Eclectic sharing plates shine at Black Bambu, where a good cause is just the garnish for creative, global food. Writing by Joanna Mayhew. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
Black Bambu’s contemporary cuisine is hard to put in a box. Though often labelled as Asian fusion or tapas, executive chef Al Schaaf insists it is neither. “We want to give people an opportunity to experience a lot of different flavours.”
While the majority of plates are designed for sharing, they are decently sized and draw from a plethora of influences: Khmer, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Moroccan, Indian, Spanish, American and everything in between.
Inspired by Schaaf’s travel and work in Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean, dishes range from vegetarian flatbread pizza and mini burgers to chilli crab linguini and Koh Kong chicken wings.
Opened in late 2014 as a Cambodian Children’s Fund project, the restaurant – managed by restaurateur Tom O’Connor – also serves as a vocational training centre, with trainees making up half the staff and profits funnelled back into the organisation. But rather than use this as a draw card, the venue relies simply on the food. “We’re good at what we do,” says Schaaf.
This, thankfully, is an understatement. Each creation is not only masterfully plated, but also layered with numerous small, surprising touches and flavours. The house made ricotta salad ($7) boasts moreish ricotta dotted with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, rocket and basil. The airy cheese is offset by sharp sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy edamame beans and small cubes of sweet preserved lemon peel.
The soy and black pepper caramel pork belly ($7.50) is braised for four hours with soy, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, garlic and peppercorns, and glazed with reduced brown sugar. Served with fried pork skin, pickled vegetables and toasted rice powder, the offering’s added Kampot pepper nicely balances the sweet sauce. The heavier miso salmon and okonomiyaki ($8.50) combines two Japanese dishes, with thick cubes of miso-glazed salmon topping vegetable-stuffed pancakes. The corncake-like option has added details of sliced nori, local sprouts and delicate roe.
But the braised lamb shoulder ($14.50) was the most impressive dish. The large, tender cut of meat is cooked Moroccan-style using fennel seeds and cumin, topped with a demi-glaze using pomegranate molasses, and served with tumeric and ginger sautéed chickpeas, spinach and a light mint and cucumber yogurt.
Black Bambu’s only downside is its environment, which feels sterile and overly stark, though sleek. The minimalist, modern and light space has high black tables and tube lights, with pops of colourful Khmer art, and outdoor seating.
Luckily, the restaurant also does not skimp on creativity for desserts, with Schaaf concocting a line of homemade ice creams incorporating everything from craft brews to roasted pumpkin. “Ice cream should be fun,” he says with a laugh. “I’m serious about my food, but I try not to take it too seriously.”