Tucked away along Siem Reap River sits a restaurant offering tasty Cambodian treats given a twist. Editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Lucas Veuve sample the menu at Lava.
As no stranger to the Siem Reap food scene, successful entrepreneur Sothea Seng is always on the lookout to try his hand at something new. With his restaurants Mahob, which specialises in Khmer cuisine, and Hot Stone Café already proving popular, he looked for a niche way to serve Cambodian, as well as international food, in Temple Town.
His answer came in the form of Lava, which celebrated its first anniversary in November and sees Seng dabble with the sizzling concept of cooking. “The hot plate gradually changes the flavours and textures of food as it is being eaten and enjoyed,” he says.
The beef lok lak with duck egg ($6.90) is a prime example of how he has tinkered with a traditional recipe to bring it in line with his idea. Usually stir-fried, this rendition sees thin slices of beef placed on a large round hot plate, with organic duck eggs added on top. The lok lak sauce is made separately and added, infusing the flavour into the tender meat. A sprinkling of koosang teab (Cambodian watercress) is added on top.
As well as the hot plates, the menu takes in a range of innovative international fusion dishes. The grilled pumpkin with pesto sauce and parmesan cheese ($3.80) was created to cater for Lava’s increasing number of vegetarian clientele. Here, sliced pumpkin is marinated in a freshly made pesto sauce and served with a sprinkle of cheese, and cashew nuts, walnuts and almond flakes to add a crunch. “This is a simple but special dish,” Seng says.
Looks can be deceiving, and the proof is in the pudding with the grilled white tuna steak ($9.50). While on the menu it looks like it may be too heavy to cope with in these tropical climes, in reality it’s a delicate dish. The tuna – fresh from Sihanoukville – is fileted and perfectly cooked so it’s not too dry. It is served with a home-made Kampot pepper sauce, mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. “We always try to buy locally where we can,” Seng adds.
The banana and mozzarella spring rolls ($3.50) are a sweet delight, and twist on the popular snacks found across Cambodia. Presented in the same skin as its crispy savoury sister, this dessert is stuffed with mozzarella cheese and banana before being deep fried. The cheese and banana create a gooey mix when melted, which contrasts nicely with the crunchiness of the skin. The passion fruit sauce it is drizzled in adds a bitter balance to the sweet and salt.
All served from the upper floor of a restored, stilted wooden house dating back to the 1960s, Lava offers views out onto Siem Reap river, and ceiling fans compliment the natural breeze of the open window setting.
The location, along the quieter stretch of the promenade away from the centre of town, means the setting is quiet. As Siem Reap’s tourist-driven tentacles continue to grow this lazy, leafy part of the river will undoubtedly soon be bustling, however, for now, it’s the perfect place to escape the crowded streets of central Temple Town.