Known for landmark locations, extensive bakery and homemade ice cream, The Blue Pumpkin is more than your average coffee shop. Craig Gerard meets with managing director Arnaud Curtat to get the scoop.
A long-standing Siem Reap institution, The Blue Pumpkin made an anticipated foray into the Phnom Penh food scene in late 2010. “On the first day we had people coming straight into the store,” says Arnaud Curtat, The Blue Pumpkin’s founder and managing director. “They knew the name from Siem Reap.” The brand is certainly well known amongst Siem Reap travellers. The Blue Pumpkin location right at the mouth of Pub Street ensures almost every visitor sees the café, and people strolling through Pub Street slurping down waffle cones of mango ice cream are like walking billboards for The Blue Pumpkin.
The Phnom Penh flagship location is equally brilliant. Located on the riverfront at Street 144, the restaurant is poised to draw tourist attention. However, Curtat says many of the clients are city residents. “We have a lot of repeat customers, people who love the food and come back again and again.” The same is even truer of the second Blue Pumpkin location atop Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard, where the afterschool crowd makes up a large portion of the repeat business.
It is easy to see why the brand is so popular. The menu is simple to follow—and the pictures on the menu actually look like the food that emerges from the kitchen—but the cuisine is complex enough to keep return diners excited about their next trip. For example, the fish amok raviolis (US$4.50) combine a Cambodian curry with rich, creamy pasta. The traditional amok ingredients, which are normally XX pounded, are instead thinly sliced in this dish, giving an extra crunchy texture from the lemongrass and tamarind. Another example of creativity are the unique sweet and savoury goat cheese and pumpkin dumplings (US$6), served on a bed of spinach with a honey dressing and candied pumpkin.
The menu is not all fusion. Traditional sandwiches, salads and quiches make it easy to find comfort food. The chicken sandwich (US$4.75) combines juicy chicken breast on ciabatta bread smothered with creamy hummus and topped with tomatoes and zucchini.
But The Blue Pumpkin may be best known for the selection of boutique homemade ice cream. Combining local fruits and traditional flavours, there is a wide array of frozen creamy goodness. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the tangy green lemon kaffir lime. A double scoop serving of rocky road and peanut flavours is a perfect accompaniment for a stroll down the riverfront esplanade.
Curtat, a pastry chef by training, designed the original menu with his wife for the opening of the first Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap in 2000. At the time, Curtat’s wife was doing fruit carvings for hotels in Siem Reap specialising in pumpkins, which is where the name Blue Pumpkin originated. Since then, they have tweaked and expanded the menu, bringing in a French chef as a consultant. The changes to the menu have proven successful. Not only is there a diverse selection of inventive dishes to choose from, Curtat is seeing a constant flow of visitors coming in for lunch and more. “It’s not French cuisine, not Thai, not American,” he says with a smile, “It’s just food we like to eat.”