Villa Kiara team opens fusion food restaurant

Villa Kiara team opens fusion food restaurant

cassia3
Cassia restaurant, formerly LÉscale. Photo by: CLAIRE BYRNE

Danielle and Laurent Baldini are one busy couple. Not only do they run the quaint boutique hideaway Villa Kiara, have a hand in the two-for-one pizza-doling machine Kholene, and a consultation role with the Royal Bay Inn, but they've also taken on the hotel's neighbour, former French eatery L'Escale, and turned it into a fusion venue, Cassia.

"Laurent used to be executive chef at the Royal Bay Inn," said Danielle. "I worked here before and was asked back to help with management. Then the owner of L'Escale left in August quite suddenly, so the hotel was left with a new operation to rent. It kind of just happened, so we don't know yet where exactly it's going to go."

With Laurent as chef and Danielle taking on operational  duties, the couple runs Cassia as a separate business in partnership with the Royal Bay.

"We want to want to have our own identity," said Danielle. "It's not a hotel restaurant."

While Kiara is a more intimate setting, and Kholene a casual joint, Danielle said her husband has relished the opportunity to play around with the menu and really show off his skills.

"Laurent is a very innovative cook. He likes to create recipes, try new food, spend his time in the market, see what the fish monger has. "There's room to be creative here. We can present last minute specials depending on what we have. Sometimes we have locals, who come regularly to Cassia, they know the menu by heart, they've had everything, so they can trust Laurent and ask him what he has today, then he'll just go off and create, so that's his fun."

The set menu consists of more traditional fare than its predecessor, with Khmer and western dishes, packed with Cambodian flavours and spices.

"Our signature dish is shrimp carpacchio," said Danielle. "Fresh shrimp sliced with a little bit of ginger, lemongrass, tumeric, lime and chilli. The lime cooks the shrimp, it's really delicious, people really like it."

Other highlights on the menu include homemade caramelised pork with bacon and fresh bamboo shoots, fresh calamari sauted with Kampot pepper, duck with pineapple, and French favourites like a one kilo cote d'beouf to share.

"We source most of our food locally, all the seafood, most of the meat and Laurent prepares all the meat himself," said Danielle.

"We do import some products of course like capers and cheese. But all the main ingredients are local. We like to use local farmers for the vegetables and fruits."

As for the important stuff, Cassia – named after the local flower – has a full bar, cocktail menu and international wine list.

"The cocktail I always have is the Lady D," exclaimed Danielle. "After Lady Diana – or Lady Danielle! It has gin, Campari, lime juice, a tiny bit of sugar, shaken and topped up with soda, it's very nice."

The couple aren't new to the restaurant game. Apart from their various Siem Reap enterprises, the pair once owned an eatery in Seattle, Washington. Cambodian-born Danielle grew up in France where she met her French-Italian partner, and the couple only moved to Cambodia after returning for a holiday five years ago.

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