Our time in Siem Reap got off to a rocky start; my appetite had abandoned me during the bumpy bus ride from Phnom Penh and by the time we arrived, I wanted to do nothing more than bury myself into the bedcovers and ignore the world for days. I get Shakespearean-tragedy-style dramatic (the long suffering certain someone will attest to this) when I’m sick, which means I considered this to be a disastrous situation. Siem Reap happens to be quite an exciting city when it comes to culinary offerings, and I happened to have made a list of the restaurants I wanted to try. I wasn’t going to let a little bout of illness stop me so after a day or two of self-imposed rest and recovery, I soldiered on with the task of eating my way round the city.
Siem Reap has been welcoming visitors in their droves for years so there are really no shortage of dining options – there are plenty of the no-frills mom and pop operations serving up hearty one-dish specials, a plethora of bars and restaurants catering specifically for the tourist market in and around Pub Street, but I was interested in the more modern and eclectic offerings. In addition to the elegant Khmer cuisine at Malis and the inventive fine dining at Embassy, we also tried three of the city’s more casual but just as accomplished restaurants. All three are wonderfully placed away from the never-ending throngs of Pub Street and the Old Market, but I promise you, they are worth seeking out!
Spoons is a small but mighty modern Cambodian restaurant delivering great food and doing big things for the local community. Created by EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK), Spoons gives underprivileged youth in Siem Reap an opportunity to develop skills and gain real-life experience within the hospitality industry, whilst also providing general life skills and social support. They also have a very strong commitment to sustainability which is most evident in the stunning bamboo structure which houses the restaurant, the use of recycled materials and biodegradable products, and their support of local artisan producers. I was impressed by all the things I read about their ethos and approach, but after dining at Spoons, I appreciated their efforts even more.
You’ll be pleased to know that the quality of their food is just as admirable as their lofty goals. Their succinct but varied menu is filled with comforting home-style Cambodian dishes, delivered with a fresh and modern twist. We particularly loved their num krok, spring onion and coconut cream dumplings, which came in a neatly stacked pile with a side of rich coconut milk dipping sauce, and the flavoursome tuk kreoung, a dish of grilled chicken and rice served with a traditional gravy made from fish, shallots, spices and coconut cream. Everything was full of fresh and vibrant flavours, and clearly executed with a lot of care. And to top off the whole experience, expect efficient service with a lot of smiles!
What draws diners to this simple restaurant is the young local chef’s fresh approach to the rustic dishes he grew up on. As someone who eats with their eyes, I basically lapped up the dishes at Pou Restaurant before they even came near my mouth… it’s not fine-dining finesse but rather a pure level of vibrancy on the plate which can’t help but make your mouth water. It all looks very simple, but the chef’s knowledge and commitment to local ingredients is fantastic, and he does not hold back when it comes to delivering bold flavours. We enjoyed the grilled chicken and avocado salad, and the beef lok lak. In stark contrast to the other lok lak I had across town where the beef was chewy and tough, the steak version here was served medium rare, tender, and with a satisfyingly potent sauce spiced with local kampot pepper! We found the service to be enthusiastic though a little rough around the edges, but this won’t stop you from having a fun and delicious time at Pou Restaurant.
When a restaurant uses ‘fusion’ in their tagline, I’m always a little nervous about what misguided and overthought dishes we might be getting. Thankfully in the hands of Chef Pola, at Mie Cafe we find creative yet refined cuisine which throws together his love of local Khmer dishes and the knowledge gained through Swiss culinary training. The result is a menu filled with many curious combinations which all sound delightful. After much deliberation, we settled on the vivacious tuna tartare where the generous chunks of tuna mingled with creamy avocado and sweet mango, and the sautéed frogs legs with mushrooms. We appreciated the skill and effort it took to meticulously prepare the legs into bite-sized lollipops, making it even easier to devour the juicy morsels in a heartbeat!
The rib eye lok lak, topped with stir fried mushrooms and onions, is perhaps the least elegant dish on the menu at Mie Cafe but it’s undoubtedly the heartiest. Our particular steak could have done with a little more trimming, but between the bountiful portion and the bold flavours, it was still a winner. There was no denying the fusion in the lobster ravioli when this classic Italian pasta came in a very traditional Khmer curry sauce. Aside from the pasta needing a few more turns through the roller, the lobster chunks within were lovely and it all worked together quite well. Mie Cafe delivered an excellent all-round performance with its creative cuisine in an idyllic setting of a traditional Khmer house and garden – definitely a restaurant to visit if you’re looking for a meal with a difference!
If you’re looking for more Cambodia travel inspiration, check out my other posts…
- A guide to Phnom Penh for first-time visitors
- Review of Khema in Phnom Penh
- Review of Malis in Siem Reap
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