Review: Cuisine Wat Damnak, Phnom Penh

It’s no secret that Cuisine Wat Damnak is my favorite restaurant in Siem Reap, but I wondered if the Phnom Penh branch, which opened during the pandemic, could possibly be as good. Happily, I only have positive things to report.

Sampling lunch at Cuisine Wat Damnak in Phnom Penh.

Cuisine Wat Damnak’s philosophy is that terroir defines authentic Cambodian flavors  that fish from the Tonle Sap and herbs foraged in the provinces will always produce a superior dish. They use local ingredients to create traditional Cambodian flavors, combined and prepared in creative and non-traditional ways.

Cuisine Wat Damnak Phnom Penh continues in this tradition, with a slight twist. While the Siem Reap restaurant is only open for dinner and only offers a tasting menu, Phnom Penh is open for lunch with an à la carte menu and an eight-course tasting menu for dinner. The restaurant is headed by chef Sothereak, who worked at the Siem Reap restaurant for many years, but chef and owner Joannès Rivière still creates the menus and recipes.

Although I have never been one to think that an eight-course menu is too much, I still appreciated having the option of an à la carte lunch menu. The lunch menu features a handful of appetizers, mains and desserts, which change monthly, and are all reasonably priced between $5 and $8. If you want a complete menu, you can choose any three dishes for $16.

Cuisine Wat Damnak dining room. There’s also upstairs dining and a private dining room for bigshots.

My dining companion and I had fresh pomelo and black cabbage salad with cassava cake, coconut cream, and spring onion vichyssoise, duck confit spicy fried rice with holy basil and fried egg, Sanday fish green curry with round eggplant and basil, creamed amaranth, long bean, and coconut broth.

The desserts, always a high point of meals at Cuisine Wat Damnak, diverge from Cambodian cuisine and feature ingredients that aren’t typically found in local fare, but often draw inspiration from street food and vendors set up to sell sweets to the after-school crowd. We had the dark chocolate, peanut and caramel brownie with butter-fried banana and salted peanut nougatine, and tapioca pearl pudding with fresh coconut and sweet corn with coconut sorbet and popcorn nougatine, and both were excellent.

Now of course the menu will have changed once you visit, but the dishes are always interesting, creative-but-not-too-creative and delicious. The restaurant can also cater to those following a plant-based diet, with vegan and vegetarian options for both lunch and dinner.

Cuisine Wat Damnak’s chef Sothereak.

The dinner tasting menu is $45 for eight courses and an amuse-bouche, and is a treat for the palate. Going for a tasting menu at Cuisine Wat Damnak is always an experience, which is helped along by the restaurant’s stylish dining room. The restaurant has been tastefully renovated since the building’s Black Bambu days, with a warmer and more welcoming atmosphere. There’s also a private dining room available for groups.

In summary, Cuisine Wat Damnak used to be my favorite restaurant in Siem Reap, and now it’s my favorite restaurant in Phnom Penh. Make a reservation in advance, because it’s often full.

Cuisine Wat Damnak Phnom Penh
Open Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (last orders at 2 p.m.) and dinner hours are 6:30 to 11 p.m. (last orders are at 9 p.m.)
29 Samdech Mongkol Iem St. (228), Phnom Penh
T: +855(0)99 358 520

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