Stepping up the capital’s seafood offering by bringing a slice of Kep to the capital is Nesat’s main mission. Writer Jessica Tana and photographer Enric Català sample the menu.
Nesat means fishing in Khmer, and fishing is what Nesat Seafood Eatery is all about. From the fish nets strewn across the ceiling, to the painted blue boat-turned-sofa, this intimate and cheerfully decorated restaurant serves fresh seafood, delivered daily, from Kep via Kampot.
“Everybody knows the seafood in Kep, so we wanted to bring that flavour to Phnom Penh,” says co-owner and head chef, Sopheavy Chea. Chea, and business partners Sophal Thim and Sebastiaan Roodnat have managed to create a little slice of Kep’s laid back, seaside style in the capital.
While many tourists are wary of eating seafood in Phnom Penh, Chea maintains her seafood is sold out in three days or eaten by the staff. “I am very specific on quality,” she says. “Kampot is only two hours away, so everything we sell is fresh.” And if their open kitchen is anything to go by, Nesat has nothing to hide. All the seafood is grilled, fried, and barbequed, in view of any curious customers.
Another benefit to an open kitchen is that the delicious smell of garlic, clams and Pastis can be smelt wafting through the night air.
Chea is making one of her signature dishes, pasta with white clams ($4.75), where she tosses the spaghetti, sweet clams and chunky oyster mushrooms in Pastis, over a high flame and serves it with cheddar cheese. The result is a rich, sweetly distinctive meal with undertones of anise. Simply put – delicious.
As well as taking seafood from Kep, Nesat wants to bring distinctive Kep street food to Phnom Penh, but with higher quality ingredients and stricter hygiene. This, of course, means a number of barbecued seafood staples are on the menu. Served with either chili sauce, tamarind or garlic and butter, there are three sizes: 200 grams ($3.75), 300 grams ($4.75) or the platter ($5.50).
We went ahead and tried the prawns with chili sauce and squid with garlic and butter. Cooked perfectly on the outside barbeque, located at the side of the building, the prawns were crispy and light, while the squid was meaty, with a smoky flavour. The chili sauce was also a hidden gem, being both piquant and fruity.
To round out our seafood feast, we tried Chea’s version of Kep’s famous fried crabs with Kampot pepper ($5.50). Served in a sweet and sour sauce, made from onions and tamarind, the crab meat was fresh, offset by the hearty fragrance of the green peppercorns.
A messy meal – try eating crabs and prawns without using your hands – by this stage our chins and fingers were covered in seafood goodness. As we sat around the big wooden table, discarded shells in front of us, the kitchen ablaze with light from the stoves, it felt as though being at a friend’s house for dinner – all part of the owners’ plan.
“That was part of the idea,” says Chea. “We wanted our place to feel like home.”