In a renovated colonial mansion, a husband and wife team are serving up dishes from Colombia, Peru and Spain. But please don’t ask for tacos or enchiladas
Forget quesadillas and enchiladas. A recently arrived husband and wife team is on a mission to show Cambodia that Latin American food goes far beyond the ubiquitous Mexican fare.
“People will say: ‘It’s a Spanish restaurant - I want a taco’,” lamented Florian Lindener Lopez, a Spanish chef from León, during an interview inside the renovated colonial building that houses Latin Quarter.
Andrea Posada Nieves, his 23-year-old wife who is also a chef and hails from Tuluá in Colombia, agreed, adding that it is time for South American cuisine to make its presence more widely known overseas.
The duo arrived last month from a restaurant gig in Singapore to relaunch the Latin Quarter, which closed for two weeks this month while the chefs designed a new menu.
Lindener, 27, finds Phnom Penh a relief from the bustling mega-metropolis.
“I need to take a breath. Life is easier, unlike in big cities like Singapore or Hong Kong,” he said, adding that he hoped to take Latin Quarter up to those cities’ standards of restaurant quality.
The couple started dating three years ago, while training in Spain. It was a relationship grown out of the industry, said Lindener, and has enabled the pair to tackle their professional lives together.
Their food is a fusion of Spanish and South American cuisine, with traditional Colombian dishes reinvented in a tapas-style format. The result is a unique addition to the capital that manages to stand out among the increasingly-crowded culinary scene.
Arepas ($4), a cornbread popular in Colombia and Venezuela and eaten with any meal, is given a fancy twist with the inclusion of ox cheek and a delicately chopped salad comprised of parsley and tomato stuffed inside the bread with melted cheese.
The empanadas ($4), a samosa-like cornbread pastry stuffed with beef, also provide a savoury taste of traditional Colombian munchies. And the Chicharron ($3.50), which is made of crispy pork belly, is served with a strong coriander puree.
“In Colombia, people love coriander because it is always fresh,” explained Posada.
But it is not just from Colombia that Posada draws her South American influences. Peruvian ceviche soup ($3.30-$5.50) is served with sea bass, scallops or prawns. Slightly sour with a hint of morning glory, the chilled soup provides a counterbalance to the more hearty Colombian offerings.
The rest of the menu is mostly Spanish, which Posada conceded is generally tastier than South American cuisine. Meatballs with cuttlefish ($12), traditional suckling pig ($45) and a rack of lamb ($26) are on offer for meat-lovers, but tapas still rule here.
The highlights include croquettes with a soft, slightly sweet mushroom filling ($5) and brioche with a slight hint of truffle. The best, however, was the ultra-decadent roasted meat cannelloni ($6.50), which consists of roast beef and chicken wrapped in a thick layer of parmesan cheese. A far cry from some of Spain’s leaner options, but certainly worthy of the occasional indulgence.
Their handmade sangria, which is flavoured with orange juice, lemon juice and cinnamon, is a must try accompaniment for any meal ($2 a glass, $12 a pitcher). But its sweet, fruity taste is perhaps too refreshing. I was four glasses in before I remembered that I soon had to return to the office.
In a city saturated with chefs from the world over, South American food has generally been given a pass. But Latin Quarter’s new menu does an excellent job at filling the void of South American delicacies while providing customers with top notch Spanish favourites. Mexico, it seems, is no longer the only culinary horse in town.