French-Cambodian Armand Gerbie has run a successful restaurant in Australia, served as the maître d’ at Le Lido cabaret in Paris and even made a cameo in The Matrix: Reloaded. He returned to his native Cambodia eight years ago to open an upscale bistro, Armand’s, on Street 108. The boisterous host sat down with Audrey Wilson this week for a personal tour of Phnom Penh’s finest dining
The first Armand’s was in Australia, in Sydney. I came back to Phnom Penh in December 2007, after 18 years in Australia. I was born here, my father is French and my mother is Cambodian, so I decided to come back to my roots and open a restaurant. It’s quite similar to the one I had in Sydney. And it has been successful again [laughs]. My concept is very simple: steak, steak, steak. If you don’t like steak, don’t come here. But it’s quite a unique place: the French ambassador, he likes to come to my place, he says it reminds him of a little piece of Paris.
You know the restaurant Open Wine, right over here [#219 Street 19]? I love it. First of all, it’s [run by] my friend. He sort of helped me to open up Armand’s seven years ago when I moved to Phnom Penh. I buy a few products there, like meat, stuff like that. Open Wine – it’s not just wine, though. I don’t know why they call it that, it’s just a French restaurant, a French-style brasserie. It’s meat, lots of beef, basically like mine. The cassoulet is very, very good. The meat they serve is imported from Australia – so you know it’s good quality. I’ll always go to Open Wine… It’s my best friend’s place.
Gaston is a friend of mine also. His place [#76 Street 15] is small, like mine, no menu. Instead, everything is on the board. He makes a good beef filet. I like Gaston – he’s a friend – and the concept is similar to mine, but cheaper. And his place is doing really well because it’s cheaper. We opened our restaurants almost at the same time – just a few weeks apart. It was such a coincidence. And when I opened, I didn’t do any advertisement, nothing. I just opened, and it was busy the first day – all my friends were waiting for me to open the restaurant, including Gaston.
French speciality shops
La Tradition [#235B Street 19] is an outlet for cold cuts – like ham, pâté, cheese. La Tradition, it’s just a butchery and charcuterie, French-style. They will do. And that’s where I buy all my stuff. I also go to La Terroir and Le Votre. La Terroir just opened, and you should have a look. They have nice ham [laughs]. Le Votre has great fresh pastries, dessert, all that. All of them – they’re my friends. I’ve worked with them for seven years. Since the first day I’ve opened, I’ve always worked with [La Tradition]. It’s a product that I trust – and it works, because my restaurant is busy, you know?
The best Cambodian food, my wife cooks for me. French food, of course, is different [laughs]. I like a good grilled fish with fish sauce and green mango. Or grilled king prawns with Koh Kong sauce. I could eat 2kg on my own. If you want to go to a nice Khmer restaurant, there aren’t many. There are a lot of places I can criticise. But there is also Malis [#36 Norodom Boulevard]. It’s a very nice restaurant, very trendy. It’s so trendy there aren’t many Cambodians around [laughs]. In Cambodia, what is most interesting is the mixture of people: in my restaurant, there are a lot of French and Australians. Sometimes you go somewhere and it’s Chinese, Japanese, Khmer. It’s so beautiful, seeing different people somewhere.