Offering authentic Mexican cuisine, Agave Cocina is one of the latest offerings to spring up at the Russian Market. Editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Lucas Veuve sample the menu.

My previous encounters with “Mexican” food were limited to Tex-Mex so, at first glance, Agave Cocina’s menu had me stumped.

Of course, there’s the familiar fajitas, burritos, nachos, tacos and enchiladas, but when it came to the tlayudas, flautas and a range of other ingredients listed below dishes, I was lost.

“The menu is based on Oaxaca [pronounced wahaca] dishes,” says Pataran, referring to the southern Mexican state famous for its rich indigenous cultures. “It’s the real cornerstone of Mexican cooking and draws influences from Latin America, Cuba and other Caribbean islands.”

While the options may veer away from what is familiar to an amateur palate, the dishes served are undoubtedly divine.

We started with the pulled pork tamales ($5.50) in corn husks, served with queso fresco cheese, salsa verde and chipotle créma. Using gluten-free flour, corn is dried, soaked in lime juice and pounded before being mixed with seasoning and water to create a paste. This is spread thinly and the pulled pork and queso fresco cheese added before being rolled in a corn husk and steamed to tease out the sweetness of the meat.

The dish was tender and flavoursome, with the outer coating as delicate as the pork inside, and perfectly complimented by the tang of the home-made salsa verde it is served on.

I soon found my tlayudas query answered when Mexico’s version of a roasted chicken pizza was served ($10). Somewhere between a quesadilla and a calzone, freshly made tortillas are stuffed with shredded chicken, tomatoes, corn salsa, avocado, coriander, queso añejo cheese, gruyère cheese and chipotle pepper before being folded and baked in a pizza oven.

The result is outstanding, with the crisp outside contrasting with the gooey, cheese-infused inside.

The braised beef flank flauta ($7) was next – a “truly traditional Oaxacan dish,” – Pataran informs us bringing what resembles taquitos to the table. Described as “enchiladas but deep-fried”, the meat is wrapped in a flour tortilla with red mole sauce – made of chillies, chocolate and nuts – and corn added. It is then deep-fried and served alongside potato sofrito sauce topped with fresh queso cheese.

The crunchy flauta casing contrasts with the melt-in-the-mouth meat inside. The mole sauce adds a subtle kick, with the chocolate balancing it out with a hint of sweet.

Up last was the octopus salad, or la Plancha ($8). Impeccably presented, it was surprisingly light. Thanks to the Japanese cooking technique – slow-cooked overnight – the meat is soft, not the usual rubbery texture, while he charred outside gives a smoky aftertaste.

It is served atop a bed of toasted pepitas [pumpkin seeds], roasted red peppers, house-made chorizo sausage and roasted baby potatoes.

With plenty more to try on the menu – plus a choice of 45 Tequilas – there is every reason to return to Agave.

38, Street 426, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 087 882 999.
Open Tuesday to Thursday, from 5pm to 11pm, and Friday to Sunday, from 11am to 11pm.
www.agave-cocina.com