The surprise of the year is a chic, edgy-looking restaurant that opened without much ruckus relatively recently, looking at the same time both new and like it had always been there. Despite its glamorous appearance, there was no swanky launch, no mouthy advertising. Yet over the past few weeks it has been bubbling away and gaining momentum. And now The Square 24 is steadily developing a reputation as one of the coolest premier eateries in town.
The Square 24 restaurant is the work of long time Siem Reap resident William Telliez, who says the overnight success of the fledgling business was entirely unintended. “I was not expecting such a response,” he exclaims. “For the first year, I wanted a kind of soft opening. I wasn’t sure if people would like this design, this architecture, Khmer food in this kind of place, but we’re quite happy. It’s a good complaint, but we’re moving a little too fast.”
Telliez was born and raised in France but has a Khmer mother. He credits the higher-end hotels in town for spreading the word like wildfire among their guests. But he is eager to attract expats like himself, too.
“I am a guest, I’m a client, I eat in restaurants sometimes, I like good service, nice things and I don’t like to overpay. People say you have to pay for a nice place. We’re not five star, we’re a simple restaurant, and we want people even with a small budget to be able to eat in a nice place.”
The average bill is $13 per person, with appetizer, main course and drinks.
Telliez who also manages the nearby Bopha Angkor Hotel said the concept of the restaurant was to highlight the modern side of Cambodia. “We are in 2011 so we didn’t want the straw roof, the bamboo pillars, traditional uniforms and the ding-ding of the Khmer music. We wanted to show that Cambodia can be modern and different.”
Telliez painstakingly designed the chic industrial details of the restaurant himself, but said the process wasn’t always plain sailing, “When the roof came up, all the local people thought we were building a gas station, so I got worried. Luckily it’s not hard to find sleeping pills here in Cambodia. But I knew I could make it look like something else.”
Telliez said he had a clear idea in his head of what he wanted and achieved that through softening masculine lines with the décor, garden and creative lighting.
Construction was speedy and the restaurant was ready to go in May, but initial plans to open in the summer were held off until the high season.
Despite the pricey feel of the place, William says elements of the project were very much budget priced.
“When we got the lights, I thought they looked terrible. So we took the strands from the middle of a coconut leaf, stuck them in flower-arranging foam and we spray painted them. Now everybody’s asking me about them, but they’re the cheapest lights in Siem Reap. Maybe I should say they’re from London or Paris?”
As for the eats, The Square 24 serves up Khmer dishes with a “Just in Case” western segment. But Telliez is finding this part of the menu more popular than expected. “I thought I’d see about the western food, possibly remove it, but in fact, I think I’ll add more. After a few weeks in Asia people say, ‘Enough of the rice, can you make me some French fries’?”
So far the combo is working. The Square 24 already has 3,000 reservations for the month ahead, having seen 2,000 diners come through in its first month alone.
Should you visit The Square 24, just be sure to make a complaint.
“I’m always checking with guests, I’m very keen for comments, it’s great when they say the food is good or the setting is beautiful, but I like the negative comments more,” he said.