Whether cooking for the King or loyal customers at his Phnom Penh bistro, Armand Gerbié makes French food with flair. He tells Gregory Pellechi all about it, with photography by Conor Wall.
French –Khmer restaurateur Armand Gerbié’s is somewhat legendary in Phnom Penh. It seems everyone who is anyone in Cambodia has eaten at his bistro or, in the case of the Royal Family, had the man himself come to them to demonstrate his culinary expertise.
Armand’s classic menu – which includes steak, duck and baked Alaska – and unique personal touch have provided the solid foundations on which his Phnom Penh reputation has been built.
“I love it here. In daytime, I’m bored. I can’t wait to come here and meet the customers, have a joke with them, cook for them,” says the personable restaurateur, who has worked at both the Ritz Carlton and Hilton in Sydney, Australia. “They love it when the boss talks to them at the end with a digestive.”
Ever the willing host, Armand can be found in his restaurant six nights a week welcoming guests, chatting with regulars and providing a show-stopper dish that he is known for –Armand’s Tenderloin Rossini ( US$21).
Beef tenderloin is cooked to order in front of guests and served with a Fois Gras sauce alongside green beans and roasted potatoes. A toasted tomato topped with bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and olive oil is placed on the side.
With the grace of a master artisan, Armand works before his guests splashing on cognac into a pan before setting it alight and frying the tenderloin in a blue glow. As the flames flicker out, Kampot pepper sauce is added to the pan and Fois Gras is folded in. The meat, ever centre stage, is cooked in the sauce, reaching perfection before being plated.
The show, described by Armand as an “old-fashioned French thing”, is performed countless times for patrons new and old and has drawn bookings from as far as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Beijing.
King-Father Norodom Sihanouk even placed an order with Armand on his recent return from the Chinese capital and was treated to a three-course meal courtesy of the chef. The Royal Family dined on French onion soup made with Sauvignon Blanc, Tasmanian smoked salmon with capers, spring onion and bread and butter, and of course tenderloin.
But the popularity his bistro has not gone to Armand’s head. He has kept the restaurant in the same small venue since it opened. Kept compact, with only a few tables and room at the bar for patrons to have a chat over a glass of wine, the bistro on Street 108 is a world away from the chaotic main drags of Phnom Penh.
Busy each night and with good reason, it seems that the restaurants success is to continue – especially judging by the letters Armand has received from satisfied customers.
“They said it’s the best [steak] of their life. I don’t know what they’re eating but they said mine is the best,” he says.