Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Maybe it’s the romance of indulging one’s wonderlust and empty stomach in SE Asia. Perhaps it’s the location set in what feels like worlds away from the tourist-centric Pub Street. Or maybe it’s that slight uncertain feeling the tuk-tuk driver actually has no idea where he is going as you pass through streets covered in darkness (he does).  Whatever it is, a visit to Cuisine Wat Damnak feels like something special.

Ranked #43 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the only restaurant in Cambodia to make the list, it can be stated with confidence that this is Cambodia’s best restaurant.  While this may not sound like such an accomplishment at first blush, this country has some seriously delicious food on both ends of the cuisine spectrum.

Founded by a French couple who decided to stay in Cambodia, Cuisine Wat Damnak serves technical, masterful cooking that takes full advantage of the many gastronomical wonders the country has to offer. Indeed, rather than just changing with the seasons, the menu changes every two weeks.

Given that kind of rapid menu turnover, one might think the food suffers.  Fear not, though, as every course was a gustatory hit. Moreover, the chef may be French, but there is no reliance on French ingredients like butter, cream, cheese, truffles, or fois gras.  This is high Cambodian cuisine that leaves you full, but never heavy.

The icing on the cake (durian?) is the jaw-dropping value offered here.

There are two course menus you can choose from, and the table need not order the same menu.  Each menu consists of six courses, there is no service charge or additional tax, and it only costs TWENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!

The four of us enjoyed the course, had plenty of bottled water, and two skillfully selected bottles of wine.  The damage (or lack thereof) was a good bit under $200.  Unbelievable.

I’m really not sure if there is another place in the world that can provide such an outstanding meal for such an unbelievable price.  If I lived in Siem Reap, I would visit every week to try each menu for sure.

If you’re in Cambodia, this is an absolute, 100%, no questions asked, MUST VISIT restaurant.

Let’s Eat Cuisine Wat Damnak!

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Amuse bouche – pickled turnip under a tofu foam.  Amazing start.

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Shredded duck confit in a stir fried “rice salad” of puffed and toasted rice.

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Grilled “sanday” fish in galangal leaves with a green mango salad.

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The perfectly-cooked, meaty white fish after unwrapping the leaf.

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Messed with the lighting here a bit.  Pork and young ginger sour soup with lime, green cabbage, and “crispy breast.”  Perhaps the most Cambodian dish on the menu. A bit of an acquired taste, but I loved it.  The crispy, juicy pork was outstanding.

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Mekong langoustine in crab coconut broth with lemon basil, pumpkin fruit, and shoot.

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Pandan brioche french toast, sesame nougatine, and dark chocolate ganache.

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The petit fours showcased different kinds of local, Cambodian fruit accompanied by a chili-infused salt.  I really loved this idea of using fruits instead of the standard macaroons, etc.

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The receipt was accompanied by homemade tamarind gummies.  Interesting flavor and a great way to finish the meal.

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A parting shot of the restaurant.  At night, it looks like a home set in the woods.  Very cozy.

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La Bombance in Nishi-Azabu (ラ・ボンバンス in 西麻布)

Well, it’s been a while since the last update.  We were itching for some fine dining, but had no real occasion to celebrate.  We decided to try La Bombance thanks to its ease of access (it’s near Roppongi station which is on my commuter ticket) and because it’s in Gurunavi’s Top 500 restaurants in Japan.  One Michelin star doesn’t hurt either!

Stated plainly, La Bombance is an amazing restaurant for any occasion (or in our case, non-occasion).  It’s a cozy affair with four tables, one long counter-top, and an interior only slightly fancier than your average izakaya.  Still, it’s clear from the very beginning that La Bombance is on top of its game in terms of both service and taste.  It’s fancy enough to celebrate a special event (like the classy family seated next to us enjoying the father’s birthday), but at a price that’s reasonable for a regular date night out.  The course comes out to around 12,500 a head, while the drink menu, extensive in shochu, sake, wine, and beer options, starts at just 800 yen.

The food is stellar through every course with beautiful presentation, flavors, and a sense of humor.  Several dishes feature different dashi, all of which are incredibly satisfying.  The humor is especially evident in the whimsical menu that plays with the Japanese language to create a kind of puzzle that keeps you guessing the whole evening.

This was a no-miss meal that I highly recommend.  The chef’s technique is similar to Jimbocho Den‘s Zaiyu Hasegawa-san, but I am going to give La Bombance the one-up here. The free bottle of limited edition Bombance sake the manager gave us on our way out was the unexpected icing on the cake.

Let’s eat La Bombace!

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The Japan menu, with its numbers, symbols, and odd characters create a great talking point throughout the evening.  The English menu, however, is more straightforward.

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The first course came covered by a lily pad topped with some of these ingredients.  I didn’t get a photo, but when you pick it up, a hole in the middle is revealed and the ingredients fall through.  This is a ginger gelee with junsai (water shield), abalone, shrimp, and summer vegetables.

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Next was a fairly simple corn served in the kaki-age style.  Juicy, salty, and perfect with alcohol.

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A nod to Spanish tapas- fig and sesame sauce, pon de queijo with shirasu (whitebait fish), and prosciutto-wrapped mango with popping sugar candy.

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Back to Japan, the next course was pike conger eel soup (hamo), togan (winter melon), and okra “surinagashi”  (pureed okra mixed with dashi).

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La Bombance’s signature featuring three luxurious ingredients- black truffle, fois gras, and shark fin soup atop a chawan mushi.  I hate the process of farming shark fins, and I also think it’s a bit of a cop-out to mix luxurious ingredients like this together, but this dish…this dish was absolutely incredible. One of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

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The hits kept coming.  This is a take on ocha-zuke (a very traditional Japanese dish of tea poured over rice), featuring sea urchin, amaebi shrimp, kazunoko (herring roe), and ginger.  So. Effing. Good.

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The presentation of this dish seems to be a nod to Italian cuisine, and features tachiuo  (hairtail fish) in a simple salted-and-grilled style, unagi eel sushi, okahijiki (salsola) and shiitake mushrooms served cold, and a fried “ebi shinjo” (shrimp dumpling) wrapped in Kyoto togarashi pepper served with a salsa.

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The meat course was thinly-sliced wagyu with matsutake mushrooms covered in an ankake sauce.

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Somen (cold noodles) with fried ayu sweetfish and a rayu (chili oil) and sudachi citrus infused tsuyu sauce.  Salty, sweet, spicy, smooth, crunch, slippery, and utterly delicious.  The best part? Free refills of noodles!

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Dessert was a matcha sorbet atop anko beans and mochi, a sesame sorbet consisting of only sesame, sugar, and icea (INCREDIBLE), and a “white coffee” blancmange.  Simple in presentation, masterful in its technique.  An amazing finish to a very memorable meal.