Despite being open for just seven months, Mie Café is already causing a stir among Siem Reap foodies.
The restaurant is owned and run by Pola Siv, a passionate young Cambodian chef who has had quite the journey from dish-washer to restaurateur.
Pola credits his initial interest in cooking to helping his mother as a child. “After my sister was married I was the oldest, so I had to help my mother. I believe she is the best cook ever,” he said.
Rather than regarding chopping vegetables for his family as a chore, Pola notes that he knew early on that he wanted food to be his future. But figuring out how to make that happen wasn’t as easy.
“After high school I didn’t have a chance to work in a kitchen because I didn’t have the necessary experience, so I started working as a glass-washer in a hotel.”
From there Pola made the perhaps unlikely move to Bahrain, where he worked as a server for two years. Before long, however, his sights were set on new horizons – the Caymans.
“I knew I didn’t want to come back home” he said. “I wanted to travel more, so I applied for a job in the Cayman Islands. That’s the place that most inspired me to be a cook.”
“When I was working in the restaurant, I could see the service operation, how the kitchen works. I met some famous chefs, and it inspired me a lot.”
Knowing that Switzerland is world-famous for its hospitality schools, the aspiring chef decided to save the money he was making as a waiter and apply to train in Geneva.
“Sometimes I was working for 20 hours to save the money to study” he said. “If I brought the money back to Cambodia I would be rich here, but I’d only know how to carry a tray.”
He studied in Geneva for one and a half years, before impressively obtaining his first cooking job working in the kitchen of two Michelin star restaurant, Domain De Chateauvieux.
So how did this well-travelled and newly-qualified chef transition from working in an idyllic Swiss Chateaux to owning his own restaurant just off the road to Angkor Wat?
“I didn’t have a plan to open a restaurant here,” Pola confessed, “But when I came back to visit Cambodia I found this place. I decided to stay because for me it’s a dream to have your own establishment.”
The restaurant itself is a tastefully renovated traditional Khmer house, with open-air dining beneath a wooden upstairs. The décor is unfussy, which was always Pola’s intention. “I wanted something simple, because the focus is the food.”
And he’s certainly not wrong. Watching Pola whip up some of his favourite dishes, his passion for food – as well as a few perfectionist tendencies – are clearly evident.
The Mie Café menu has something for everyone, with traditional Khmer dishes that are popular with tourists, to western favourites such as glazed ribs, and fish and chips. It’s his fusion creations, however, that are really drawing the crowds, and of which he is proudest.
One of his highest-demand items is the spicy tuna tartar, as well as a risotto dish that he says customers order again and again. His desserts – particularly the chocolate cake – are also on their way to cult status.
“I use techniques from European cooking, but use ingredients that I find in Cambodia to add the flavour of Asia. We do not pre-make anything. Our dishes may take 20 minutes, but I hope people feel it’s worth waiting for.”
As for plans about the menu, Pola intends to follow whatever is available at the local market, as to him the most important thing when cooking is the freshness.
Mie Café is just off Charles de Gaulle on the right, before Kanta Bopha Hospital. The restaurant is open every day except Tuesdays.