Creative cocktails complement modern Mediterranean fare at Che Culo. Writer Joanna Mayhew and photographer Lucas Veuve drink in its finest offerings.

Che CuloWhile its tongue-in-cheek name refers to luck – literally translated as “what ass” – Che Culo relies on talent over fortune when it comes to its contemporary drinks and small plates. Open since late 2014, the bar and eatery has so far shown sticking power. “We just wanted to have a go; use our knowledge from back home to bring nice drinks and food here,” says co-owner Nick Hattingh.

Hattingh’s cocktails prioritise balance and incorporate local products, such as Kampot pepper. “We have a knowledge of the drinks’ world,” he says. “And we’ll make anything to people’s preference.” The venue also rolls out drinks based on current events, including the recent Purple Rain ($3) to honour Prince. The plum-coloured drink, topped with pink froth, sees vodka, blueberry liqueur and puree, combined with caramel and lemon, which protects against a sickly sweet taste and leaves a slightly tart finish.

The Polski in Cambodge ($5) stars Zubrowka, a bison grass-infused Polish vodka, which gives off a green tinge and results in a natural nutty flavour. This mixes seamlessly into the bittersweet martini-style take on an apple sour, incorporating apple liqueur, apple sugar, egg white and muddled cucumber with lemon juice. And the English Garden ($5) – topped with its own “garden” of julienned cucumbers – is a masterful combination of gin, Pimm’s, violet syrup, fresh passion fruit, ginger ale and cucumber.

At Che Culo, technique is cared for even with the most basic of drinks. Whisky sours involve a two-shake process, or a “dry shake/wet shake” to ensure a lasting frothy texture throughout the drink.

This focus on technique carries over into the impressive food menu, which showcases the Mediterranean region through share plates ($5.50 to $7) by night, and burgers, salads, sandwiches and pastas ($5) by day – summed up as “dude food,” by Hattingh.

While there is much to love, perhaps its best feature is the numerous specials throughout the week, with 50-cent meatballs, $2 tacos, $3 bowls of wings, $3 souvlakis, featured drinks Monday to Thursday, and daily happy hours (5pm to 7pm). Added to this are reliable staff, a nice mix of hip hop, electronic and classic tunes and chic décor. The smartly designed space follows a Spanish church motif, tall wooden tables and cool blues on mosaic tiling.

As for whether new endeavours are on the horizon, the owners’ lips are sealed. “We don’t kiss and tell,” says Hattingh, adding that for now they just want customers to leave with “a happy, full tummy and glowing cheeks – and a taste for more”.

6B, Street 302, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 069 639 204.
Open Monday to Saturday, 11 am until late.