Since opening its swanky doors, Jaan Bai has proved a popular addition to the sleepy city’s dining scene. Marissa Carruthers and photographer Charles Fox see what all the fuss is about.
It’s hard to miss Jaan Bai. The ceiling-to-floor glass frontage and colourful mural that covers the outside wall make it stand out among the row of identikit electrical shops and phone stores that line the quiet Battambang street.
Since opening little over a year ago, the hip restaurant has brought a new breed of dining to the country’s second-largest city. And what a welcome addition it is, offering a range of well-presented, incredibly cooked dishes, packed full of flavour and served at reasonable prices.
Operated by NGO, Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT), which works with under-privileged children, Jaan Bai, rice bowl in Khmer, operates as a training restaurant offering a fusion of Thai, Khmer and Western food.
However, don’t be put off by the term training as there’s nothing amateur about the food, or service, at this contemporarily kitted-out, artistic space.
Contributing to Jaan Bai’s success is leading Australian restaurateur, John Fink, and David Thompson, owner of Michelin-starred Nahm in Bangkok.
They were both jetted in to dish out onsite training, as well as host trainees in their elite restaurants.
Thompson also helped put the finishing touches to the signature menu, with many ingredients grown at the nearby CCT agricultural centre.
Manager Pea Rachana says, “This has been an amazing opportunity for everyone working here in so many different ways. We are always learning more and looking at new ways to impress our customers.”
The result is a menu that makes decision-making difficult but the chaa kdam Kampot pepper crab with chilli jam ($8) is a mouth-watering must. The meaty crab is draped in lashings of peppercorns, giving it a hot hit, while the sweetness of the accompanying chilli jam, containing deep-fried chilli blended with a tamarind sauce, calms the kick.
The twice-cooked coconut braised beef rib with prik nahm pla ($10) is tender to the touch. The beef falls apart with a gentle prod of the spoon, thanks to being cooked in coconut cream for five hours on the stove and then in the oven.
The delicate coconut flavour adds a slight sweetness to the succulent meat, while the lemon, mint and garlic of the prik nahm pla bring a bittersweet smack to the table.
Smaller snacks are available, and they’re not so much on the small side. The eggplant and mushroom dumplings ($3) are firm to the bite and the mellow mix means neither ingredient dominates. The accompanying chilli sauce wakes the whole dish up.
The Pailin corn fritters ($3) use corn bread from the western province, while the sauce is made from ginger-infused water. The result is crispy fritters with a chilli-ginger caramel giving a subtle balance of flavours.
Add a lengthy list of cocktails served into the evening and Battambang has also bagged itself another nice nightspot.
1 Street 2, Battambang
Tel. 053 650 0106
Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11.00am to 10.30pm.