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Sophy's - Northern Khmer Cooking with a Long Beach Sensibility

By: totallyrandomman Posted: November-22-2011 in
Beef Skewers
totallyrandomman

Sophy's granny taught her to cook rice at the age of nine, because, if she couldn’t cook, how on earth would she ever get a good husband. Her granny’s efforts both succeeded and failed. Thiry odd years later, she is still contentedly unmarried, having not yet snared that elusive husband her granny so coveted, but she has been the chef and proprietor of a highly successful Cambodian restaurant in Long Beach, Califronia for over ten years.

Now she has decided to chance her arm, after 15 years or so of her brother’s persistent prodding, at opening a restaurant in the motherland .

And so I find myself, on a balmy Sunday eve, entering a cosy establishment by the intersection of street 104 and Street 13, homely with intimate accent lights and deep red feature walls, enticed by the prospect of Northern Khmer cooking with a western dining sensibility.

The venue, just back from the riverside and but a stone’s throw from the post office, is understated and inviting and the staff are warm and welcoming. It has only just opened and there are still a few finishing touches to be attended to (I saw one or two seats still wrapped in their plastic travelling cloaks) but the overall feel is convivial, and the tenuous aroma of herbs and fresh coconut emanating from the kitchen enticing.

First to arrive are a set of Beef Skewers with a lemongrass satay and Pickled Papaya Salad. Although the beef is perhaps a little on the tough side, the satay is sweet and flavoursome with a late spice kick at the back of the throat. The Papaya Salad has plenty of that satisfying, ever so slightly sour, tanginess typical of a good Khmer salad.

Next come Fish Cakes, which are thin, almost a fritter, with a spongy, vegetable texture, giving way to herbal waves of flavour and only a subtle undercurrent of fish. The whole thing is pleasingly integrated with a satisfying chewiness which could have descended into rubberiness in the hands of a lesser chef.

This is followed by a far more western style Salmon Salad, with juicy salmon, complimented by onion piquancy, tomato fruitiness and a tingling, top-of-the-palette spiciness.

Next comes the Beef Angswah, strips of beef as thin and melt-in-your-mouth tender as a good slice of English roast beef, with a French-style anchovy sauce, complete with that distinctly French vinaigrette zing, but with a light, throat-tickling spiciness and hint of the tropical which gives it a distinctly Cambodian spin.

For me, the highlight of the meal was the Fish Amok, delectably textured, full of wonderful coconut sweetness, carefully balanced by the flavour of the fish, the spices and the texture and mild, complimentary bitterness of gno leaves. It was, quite possibly, the best amok I have tasted since I arrived in Cambodia.

Finally, we enjoy the Pumpkin Jelly Custard, a pudding I would never have considered ordering. The fibruous, almost nutty sweetness of pumpkin is pleasingly counterpointed by a creamy, textured custard, which rather reminded of me of rice pudding or semolina.

Sophy’s location, set back from the main drag, means that, whilst still being conveniently located to spill out onto the riverside for a few drinks or a post-prandial promenade, it has the feel of being a secluded gem waiting to be discovered. I confess myself to be glad that I was one of the few to discover it before the rush starts.

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