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Embassy, Siem Reap – Creative Khmer Gastronomy

June 1, 2018
Dessert at Embassy in Siem Reap

I looked over the menu not once, but twice, fervently studying each and every course listed. There are seven on the tasting menu and none of them have any mention of a fish amok. This, dear friends, startles me because it is quite unusual for a Cambodian restaurant to be without a version of the national dish, but then, Embassy is not your usual Cambodian restaurant. This is Cambodian-inspired fine dining, where chefs Pol and Sok have combined their love of local ingredients with their French culinary training. The double act are nicknamed the Kimsan Twins, though they aren’t really twins but coincidentally share a surname. I get it, it’s catchy, but after dining at their all-female restaurant, I think the food and service is memorable enough.

I’ve barely had time to admire the crisp white tablecloths and the very chic decor before the amuse bouche arrives. It’s a steamed baby tomato stuffed with buffalo; I like that it looks dainty and cute, but tastes a lot bigger and bolder. I take this as a sign of things to come and heartily look forward to the next course. The lotus stem salad comes tightly packed together and well dowsed in the sweet and sour dressing which I’m a fan of, even though it means the slow cooked pork belly which is also supposedly present, is nowhere to be tasted.

Dining room decor at Embassy in Siem Reap

Tomato amuse bouche at Embassy in Siem ReapLotus stem salad with pork belly at Embassy in Siem Reap

Our soup course is a peppery broth poured over a a beautifully assembled pile of taro root, prich leaves, flowers which the staff keep assuring us are edible, and a piece of grilled sanday fish. As with many of the Asian-style broths I know and love, it’s got a a lightness to it which makes me feel like I could drink gallons, and a soothing quality which makes me feel like that’s the right thing to do. Then, as if our waitress could read my mind, we were offered seconds… we politely declined to save precious stomach space. However, their bemusing offer did warrant a bit of discussion over our palate cleansing granita. Never have I ever (this will be useful for that drinking game one day) been offered a second dish during any of obscene number of tasting menus we have done… and it wasn’t just once, they asked several times throughout the rest of the evening… those with large appetites should definitely take note!

Soup being poured over grilled fish at Embassy in Siem Reap Soup course Embassy in Siem Reap Granita palate cleanser at Embassy in Siem Reap

When I read the dish description which included smoked eggplants, minced shrimps, crispy tofu, and holy basil sauce, my tastebuds were immediately turned off. Two of those things I liked, two of those things I didn’t, and all four of them together made me very uneasy. After the clearing the plate in the name of research, I concluded that there was merit in the combination but not it was something I would be inspired to recreate. Texturally, it was a bit of a damp squib but at least the pungent chargrilled eggplant and pool of vividly green sauce raised my eyebrows in interest.

Smoked eggplant and shrimps at Embassy in Siem Reap

The second main was roasted chicken, which would have been dreadfully boring had it not been tarted up with honey from Along Veng Mountain, mashed jackfruit, a local fermented fish paste, red ant sauce, and served with black sticky rice and vegetables. Nothing boring about that combination. It came out looking as avant garde as it read on the menu, but ultimately this motley crew of ingredients somehow came together and delivered quite the performance. The honeyed chicken went nicely with the slightly bitter jackfruit, which was a nice textural contrast to the rice, which was a welcomed bland note amongst all the other flavours, and so on… I didn’t say it wasn’t convoluted!

Roasted chicken with honey, jackfruit and ant sauce at Embassy

The final flourish was one of my favourites of the night, pandan rice cake served with palm sugar, green coconut ice cream, and a dragonfruit gel. The latter I could take or leave, because aside from looking bold and unusual, I personally think dragonfruit is the most lacklustre of tropical fruits. The rest however, were a pure delight as the flavours reminded us of a good old Malaysian cendol. At a guess, I would say the pandan rice cake was steamed… it had a soft but slightly bouncy texture… those who are fans of South East Asian desserts will know what I mean, and utterly love this! To be honest, the rest of you would too as the combination is simply sweet, exotic, and delicious.

By the time you read this, none of the delectable dishes I have waxed lyrical about above will be on the menu because the tasting menu changes each month at Embassy. This stems from Chefs Pol and Sok’s commitment to using what is fresh and in season, and no doubt to also put their culinary skills and imagination to the test. I thought I had a handle on the fundamentals of Khmer cuisine, but then came here. Dinner was a real treat and a re-education, and we even got a box of their house-made macarons to take home and nibble on whilst we mulled over the mix of things we had just consumed. Embassy serves food which is fun and inventive, but these ladies definitely mean business as they constantly try to push the boundaries of modern gastronomy in Cambodia!

Pandan cake and coconut ice cream dessert at Embassy

If you’re looking for more Cambodia travel inspiration, check out my other posts…

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