhile, plate after plate of battered green tomatoes, patatas bravas, fried calamari and more come out of the kitchen ferried by smiling young waiters. “We want it to be a place, whether you come here at two in the afternoon or ten at night, where you’re going to have the same relaxed vibe and high quality of service,” Hattingh said.
The night and day menus – both food and cocktails – will both change on at least a weekly basis, he added, but always remain short – about six items.
While the prices are a bit higher than some other drinking holes around town - $5 for a cocktail and around that for a tapas plate – Hattingh said that didn’t seem to phase the customers.
“It’s maybe a little bit higher, but once people see the food and drink, they seem to not bat an eyelid. It’s a quality product, you know,” he said.
He was quick to mention that between 5pm and 7pm every day for “Aphrodite aperitivo” there were discounts on a chosen cocktail, house spirits and Cambodia beer.
Down the track, Hattingh said, he hoped Che Culo wouldn’t be he and his partners’ only venue in Cambodia. “But at the moment, we’re just trying to let this puppy unfold and see what happens.”
Che Culo, #6B Street 302.