New Khmer restaurant aims to be different

Proud manager Srey Leap Oeurn welcomes guests to Khmer Touch.
Proud manager Srey Leap Oeurn welcomes guests to Khmer Touch. NICKY SULLIVAN

New Khmer restaurant aims to be different

Khmer Touch, a high-design Cambodian restaurant, celebrates its grand opening tomorrow night and opens the doors on a traditional Khmer menu with some novel twists that are fit for a king.

“We aim to be different from everyone else,” said manager Srey Leap Oeurn. “There’s no point in being the same, and chef Somantha Oeng has been very creative. There are many dishes that you think you find in other places, but when you come here you will really see the difference.”

Chef Somantha Oeng notched up 12 years of experience at Amansara’s kitchens, during which time she cooked for Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia’s revered King Father.

Her experience and confidence have been put to work at Khmer Touch, where she has added some gentle twists to a number of Cambodian standards.

Oeng is particularly enthusiastic about the lotus root salad, which incorporates not only the root and seed but also the petals from the flowers, which she said are considered to have health benefits, particularly for pregnant women.

“I did a lot of research to find that you can eat so much of the lotus, not just the root and seed but also the flower,” said Oeng. “It adds so much more to the flavour and of course is very beautiful.”

Oeng has also spiced up the traditional Khmer chicken curry, by giving more to the base flavours in the star anise and cinnamon to create a spicier more flavourful dish. The green mango salad has been given a crisp turn with solid slices of fish that have been fried to give them a crunchy edge, in contrast with the ground smoked fish that is conventionally served with this dish.

One of the many exciting menu options: Khmer rice cake with coconut sauce and fresh herbs.
One of the many exciting menu options: Khmer rice cake with coconut sauce and fresh herbs. LOVEN RAMOS

Unexpectedly, in view of the location, décor and the amount of thought that has gone into the food and its presentation, the prices at Khmer Touch are far from royal.

Salads are $4, except for those prepared with prawns, and soups $5 while main courses range from $6 to $10.

Several meat-free dishes have been added for vegetarians, including the lotus root salad, as well as soups, stir-fries and a vegetable curry, with prices from $3.50 to $5.

Restaurant manager Oeurn has been working on the opening since April this year, although the heavy work really began in July.

Architect Monirith Neang gutted the former Old Market guesthouse to create a contemporary bright and open space that makes full use of high ceilings and large windows.

The effect is enhanced through white walls that are offset by modern design touches like exposed brickwork and a dropped ceiling.

The restaurant itself is set over two floors, and includes two separate rooms that are available for private dining and for meeting, classrooms and conferences.

Oeurn says that the rooms are adaptable to clients’ needs, with air-conditioning and audio-visual equipment.

She has also been busy training new staff, almost all of whom, from the kitchen to the restaurant floor, are fresh graduates of Siem Reap’s hospitality training schools Sala Baï, Ecole Paul Dubrule, Egbok Mission and Friends.

Khmer Touch is the creation of husband and wife team Chomnan Soun and Muylang Nguon, local entrepreneurs whose family has built their way up from selling vegetables in a local market to fine dining via wholesaling vegetables then wholesaling fish, then setting up a series of ice factories, before latterly creating the Gloria Angkor Hotel on National Road 6.

They will be at the opening tomorrow night to welcome invited guests for a special reception. Diners meanwhile can enjoy the restaurant’s soft opening with a 20 per cent discount on the menu running until the end of the month.

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