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Sea bass and strawberries make a tasty combination. Eli Meixler

Dining out with the ‘Chef Anthropologist’

La Pergola, the new French restaurant from boutique hotel The Plantation, is helmed by an inventive, award-winning chef

The Plantation – a boutique hotel known more for its luscious palm-lined pool than its food – has arrived on the culinary map.

Their new high-end French restaurant, which had its soft opening last week, is helmed by award-winning chef Sébastien Rubis, who has 20 years’ experience in the kitchen.

Rubis boasts an enviable culinary pedigree – his mentors are Jean Soulat and Olivier Gremillet, both credited masters of French cuisine – and he spent the past 10 years in Laos, running two restaurants which won recognition from the New York Times.

French chef Sébastien Rubis
French chef Sébastien Rubis. Eli Meixler

While there, the chef acquired a reputation for seeking out traditional meals and bringing them to the fore, often after giving them his own twist. He was named “Chef Anthropologist” by Food and Wine Magazine for his work revaluing ancestral and forgotten recipes in Laos. He hopes to do the same in Cambodia.

But for now he’s focusing on putting the finishing touches on the menu at La Pergola – which included a little experimentation.

Three edible plants from within the hotel garden have been incorporated into the menu. One is an ordinary-looking leafy green plant common in Laos, from which he extracts a bitter taste to mix with vanilla in his millefeuilles, or vanilla slices.

Earlier this week, some friends and I headed to the restaurant to try out the menu before the grand opening in a few months. The most immediate change is the look.

The Plantation has undergone myriad renovations of late, including the construction, from scratch, of La Pergola, on the terrace above the outdoor pond. It’s a striking space, with vast floor-to-ceiling glass windows giving a view onto the street.

To start, we ordered the foie gras cooked in strawberry wine and Kampot pepper ($18). It’s hard to feel guilty about this most decadent of dishes when it tastes this good: smooth and creamy and sprinkled with caramelised shallots.

Rubis has a knack for flavour combinations – especially more unusual ones. His sea bass comes drizzled in a sauce of tangy strawberries and mushroom ($16). When we talked later, he explained that the idea originated from his desire to recreate the smell of a Khmer barbecue. “It should make sense in the mouth,” he said.

Lamb chops done well
Lamb chops done well. Eli Meixler

Surprisingly enough, it did. The plate could, however, have done with something snappier to balance out the soft textures.

A more classic interpretation of lamb chops also worked well ($20). The meat was soft and simply seasoned in salt and pepper, allowing the meaty taste to come through – a refreshing change from overpowering sauces.

We finished with the tarte renversée des demoiselles tatin – a reversed apple pie, seasoned with salty caramel ($9). The dish – invented accidentally by a lady who forgot to add the pastry to her pie until it was too late – was sensational. The apples were soft and sweet and the whole ensemble was coated in a light cream.

As we sat back, reflecting on the meal, we took some time to appreciate the details, which La Pergola has paid plenty of attention to. On the table were glass jars stuffed with Kampot black pepper, pink pepper and sea salt. Bread was served in small fishing baskets. The whole room smelled like lemongrass.

The service was as it should be: attentive but barely noticeable. Rubis has set the bar for the city’s hotel dining scene – we’re excited to see what he does next.

La Pergola, The Plantation, #28 Street 184. Open 7pm until 10:30pm.

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