And both our steaks were right: Tender and tasty. The baked potato was cooked to perfection, firm yet soft, with the only drawback was that it came cold.
IT’S opening night at Molly Malone’s Steakhouse, and here I am, on the fang as they say, and in the company of that renowned Khmer steak fancier, Madam Chhout-Chhout.
I don’t normally attend restaurant opening nights because it takes a few days for new systems to settle, for the chef and staff to get it right and ensure that everything cooks, so to speak.
But I’m making an exception after a culinary disaster in Phnom Penh where the dining is mostly right on the dollar. I made the mistake of ordering an Australian T-bone steak in a Chinese restaurant.
Silly I know, and it’s best perhaps not to name the establishment in question, but the steak in the Chinese restaurant was…well, words almost fail. What a sad morsel of meat. A miserly thin strip of beef that had curled in on itself, creating a little puddle of messy grease. The damned thing hadn’t even been grilled: it had been stewed beyond redemption. I sent it back, changing my order, much to the horror of the waitress who exclaimed, “But it’s an Australian steak sir!”
Of course I’m purely to blame here. I think it was Confucius, or perhaps it was John Wesley Harding or maybe even Bob Dylan, who said: “If you want to eat steak, go west young man and go to a steakhouse joint.”
So on returning to the safety of the home patch in Siem Reap, I set out to right matters by sampling the fare at Molly Malone’s Steakhouse on its opening night on Sunday.
Ever since I arrived in Temple Town almost three years ago, I have railed against the absence of good steaks in Siem Reap restaurants.
Last December I wrote: “How difficult, dammit, is it to char-grill a steak in the American or Aussie manner? On paper it seems simple: grab a slab of good meat, chuck it on the barbie with heat high, sear one side, flip it, sear it, eat it.”
Good steaks can be had in Siem Reap in the five-star hotel restaurants, but they are expensive, coming in at around $25-$30.
In the town’s restaurants, steaks are much cheaper, but they are mostly prepared in European style, which inevitably means on an inadequate heat, resulting in beef that’s more stewed than grilled.
Last year, I did make a breakthrough, discovering award-winning Nest Café’s grill selection, which includes steaks such as US prime rib eye ($17); US prime strip loin ($16); US prime short rib ($16); Australian tenderloin ($16); Australian strip loin ($15).
I gave Nest steaks the big thumbs up, but more importantly Madam Chhout-Chhout gave an absolute okay. It was a little known fact, imparted to me by Thilo Krueger, owner of the Swiss-Germanic Tell Restaurant, that the Khmer are great steak fanciers, and can be downright discerning about slabs of meat placed in front of them.
So, with Madam Chhout-Chhout’s approval, Nest Café has become the benchmark by which I judge all steaks in town.
And so we come to the newbie, the Molly Malone Steakhouse, which opened on Sunday night.
This eventuated because the Irish owner of Molly Malone’s, Emer Leahy, decided that after six years of operation, the kitchen needed refurbishing anyway. And, having noted that a steak dish was traditionally the most popular item on the menu, she decided to go all the way with a steakhouse because “I didn’t see any reason why you had to pay $25 for a steak”.
But converting into a steakhouse was easier said than done, and the opening was delayed for well over a month.
The secret to a good grilled steak is of course in the grilling, and finding the right griller presented a big challenge. The original plan was to go with a flame griller but this turned out to radiate too much heat, turning the kitchen into a sweat box. The ancient maxim of “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” was not applicable because Emer did not want her long-time chef, Thoeun, to get out of the kitchen and quit.
So Plan B was put into effect, and it was decided to go with a ridge grill. But the commercially available ridge grill had, in Emer’s opinion, too small of a ridge area so she decided to get her own grill made locally. After a lot of mucking around, the new stainless steel kitchen with the right ridge grill was ready to go.
The result? Well the proof of the steak is in the eating and on Sunday’s opening night, the first customers to chomp at steaks was myself and the good Madam Chhout-Chhout.
The selection of steaks at Molly Malone’s is admirable, with eight cuts ranging from Australian rib eye (10oz $14.25, 16oz $16.50); porterhouse T-bone (12oz $15.75, 16oz $20.25); and bacon-wrapped filet mignon (6oz $13.25, 8oz $16.75).
The menu also includes Australian striploin, Cambodian tenderloin fillet, teriyaki striploin, a filet mignon, and surf’n’turf with jumbo prawns.
Two side dishes (or “sidekicks” in Molly Malone parlance) are included, or if ordered as extras cost $1.50.
Sauces, each at $1.50, include an interesting preparation of sauteed onions and shitake mushrooms.
I opted for the 12oz porterhouse T-bone and Madam Chhout-Chhout chose the 10oz rib eye.
The T-bone was a fine cut of meat, but Madam Chhout-Chhout was a tad unhappy that a chunky ridge of fat went down the middle of the cut. But there was still plenty of good fat-free meat.
Getting the rare-medium-well done mix right in Cambodian restaurants is tricky – all too often rare becomes raw, medium becomes well done, and well done becomes overdone.
We both opted for safety and ordered our steaks medium-rare and the outcome was rewarding.
There’s really not that much than can be said about steaks: they are either right or they are not. They are either tough or they are not.
And both our steaks were right: Tender and tasty. With my T-bone, I did miss the charcoal tang that comes with a flame grill, and I felt that more heat could have been applied to sufficiently sear the outside of the steak to give texture and that extra filip of succulence. But that also probably comes from being first off the grill that night.
As for Madam Chhout-Chhout, she happily demonstrated how the knife slid effortlessly through the steak, a good sign. Her first utterance was: “Ok,” which means good in anyone else’s language and her final verdict was: “I’m happy.” Enough said.
I ordered a baked potato and green beans sautéed with bacon as side dishes. The baked potato was cooked to perfection, firm yet soft, with the only drawback being that it came to the table cold. The bean dish was zesty albeit a little overpowered in taste by the bacon.
Madam had a salad that was crisp and crunchy and a pepper sauce that was adequate.
The steakhouse came up a good bet allowing for first night nerves, and once the chef ratchets up the grill heat, the venue should come alive with the sound of happy diners.
Here’s hoping, anyway.