Two weeks out from the opening of his first restaurant, F for Falafel, owner Thierry Immergluck found himself in a kitchen surrounded by heapings of couscous and tabouli, staring at the open laptop where his mother was spilling family recipe secrets onscreen.
“I had my mother on Skype saying, ‘you do this, you do that,’ and I would say ‘Mama it’s difficult to keep up,’ and she would just keep going," Immergluck said.
“My mother is Lebanese, so I know falafels very well, but whenever we don’t understand something we can always call her to ask advice.”
If the lunch crowds at F for Falafel are any indication, Thierry’s last-minute refresher courses in Immergluck family recipes paid off. Customers have flocked to the restaurant since it opened on June 1, to enjoy generous servings of mouth-watering pita bread sandwiches stuffed full of meatballs, and overflowing with a range of toppings, including hummus, olives, Tunisian carrots, eggplant, couscous, and homemade tabouli.
Immergluck told 7Days that opening Siem Reap’s first falafel restaurant was never part of the plan he devised with his partner Kim Chun, when they relocated from Phnom Penh to temple town earlier this year.
But over time, the idea of combining her experience managing the Lebanese eatery Le Liban in Phnom Penh with his family knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine began to make sense.
“About two months ago, both of us wanted to move from Phnom Penh to a nice relaxed place like Siem Reap and we thought of this idea. Kim was used to working in and managing restaurants, and we were looking for an idea that would let us do that here."
Housed in a prime spot opposite the food stalls at the west end of Pub Street, F for Falafel serves a lunch and dinner menu of meat and vegetarian falafels, ranging from $3 to $5.
Immergluck, who’s quick to point out that his surname means “always lucky” in German, says he received crucial early advice from what he jokingly terms the “French connection” – established French restaurateurs in Siem Reap who steered him toward the Ecole Paul Dubrule culinary school when he was looking to recruit staff.
After selecting eight workers from the school’s latest batch of graduates, Immergluck began training them in handling unfamiliar Middle Eastern ingredients and preparing the perfect falafel, the secret to which he says is precision and attention to detail.
“At the beginning it was not good and we had to test it many times, but at the end we made good falafels.
“At the beginning it was too moist inside. After that it was too cooked, and finally, slowly, slowly, we modified some ingredients to make the right tasting falafel."
The eatery is open every day from 10:00am to midnight, and Immergluck says he has plans to extend the restaurant’s opening hours ahead of tourist season, by installing a bar and couches upstairs where customers can kick back and enjoy live music.