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Sugar palm owners go with the flow

A union of the best of traditional Khmer cooking with contemporary fusion styles will be on the menu at soon-to-be-opened Flow, the new creation of husband and wife team, Bruce and Kethana Dunnet, known in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for their landmark Sugar Palm restaurants.

Opening date for the modern air-conditioned bar and restaurant has been a tad delayed as the head chef Sopheak Sao is somewhat distracted – he’s about to get married on November 10.

Sopheak is known for his creativity, especially when it comes to the Italian food with which he made his name at Il Forno. So when he approached Bruce and Kethana last year looking to join Sugar Palm, which is hailed worldwide for its adherence to traditional Khmer cooking styles, it might not have seemed like the most obvious of transitions.

But both culinary elements will be given full expression in the new venue.

“It’s going to offer the best of what we have at Sugar Palm, together with Sopheak’s more fusion styles,” said Kethana .

Head chef Sopheak Sao with his about-to-be bride.
Head chef Sopheak Sao with his about-to-be bride. LENG SOKLAY

Sopheak has already been experimenting with different dishes. And although he hadn’t finalised the menu at the time that Insider spoke to him, he did give an idea of some of the things he has been contemplating.

A dish such as a homemade taglionini with seafood and pastis cream sauce is one of his favourites, and features one ingredient that appears to be a staple of his.

“I don’t drink much myself, but I like to include alcohol in my food,” he said.

Other notable dishes that he mentioned include duck ravioli with curry sauce, seared tuna with lemongrass dressing, and salmon tartare with avocado puree.

“My cooking is a little bit different,” noted Sophea, who is principally a self-taught cook. The 29-year-old started working in a local restaurant at Kandal Market eight years ago where his general self-confessed lack of interest frequently caught his unhappy manager’s eye.

“The problem was that I thought that I couldn’t learn how to cook, and so I didn’t work as hard as I should have,” he said.

But somewhere along the way, Sopheak realised that in fact he could cook and cook well, and so he set about building a collection of books from which to learn. His favourite mentors are Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, the British chefs who made cooking dinner at home sexy, even for men.

Flow is housed in a typical Cambodian long shop-front style building, which has been beautifully remodelled by Stuart Cochlin to incorporate separate spaces but keep the lines in ‘flow’, so to speak, so that the feeling of standing in a tunnel is broken yet the sense of space is not diminished.

The restaurant area at the front leads to a discrete bar at the back for people who might like to enjoy a snack and a drink rather than a full-blown meal. There will also be patés and cold meat platters on the menu.

Further back again, an enclosed outdoor area has been created for smokers as the interior is smoke-free.

Oddly enough, the restaurant is more the result of fortuitous happenstance than deliberate intent, and the New Zealand couple hadn’t really planned on opening adding another string to their culinary bow.

“It was too good an opportunity to miss,” said Kethana , speaking of the time last year when the owner of the property, which was previously home to the stylish Tex-Mex restaurant El Camino, approached them to take over the lease.

“He was very good with us, and supported us with the ideas that we had,” she said.

This was followed by the happy chance of Sopheak’s approach, looking to join the team. The conditions for the union were set. ​

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