At Pépé Bistro, expect familiar French comfort food with some local twists. Matt Surrusco sat down for three tasty dishes and one sweet dessert – from homemade foie gras to crème brûlée. Photos by Enric Català.
French restaurant and bar Pépé Bistro opened in March, but the owners behind it are not so new to the Phnom Penh culinary world.
Aude Moulard, co-owner and executive chef, finished a two-year stint cooking for the French ambassador in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Her business partner, Florent Montmeat, who manages Pépé, opened popular cocktail bar Chez Flo on Street 308 in 2014. In mid-June, Montmeat said he was in the process of selling the bar so he could try something new and focus on Pépé.
Moulard, 26, graduated from the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, in 2015. As the second-oldest of seven siblings, she says she often cooked for her family at home.
“I was too energetic so [cooking] was the only way to calm me down,” the chef says, adding the bistro’s name is in part a homage to Moulard’s grandfather, a retired chef.
We started with the mackerel rillette with beetroot and raspberry sorbet ($6), which offers a variety of flavours, including the sweet sorbet, plus mango, pomegranate and market-fresh fish in the rillette, placed on two thick pieces of sourdough bread from a local French bakery. Tuna on toast will likely never satisfy me again.
Next, the homemade foie gras ($12) with Fine de Bourgogne – Moulard’s father’s recipe – was served with four slices of buttery brioche, a mango compote and Kampot sea salt and pepper on the side.
The chef suggests laying a piece of the French foie gras atop a slice of brioche, then adding a pinch of salt and pepper and finally the syrupy mango, all of which created a pleasant balance between the spices and the sweet compote.
For our main, the saku tuna tataki swam in a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables ($14), resembling a cream soup with a sushi surprise. Five cubes of Pacific red tuna, are marinated in ginger and soy sauce and seared on two sides, retain a tender, red colour in the middle. The potato puree has some crunch from broccoli, chopped red and yellow peppers and carrots and thin cuts of aubergine, with black sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
For dessert, we tried the chef’s grandmother’s recipe, mémé’s crème brûlée ($5), which had a fruity Cambodian twist – diced pieces of passion fruit, dragon fruit, mango and watermelon spread to one side of the crackly layer of torch-caramelised brown sugar. The sugary crust of the light cream mixed well with the juicy fruit.
Pépé’s elegant yet comfortable atmosphere includes dark blue interior walls simply accented by lines of gold paint and black metal accoutrements, and cosy chairs and a couch. There’s also a front patio with outdoor seating and beautiful Cambodian tiles.
Combined with the ambiance, Pépé’s fine-dining-meets-comfort-food cuisine is a culinary choice of which your grandpa – pépé in French – would surely approve.