The ancient practice of cooking on hot stones inspired husband and wife team Sothea Seng and Sonita Chou to open Hot Stone Café, which specialises in cuts of meat and fish cooked on a 400 degree heated stone in front of diners’ eyes.
The restaurant is next to Angkor Trade Center, and for those who prefer their food chilled to raw, takeaway sushi is also sold from a cart outside.
“The concept of ‘hot stone’ is barbecue, like a steakhouse,” says Seng. “People can enjoy their meat whether it’s local cuts or imported from Australia. They can also choose whether they want it rare, medium or well-done – they just cook it on the volcanic stone.”
The stone is heated to 300-400 degrees in an oven for approximately six to eight hours and Seng says, “Basically you get a cut of raw meat when you order from the menu and you cook it yourself – it’s accompanied by three different sauces and a salad.”
Prices range from $4.60 for a local beef tenderloin, to $9.90 for Australian tenderloin or T-bone steak. There is also a selection of fish including salmon and red snapper fillet, plus tiger prawns and for the vegetarians, king oyster mushrooms.
Seng, who also owns Palate restaurant and was executive chef at Nest Angkor, says he got the idea from his varied career working in Cambodia and abroad.
“I started my career in 2001. I worked in different five-star hotels in Siem Reap, and then I worked in Dubai and the Caribbean,” he says. “So I saw a lot of concepts. I tried to develop a concept that is related to traditional cooking methods – people in the past didn’t have any gas or grilling system so they tried to cook food on stones or under the ground. And, as the steakhouse is one of the most popular concepts in town, I’m trying to combine it with traditional cooking style.”
He adds that now hot stone restaurants are increasingly popular in the West.
“It’s really influencing modern cooking technology – there are a lot of hot stone restaurants in big cities in the West and also some in Asia. Hot Stone Café is the first one in Siem Reap.”
In the two months it’s been open, Hot Stone Café is already popular with both expats and locals – Seng says 60 per cent of his customers are Khmer.
The other side of the business is the Hot Stone Café sushi cart stationed outside the restaurant. From April, Seng plans to introduce more carts around Pub St, and during Khmer New Year sold his sushi outside Angkor Wat during Angkor Sangkran celebrations.
“I’m also trying to develop the street food concept,” says Seng. “I have a sushi cart with ready-prepared sushi in boxes and a lot of customers come in for takeaway. We produce it twice daily, in the morning and in the afternoon, so we always have fresh sushi.”
The sushi is made with local produce wherever possible, with only the salmon imported.
“I try to come up with local ingredients, like freshwater shrimp – I mix it with spicy mayonnaise and sometimes I even use the small river fish that’s available in our local market, marinated with tempura flour and deep-fried so it becomes crispy,” he says.
“The most popular sushi is spicy salmon roll. I can sell 30 boxes a day. We also have fresh salmon roll, California maki roll, tempura roll and baby shrimp roll.”
The sushi boxes sell for a very reasonable $3 - $3.50, with vegetarian sushi costing $1.50. The sushi is also available at Angkor Market.
In the future, Seng plans to bring in seasonal specials, and hopes to expand the small restaurant.
“We are really serious about food and to be honest I’m really passionate about developing food,” he says. “Hopefully I can enlarge the brand to have bigger premises for our clients.”
Hot Stone Café is open daily, 11am – 11pm