Metro’s sister restaurant has opened a couple blocks up north to rave reviews, with a new Japanese menu and more seating. Rahu chef Ross Ericson is happy to let the food do the talking; Craig Gerard was happy to listen. Photos by Dylan Walker.
Ross Ericson, the executive chef at the Riverside’s newest chic restaurant Rahu, is a man of few words. The Melbourne native started his restaurant career as a dishwasher, but fell in love with the energy in a busy kitchen, and soon had an apprenticeship learning the chef’s trade from some of Melbourne’s top chefs.
During his two years in Phnom Penh, Ericson has become one of the capital’s most inventive chefs in Japanese cuisine, but it wasn’t until a four-year stretch in London just prior to moving to Cambodia that Ericson even studied Japanese food. “We take a lot of liberties,” he admits of the new Japanese menu at Rahu Bar and Restaurant. “It wouldn’t be considered traditional Japanese food.”
Take the salmon sashimi pate (US$7.50) as an example. It is served in a Thai-style lemongrass and garlic dressing, with a thin shallot slice and a cilantro leaf on each piece of melt-in-your-mouth fish. While it’s a delicious and flavorful combination, it is hardly Japanese. Or the Tosakaan (beef lok lak) roll (US$3.50), which spins a traditional Khmer dish into Japanese form. The beef is smothered with lime and Kampot pepper sauce, which really shines through.
The Hassakan (sirloin with red ants) roll (US$4.20) is the same idea; taking a dish that the restaurant already makes, but wrapping it neatly in some seaweed and rice. But the combination, with all its pan-Asian-fusion flare, actually works. What makes it work so well is the tender USDA beef, whose soft texture is contrasted with the crush of fresh cucumber and the freshly made potato chip crumbs dusted on the outside of the roll. There are also more traditional sushi rolls, plain or spicy tuna or salmon, all deliciously fresh, stunningly presented and priced under US$5.
For those who like their fish cooked, the Japanese menu also includes four different varieties that can be grilled, steamed or broiled. The snapper with Thai chilli jam (US$5.50) is particularly unique as is the red curry salmon (US$9).
Other than the one Japanese page, the menu is identical to Metro. This is good news, especially when you can’t find a seat down the street. With more seating at Rahu, customers can usually find a place to vanish anonymously into muted colors and the stark grey walls. Like Metro, Rahu also has bartenders who mix cocktails instead of just pouring drinks. Unique beverage selections, including a range of boutique sakes, round out Rahu as more than a place to grab a bite to eat.
For his part in the menu creation, Ericson is modest. “The menu is a work in progress,” he states, referring both to the items on the menu and their presentations coming out of the kitchen. “We’re only one month old.” He opines that restaurants in Phnom Penh have been getting better and people have higher expectations. Does Rahu meet those expectations? “We try,” he says.