The Cambodian dish of kuyteav is much more than just noodles, as writer Adolfo Perez-Gascon and photographer Enric Català find out during a visit to the Phnom Penh restaurant of the same name.
Including the word “uy” in the name of your restaurant is not something that every restaurateur can get away with. But for Luu Meng, Cambodia’s most acclaimed chef, such a bold move is absolutely permitted; justified even.
For those of you that aren’t versed in the local parlance, “uy” is the sound uttered locally to express surprise, excitement and other strong emotions. So, when you include this word in the title of your restaurant, you better make sure your food is darn good. At Luu Meng’s new Cambodian fine dining venue, it certainly is.
To clarify, this is actually Uy Kuyteav’s fourth iteration. With this new outlet, however, Meng has taken the franchise in a new direction, adding a new menu of lunch and dinner dishes, and a long assortment of accompanying drinks.
The new eatery sits right in the heart of BKK1, in a space previously occupied by popular upscale restaurant Deco. Meng hasn’t made drastic changes to the place when it comes to ambiance, wisely choosing to keep the charm, taste and elegance of the bygone diner. He has, however, greenified the outside space, making the long, curved terrace bar an ideal spot to unwind after a hard day’s work.
Naturally, we begin our culinary exploration with kuyteav, the dish that the diner is named after. Phnom Penh kuyteav (large $5, small $3.80) – the deluxe version of Cambodia’s most famous breakfast dish – reaches new heights of decadence, thanks to the presence of massive pork bones and giant Mekong prawns.
Despite the extra zest, the noodle dish manages to remain loyal to the one that so many Cambodians enjoy every day.
And all good kuyteav must come with a tall glass of iced coffee (Luu Meng coffee with milk, $1.80). Meng has always been a big promoter of all things local, having confessed to being on a self-imposed quest to elevate the status of Cambodian products.
His beans are sourced locally, like the great majority of the ingredients he uses in his restaurants. Roasted in house, the difference is palpable: the intensity and aroma of the coffee put it in the same league with some of the most renowned cafés in town.
The Battambang-style sour fish soup ($4) comes next. The first thing you’ll notice is the result of masterfully combining local herbs. The starchiness of the baby taro and the tenderness of the fish make for a delightful combination of textures that completes the vivid flavors and fragrances of the dish.
We cap off the evening, sipping on one of the house’s signature cocktails. The Somros Phnom ($4) strikes a happy medium between sweet and bitter, with the palm sugar put in check by the Kampot pepper and Phnom Penh’s Samai rum. Cocktail in hand, we observe the day fade away wonder when destiny will bring us back to this superb Cambodian restaurant.