Note to Siem Reap business owners; I don’t take bribes. But I do take cake. All journalistic integrity goes out the window when baked goods are involved.
Claire Byrne/Phnom Penh Post
Sarah Cantero at her cosy joint Cafe Upstairs.
But luckily for Sarah Cantero and her new venture Café Upstairs, no embellishment of the truth is required when saying her cute-as-a-button hideaway has already become a real favourite for Reapers.
Ascending the steps to Sarah’s cafe you instantly feel warmed; kind of like going to visit your Gran. White picket fences, comfy sofas, vintage décor and truly personal touches make for a comforting experience.
“I just want people to feel at home,” says Sarah of her cosy establishment. “I love to bake. To have my friends around, drink tea, eat cake. And I miss that from home. So I thought, why not open a café? It’s simple recipes from my mum, my grandmother, from my friends, nothing fancy.”
While they may not be “fancy”, Sarah’s homemade goods are pretty divine. From rich chocolate fondant to comforting carrot cake, they all have that distinctive just-like-mum-used-to-make quality.
Along with the sweet treats, the cafe does a popular weekend breakfast, soups for lunch and has a wide, Western-style coffee and tea menu. And, if you smile at the waitress, you might get a marshmallow on the side.
The Upstairs Café is also a place Sarah can play around with her love of decoration. Originally planning to open an interiors shop, Sarah figured a café would be a better fit for Siem Reap, while still allowing her to be creative. “It’s a place I can play around with decoration. I had seen a few places before, but I just got a feeling when I stepped in here. I had all these things, I knew exactly what I wanted. It’s a bit selfish, all my own style, but I love it.”
The café, above Madame Beergarden on Wat Bo, is very different from its downstairs neighbour. While the bar below is known for its dark chalk board walls and industrial accessories, the café, in contrast, is bright and airy, dotted with whimsical ornaments. There’s a decidedly European countryside feel to the café, from the French flea-market finds to English afternoon-tea cups and saucers, rustic Alpine timber work, to Scandinavian style fabrics. Check out the bathroom too, it has a pretty quirky take on the concept of the "eco-loo".
The café, which opened its doors mid-December just in time for the festive spirit, has already garnered a cake-craving following. In the future, Sarah hopes to expand the enterprise to create a nail bar in one portion of the coffee shop, adding an extra element of indulgence for those who like something sweet with their mani-pedi.
A true perfectionist, Sarah constantly asks customers for critique on her regular cake experiments. Don’t tell Sarah, but she doesn’t need it. But hey, lets all play taste testers until she finds that out.