Soann Kann, former manager at Bodia Spa and the man who brought you Sokkhak Spa, has opened his first restaurant, Chanrey Tree, a fine-dining Khmer eatery.
Set a little back from the river on Pokambor Avenue, next to the furniture shops, Chanrey shares many architectural similarities with Sokkhak Spa. It is nestled in a lush, beautifully-designed garden and housed in a contemporary wooden and concrete house with stylish features such as a bamboo staircase and large windows going all around.
The building is actually a former Khmer wooden house which had fallen into disrepair, and then skillfully restored and renovated by Soann. He says the garden was so overgrown when he first saw it you could barely see the house, but it is now unrecognisable from its dilapidated former state.
“I got it by chance,” he says. “I just came to buy some furniture for the spa at the shop next door and I saw a small sign, but I couldn’t see the house because it was full of grass and trees. I saw the land was very big and thought I could do something with this traditional house.
“If you ask me exactly where the look came from I don’t know. I just designed it from what came from my head – I knew how I wanted it to look. I worked with a very good local architect.”
Customers can choose to sit in the garden or dine in air-conditioned comfort inside, where large, charcoal-grey, spiky globe lights hang from the ceiling. The lights are reminiscent of those at the former Hotel de la Paix and indeed are the work of the same designer, acclaimed artist Em Riem, whose paintings are also dotted around the restaurant.
Chanrey will serve traditional Khmer food with a modern twist created by chef Ke Rathana, who has an impressive CV, having trained at L’Ecole Paul Dubrule before working at the Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa, Hotel de la Paix and Aha restaurant.
“It will be Khmer fine dining,” says Soann. “What I’m trying to do is pick up in the roots of Khmer food. Traditional recipes, but with new presentation.”
At the opening function, guests enjoyed five different dishes ranging from skewered parcels of deep-fried marinated pork wrapped around green beans, to light and crispy vegetable and frangipani flower tempura with sticky rice crackers served with ‘natang pork’, a minced pork, shrimp, coconut milk and peanut dip.
Soann says also he plans to do his own twist on Khmer desserts.
“We’re thinking about doing our own Khmer dessert selection, so we’ll do something with sticky rice in banana leaf and inside different kinds of flavour – pumpkin, banana, taro and coconut.”
Soann has a background in the hospitality industry, having worked as restaurant manager in some of Siem Reap’s major hotels and says he has always wanted to return to the restaurant business.
“I wanted to do what I know,” he says. “This is one of my first experiences and I love it out of all the jobs I have done. I loved working in restaurants and I knew that I could make this a success. I worked in hotels for seven years – Sofitel, the Victoria and Intercontinental Phnom Penh – in food and beverage. I know it very well.”
Chanrey takes its name from the tall tree growing at the restaurant’s entrance, with its large canopy spreading out over the garden.
“The tree is beautiful,” says Soann. “In Khmer we call it the chanrey tree but in English it is known as ‘rain tree’.”
Even before Chanrey Tree’s opening, Soann says customers had already been coming in despite the restaurant’s sign not yet being up.
“What’s really good is that every night we have customers coming in to eat,” he says. “When people pass by they say they are impressed by the design. At night it’s so beautiful. And they’re really keen to try the food.”
Chanrey is open daily for dinner, but from October 1 lunch will be served as well.