From Khmer curry to mango chilli salt, Park Hyatt’s cocktails take local inspiration to the next level
They started life as an exotic extension of the Park Hyatt’s thrice-weekly courtyard celebrations of Khmer food and culture. But the uniquely Cambodian cocktails that food and beverage manager Ben Pinsent developed with assistant bar manager Taing Lundy have become so popular with guests that they are now a permanent fixture on the drinks menu.
There’s no shortage of cocktails with a local twist around town. Many bars switch it up by replacing brown sugar with palm sugar, lemons with limes or lemongrass, or by adding Cambodian rice wine. But Pinsent and Taing went one step further and developed a series of new cocktails that incorporate bolder flavours – from Khmer curry and stir-fried basil to sweet and sour soup and mango with chilli salt.
Inspired by his spell at the Hyatt Regency, which hosts a Sex and the City afternoon tea with dishes inspired by New York, Pinsent wanted to create something different for Siem Reap. Incorporating some of the country’s rich culinary tradition made sense. “I thought that what you’re using in cocktails is what you consume on a daily basis anyway, so why not use more savoury items in drinks as well,” he said.
The results are a heady mix of spice and potency.
The Sweet & Sour, based on the mojito with influences from Cambodian sweet and sour soup, utilises tamarind, palm sugar, lemongrass, basil and kaffir limes. It’s still a mojito, but zestier and served in a mini amok pot.
Even more refreshing is the Stir-Fried, a shaken blend of vodka, tart apple juice, lime, ginger, hot basil and zingy galangal.
The Mangorita, meanwhile, is a neat twist on the green mango and chili salt snack and which, with a little wizardry, lends itself so naturally to expression as a margarita.
They use ripe mango, but the result – a blend of tequila, Cointreau, lime and chilli in a glass rimmed with salt and pepper – is gorgeous.
“People are sometimes a little bit hesitant about this one when they hear it has chilli in it,” said Pinsent. “But it works in a similar way to a gazpacho. The chilli excites the taste buds and lifts the palate, preparing them for whatever’s coming next, which makes this a perfect aperitif.”
A curry cocktail sounds like one of those remarkably misguided ideas you find in places trying too hard. In the hands of Pinsent and Taing though, it becomes a warming drink that tastes almost like Christmas. A mix of gin, pineapple juice, lime juice, coconut milk, star anise, cinnamon and syrup, the Curry is well-balanced and silky smooth.
Keep the mosquitoes away – as Cambodians do by growing the herb outside their houses – with the Sloek Krey, or lemongrass, cocktail. It’s a mix of vodka, green apple, lemongrass, lime, mint and syrup. This one is super refreshing, with clean, clear flavours, every one of which seems to take its turn dancing a little reel on your tongue.
You can enjoy these ($8), and all of the classics, in the gallery cocktail bar, The Living Room, at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap, Sivutha Boulevard.