Writer Daniel Riegler and photographer Dylan Walker get a taste of decadent French Cooking during a visit to La P’tite France’s new home.
“See, simple,” exclaims Didier Pierrot as he pours another glass of crisp sauvignon blanc. “It doesn’t matter how expensive the bottle is, it’s about choosing the right one.”
The chef and owner of La P’tite France is certainly someone who takes matters into his own hands. Nearly anything that can be is made in house, including a selection of charcuterie and breads. Homemade pork pâté and rillettes are chopped by hand, not ground by machine, and are meaty with herby undertones providing a rich earthy flavour.
Pierrot has been in Cambodia for the last five years and started off in various kitchens and restaurants before opening La P’tite France on Phnom Penh’s riverside three years ago.
A recent move to a leafy converted villa in the heart of BKK 1 means the restaurant is now a simply, but elegantly, appointed eatery, with outdoor and indoor space as well as two private VIP rooms. “I want it to be about the experience as much as the food,” says Pierrot, who aims to cook the best traditional French cuisine in Cambodia.
Though traditional in his approach, often referring to his grandmother’s recipes, he does not shy away from a little creativity. Pierrot might offer you a canapé of salmon that has been marinated in dill and spices for three days. He pairs it not with crème fraîche but a mild yoghurt, house made of course. A mammoth pork shank is slowly braised in traditional Alsatian style, but the sauerkraut accompanying it is confited with porcini mushrooms, giving it a bit of sweetness rather than the usual tart flavour.
Pierrot imports products such as higher grade steaks like the Rossini — a filet with foie gras — but uses local beef for his standard steak frites and slow cooked beef cheeks. The bistro steak is cut thin and marinated for several days in vinegar and garlic, making it extremely tender. The beef cheeks are rich and served in a red wine reduction with creamy mashed potatoes.
Pierrot is perhaps most in his element as he describes the process of one of his signature dishes —foie gras mi cuit au torchon, which is partially cooked in a dish towel. The three day cooking process involves cleaning the foie gras, letting it sit in a closely guarded mix of spices and finally wrapping it in a towel for a 12 minute poach. The results are divinely rich with creamy discs of concentrated duck liver dotted with bits of homemade gelée.
Pierrot insists on showcasing one more specialty: his chocolate mousse. Made from dark chocolate it is nothing short of decadent — dense but still fluffy in consistency.
“This is the ultimate test for French people. If the chocolate mousse is not good, they don’t come back” he explains. “As long as people are happy with the food and the experience, I am happy.”