K is for “kitsch” at the Kuriosity Kafe, the latest and largest restaurant established in Siem Reap’s rapidly developing Sok San Road. The 200-seat, three-storey bar and bistro is the creation of Geert Caboor, owner of the renowned Red Piano, which played a large role in Pub Street’s emergence as a major tourist hub.
It’s also arguably the most unusual to set up on Sok San. Every corner has a different story, with a quirky, retro feel underpinning it all and splashes of kitsch to keep the atmosphere light and fun.
Downstairs, one corner whisks you off to a London gentleman’s club, complete with red leather upholstered furniture, trophy beasts and a rich tapestry adorning the spruce black wall.
Heading upstairs, past a menacing Alien sculpture, there’s more of a club lounge feel, with lots of space to roam, open sides back and front and a huge balcony overlooking the street below. Movie memorabilia and iconic photos adorn the walls, while one corner is beautifully kitted out with deep wooden beams, storm lanterns and feels every inch the storied bar of a grand yacht club.
Upstairs again, a small, low-key and open-air space is perfect for catching the passing breezes while nursing an ice-cold beer.
“I wanted to create something completely different from the Red Piano, somewhere you come for a little bit of everything,” Caboor said.
The enormous kitchen is headed by Australian Shannon Robinson and local chef Hun Li Heng. Robinson, who worked for three years at Sokha Beach Resort in Sihanoukville, is taking charge of dishes including burgers, wraps, salads, pizza, pasta as well as signatures like slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and duck confit.
Meanwhile, Hun Li is masterminding the Khmer food side, including his special Heng’s Chicken Curry. He wouldn’t say how he makes it, but apparently the local staff are in awe.
Curiously, Kuriosity Kafe is on the exact same site as Caboor’s former guesthouse, also called Red Piano. He sold that four years ago having decided that it’s impossible to run a lower-market guesthouse in Siem Reap unless you’re a local.
He is keen, however, to create something that takes him away from the din of Pub Street. “
I didn’t want my second place to be on Pub Street. It’s too loud,” he said.
“Sok San Road is different. There are so many guesthouses here that no one can make noise like they do on Pub Street. I do believe this is an upcoming street. I believe in it a lot,” he said.
And, for Caboor, that’s what he wants Kuriosity Kafe to be all about. “I want people to come, enjoy a beer, a wine or whatever, have a bite to eat if they want to, and just really get to chat and hang out, without having to shout over the music.”