When we came to an abrupt halt outside the entrance of Malis in Siem Reap, I was in a mild state of shock. Our tuk tuk driver hooning down a one-way street in the opposite direction might have contributed had this been our first week in South East Asia, but by this point we were nonchalant about these things. I was actually more taken aback by the grandeur of Malis, and relieved I had decided to ditch the flip flops in favour of real shoes. From the attention-grabbing entrance to the sultry dining room which wrapped around a lush little courtyard, the whole space was rather stunning. As was the food, but I had already suspected that would be the case. Malis, brainchild of local celebrity chef Luu Meng, has been serving its refined take on traditional Khmer cuisine for close to 15 years in Phnom Penh and has recently brought this same touch of class to Siem Reap!
To complement the delusions of grandeur I gained when I set foot into Malis, it seemed fitting to start with the royal mak mee, a dish which comes directly from the Royal Palace. We watched intently as our waiter transformed the plain crispy noodles into a luscious assortment of colour and texture with the addition of a pork sauce, shredded omelette, spring onions and bean sprouts. The fragrant sauce is the star component which marries everything together – a potent blend of Malis’ kroeung, a traditional curry paste, and a generous splash of coconut milk to mellow it out. The green mango salad with smoked, dried fish we had alongside also proved to be a wonderful example of balance. On its own, the fish would have been too intense and salty but paired with a sweet and tangy salad, it shone.
It would be criminal to leave Cambodia without one last fish amok, so we dutifully ordered Malis’ version of the national dish. Three small parcels arrived, each piping hot and almost bursting out of the banana leaf seams, their inviting aromas wafting straight to my happy place. After over a week of eating fish amok, I can completely understand why Cambodians are so in love with it. The simplicity and adaptability is part of its allure as you know each is going to be slightly different depending on the chef’s tastes and tweaks. At Malis, they have gone for full indulgence – plenty of fleshy fish, plenty of spices, and to cap it off, a generous dollop of rich coconut cream on top!
I also had a soft spot for the saraman beef, an unctuous curry where the beef was slowly braised in a traditional kroeung paste with additional spices such as star anise and cassia bark, and coconut milk. It reminded me very much of my beloved Malaysian beef rendang, but with more sauce – something I very much approve of as I love nothing more than smothering plain white rice with lashings of curry! It also went very well with the side of zucchini, simply stir fried with plenty of fresh garlic. In between my gigantic helpings of the curries I also enjoyed the moringa soup, a light broth with moringa leaves and pumpkin pieces which the locals believe have medicinal properties. I’m no expert when it comes to natural remedies but can confirm that it was exceptionally soothing and I felt healthier with each sip.
Usually when the sweet treats arrive, I quickly succumb to a sugar coma and am only capable of uttering a few ‘umms and ahhs’, but Malis’ inventive fusion creations caused quite the stir at our table. The Malis mousse is their signature offering, a jasmine flower infused mousse surrounded by fresh fruit, served with crunchy rice doughnuts and coconut ice cream. There were a lot of flavours going on here and we didn’t love them all – the mousse was too floral for our tastes, but the fried goods and cool ice cream were delectable. We agreed that the kampot pepper brûlée was inspired, the hint of warmth from these fresh green peppercorns set this aside from your everyday brûlée – definitely the must order dessert in my opinion!
Dining at Malis was quite the treat and a fitting end to our time in Cambodia – the food was generous and satisfying, while the service was friendly and efficient. We got to indulge in dishes we have come to love during our time there, discover some new favourites too, and do so in the most gorgeous surroundings. I think this sums up the Malis ethos and hospitality perfectly – their aim has always been to restore Cambodian cuisine to its former glory and deliver it in style!
Thank you to the team at Malis Siem Reap for looking after us so well, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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
- A guide to three of the best contemporary Khmer restaurants in Siem Reap
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