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A special treat - local clams with tamarind and pepper on a bed of rock salt.
A special treat - local clams with tamarind and pepper on a bed of rock salt. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Seng Sothea expands his hospitality empire

Seng Sothea, the entrepreneurial chef behind Hot Stone Café and Palate Angkor, opened his new restaurant Mahob on July 15. The eatery, off Vithea Charles de Gaulle just up from Mie Café promises healthy and innovative Khmer cuisine.

“Cooking and food has always been my passion,” says chef-owner Seng. “I want to develop Siem Reap city into a food destination for Asia, like Bangkok or Bali.”

Mahob, meaning ‘food’ in Khmer, will serve Cambodian fare with an emphasis on unusual and healthy ingredients.

“It will be Khmer food but I’m planning to use a lot of new techniques to improve and lift up our local cuisine to the next level,” says Seng. “You’ll see a lot of creative, modern Khmer dishes on the menu but the food won’t just fill you up – it’s also going to be good for your health, for example I try to avoid using too much oil. It will be casual dining with a little bit of a modern touch.”

Signature dishes will include some surprises.

Super chef-turned-restaurateur in front of his latest fine dining venture, Mahob.
Super chef-turned-restaurateur in front of his latest fine dining venture, Mahob. Miranda Glasser

“I have some unique dishes,” he says. “For an appetiser I have mousse made with river prawn. I’ll mix it with some local ingredients like lemongrass, garlic, fresh shallots. Then I’ll put it on the lemongrass itself so the lemongrass becomes the skewer.

“Also I’ll have bitter melon soup with fresh market fish balls. Because our country is rich with local fish, we often produce fish balls or fish mousse. I take the fish flesh, mix it with bitter melon which is very good for you, and it becomes a soup.

“I plan to use a lot of famous local ingredients like passion fruit and Kampot green pepper. For example I’m going to make a modern Khmer salad with yellowfin tuna steak – the key ingredient is the tuna and roasted rice flakes and then I add some shallots, fresh mint and green peppercorns which enhance the flavour. It’s very healthy.”

Certain items like tuna will be imported, but in general ingredients will be locally-sourced as much as possible.

The restaurant is in a traditional Khmer house which Seng has faithfully restored, including unusual features such as a leaf roof with leaves sourced from the Kulen mountain area. Customers can eat in the upstairs wooden lounge or the ground floor air-conditioned dining-room.

There is also a lush garden where al fresco dining is available amongst lotus ponds, bulrushes and hammocks. Seng says he designed the garden to look like the countryside where he grew up, of which he has fond memories.

The layout of the restaurant gives diners seating options.

“If diners just want a drink or a small bite, they can relax on the cosy grass area on comfortable chairs and beds under the leaf roof, or they can choose from the two main dining-areas inside,” he says.

Mahob is also a restaurant with a heart. Most of the staff will be supplied by NGO Egbok Mission, which trains underprivileged young adults to work in the hospitality industry.

“They bring poor students from the countryside to train,” says Seng. “I am happy to help young Cambodian people to be able to have an occupation and also help the whole country, this is our main idea. I was born into a farming family as well so I understand it.”

There will be a 30 per cent opening discount until the end of July.

Busy Seng is already working on his next project – a four-room hotel adjacent to Mahob which will be called Room at Mahob. The hotel is due to open next year.

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