One of Chef Luu Meng’s many restaurants in Phnom Penh, Kanji reopened in March with a simplified regular menu, plus a tasting menu that changes weekly. Matt Surrusco and photographer Enric Català tasted a refreshing five-course set dinner, dragon sushi roll and select sake.
When it reopened in March, renowned Cambodian chef Luu Meng’s Kanji restaurant was in the same location and had retained its name.
But the menu at the fine dining eatery, which first opened in 2012 and features dishes inspired by Japanese, Cambodian and French cuisine, was simplified, says Phal Leakhena, general manager of Almond Group, which owns Kanji.
“Sometimes with too many choices it doesn’t work with this cuisine,” Phal says, preferring to describe the offerings as Meng’s “signature cuisine,” which transcends any one national cuisine.
In addition to the regular menu changing from a hardcover book to one oversized page, now, every Tuesday, Luu and Kanji’s head chef roll out a unique, five-course tasting menu for $28. We sampled a set meal, as well as a signature sushi roll and limited-edition sake.
The set menu kicked off with a refreshing tomato and basil carpaccio, complete with a scoop of strawberry basil sorbet to cleanse the palate. The mix of salad greens surrounded by a circle of tomato slices was topped in a tangy ponzu sauce dressing, which paired well with the fruity sorbet.
Next, the ebi salad was a colourful display of similar mixed greens, with diced tomato and avocado, red onion sauce and three steamed shrimp, which were tender and sprinkled with fish eggs.
The next course, a hotate dobin mushi, was a hearty, but not heavy soup, similar to miso, but with steamed scallops, tofu, carrot, turnip and seaweed in a slightly salty broth. It’s a soup one would especially enjoy on a rainy day.
The meat on the braised boneless oxtail was nearly tender enough to cut with a fork and the red wine sauce, which had a slightly spicy kick, was excellent for bread dipping.
For dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream atop a bed of boiled red beans with thinly-cut orange slices on the side was sweet and satisfying.
Outside the set menu, we also sampled a red dragon sushi roll ($15), which is assembled and garnished to resemble the mythical beast, complete with two bulging fish egg eyes. Inside the rice-and-seaweed roll – the dragon’s body – is prawn tempura and cucumber, while the outside has small slices of eel lightly cooked with a torch before being layered like dragon scales along the length of the roll.
The sushi paired well with a glass of limited edition sake ($20, or $96 per bottle), which was light, crisp and served cold.
With formal, modern decor and a sushi bar against one wall, the restaurant’s ground floor has seating for about 22 people. Private dining rooms upstairs for up to 10 people, and one that seats 30, are also available.
If you care to indulge in delicious fine dining that excels in its simplicity and lightness, and also highlights Japanese cooking without being limited to one cuisine, Kanji will surely delight one’s palate from starter to dessert.