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Sombai staff cooking up delights in the kitchen.
Sombai staff cooking up delights in the kitchen. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Sombai rice wine purveyors open new showroom

Sombai, purveyors of fruit infused rice wine, have moved to bigger and better premises, with the workshop and showroom and shop now under one roof. Located in a converted Khmer house in Salakamroeuk Commune on ‘Sombai Road,’ the compound can’t be missed thanks to its fire engine red walls and black gate, jauntily painted to match Sombai’s corporate colours.

Curious customers will be able to visit the first-floor workshop and infusion room to witness the production process first hand, before having a tasting of the eight Sombai flavours in the downstairs Sombai Lounge.

Owners Lionel Maitrepierre and Joelle Jean Louis can also now cater for private tastings or parties in the spacious courtyard with its outside bar.

Owners Joelle Jean Louis and Lionel Maitrepierre outside their new premises.
Owners Joelle Jean Louis and Lionel Maitrepierre outside their new premises. Miranda Glasser

Joelle says the move was necessary to allow expansion of production.

“When we first started two years ago, our kitchen and storeroom were enough but soon we moved to an outside workshop, a few metres from our house,” she says. “After two years, this was again too small especially since we started selling many new sizes – 16cl, 10cl and coming soon 25 cl and 20 cl. So we needed a much larger space to keep all the infusing jars. Lionel spotted this charming little house and when we visited it, we knew it was just perfect for what we wanted to do.”

Maitrepierre says most visitors have found the house “one of the most charming places in Siem Reap,” and indeed walking in, the lounge has an almost country cottage-like cosiness to it – all clean white walls, wooden beams and cute details such as the red and white checked kramas used as curtains, comfy sofas and red fridge.

“Customers and friends who come to visit are always amazed by the place, they are always curious about whether we built it or if it was that lovely when we got it. They ask if it’s our house, and love that whole homey feeling they get when they’re there,” says Joelle Jean Louis. “Many take photos outside.”

The duo says they didn’t do much to the downstairs area – just repainted the walls – while outside they added the bar and lotus flower fishpond. Upstairs they removed the ‘fake ceiling’ from the infusion room “to give it that cathedral feeling,” built a large storeroom in which to keep jars and equipment, and installed a new modern kitchen.

The elegant bar and semi-covered courtyard should be ideal for parties – Joelle and Maitrepierre expect a lot of group bookings come the high season and plan to provide nibbles from Asana and Bugs Café to soak up the booze.

Ingredients such as lemon and lemongrass take between six to eight weeks to infuse in jars.
Ingredients such as lemon and lemongrass take between six to eight weeks to infuse in jars. Miranda Glasser

Joelle says guests are always excited to climb the ‘Cambodian’ wooden stairs up to the infusion room, where shelves of huge glass jars contain what at first glance could be ghoulish science experiments, but on closer inspection are decidedly more innocuous orange and pineapple segments, ginger, lemongrass and other Sombai ingredients.

“Sombai takes between six to eight weeks to infuse, depending on the flavour,” says Joelle. “When the drink is bottled, the fruits and spices are added to the bottles thus infusing even longer.”

Out of the eight flavours, the couple says the most popular are coconut and pineapple – Sombai’s answer to the piña colada – and the lemon and lemongrass.

The new Sombai Lounge and workshop is open daily from 9am to 5pm, although visitors can come outside of these times by arrangement.

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