A Change of Guard

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Friday, 8 June 2012

Fine dining in Sihanoukville at The Lemongrass Restaurant and The Deck Tapas Bar

Friday, 08 June 2012 
By Don Weinland 
Phnom Penh Post

Chefs Ross Erickson, left, and Shannon Robinson at Sokha Beach Resort discuss a dish in the Lemongrass Restaurant kitchen. Photo by Derek Stout

Re-launched in January, 2011, the Lemongrass Restaurant and The Deck Tapas Bar have engaged young Australian chefs Shannon Robinson and Ross Erickson to create new Asian-fusion cooking menus, specializing in seafood with a Japanese twist.

Perhaps it was the lamb cutlet with the duck and ginger consommé that was most convincing. The Deck, a tapas restaurant at the Sokha Beach Hotel in Sihanoukville, could accurately position itself as a subtle purveyor in the wide category of cuisine known as fusion.

The art seemed to be finding classic dishes, occidental and oriental, that were complimentary – without succumbing to clumsy or forced combinations between the schools.

The fare was refined, to say the least: no kimchi hamburgers, foie gras-topped egg rolls or other symptoms of the world cookery mélange. Dishes held the integrity of their heritage while not dissuading guests from sampling between plates.

The lamb is served on minted pea puree. The two cutlets are cooked in a balsamic vinegar slowly boiled down to its thickening point. For presentation, olive oil is drizzled over the slightly charred meat, says Australian chef Shannon Robinson, who oversees The Deck.

The dish does not betray diners seeking a true taste of Spanish tapas.

The duck and ginger consommé takes three days to prepare, according to Ross Erickson, head chef at Lemongrass, which is in the same building as The Deck.

The two sister restaurants launched new menus only three weeks ago. While both are available regardless of where guests sit, the tapas lineup is oriented toward those on the building’s patio, main courses in Lemongrass’s interior.

“I put my heart and soul into that consommé,” says Erickson, adding that he learned the dish at a restaurant in Melbourne. He has been in Cambodia for about five months, and says he studied modern Australian cuisine in Melbourne and
Asian dishes in London.

The soup begins as a chicken stock, to which a duck stock is later added. The long preparation is due to the time required to reduce the stocks, Erickson says. Puree scallops with egg white and cream go into hand-made dumplings that float with shitake mushrooms in the rosy soup.

The full-flavoured, but not overpowering, ginger in the consommé puts this dish confidently among other Asian cuisine.

The Deck and Lemongrass are a five-minute beach walk from the Sokha Resort. The building’s patio reaches over the sand, where waves brush a fishing vessel long-beached on the shore.

To stop at the aforementioned dishes would be to miss the driving force or both restaurants: seafood.

“We’re down at the ocean. There has always been a certain romance to eating seafood by the sea,” said Robinson, hinting with a smile at what most guests would expect to find on their plates.

For a tapas menu, The Deck’s seafood selection does not disappoint: scallops in lime, olive oil, crushed pistachios and basil; grilled sea bass with sour onions and red wine vinaigrette; lobster wrapped in rice skin with menthol mint and greens. The list continues.

Lemongrass’s new menu is “heavily seafood-based and Asian influenced”, Erickson said. Diners can choose from prawns or lobster poached in garlic cream sauce or coconut milk, wok-fried with Kampot pepper or lemongrass, or steamed with ginger and spring onion.

Prices, though higher than many Sihanoukville backpacker hangouts, are reasonable. Healthy tapas portions range from US$3.50 to $8. Listed mains are $9 to $17.50, and prices for the live seafood selection are seasonal.

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