Month: January 2017

Cuisine Wat Damnak, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cuisine Wat Damnak is Cambodia’s sole entry in Asia’s Top 50 Restaurant list, itself a sub-list for the World Top Fifty List. It is to be found in the tourist melting pot of Siem Reap, gateway to Ankor Wat, a short tuk-tuk ride from the bright lights, bad food and dance beats of Pub Street. Housed in this serene colonial building, tasteful and understated, with heavy wood panelling offset with licks of baby blue, is head chef Joannes Rivierre, a Frenchman bringing his classical technique to traditional Khmer cuisine. The ultra-seasonal menu changes fortnightly, with all ingredients sourced from within Cambodia. Six courses come in at an absurdly cheap 28 USD, for which there are two options, plus a vegetarian option.


Many of the ingredients here were new to me, though the chefs skill at balancing flavour was obvious from the start. An amouse bouche had minced pork at the base of the bowl, the meat spiced heavily with garlic and chilli heat.  Shavings of coconut and palm sugar are beguiling, scattered, as nearly all dishes were, with fragrant fresh herbs.  It was as opening courses should be; a shock to the taste buds, a clear signal in the direction of the meal.  From here we take a fillet of chhlang, a river fish not too dissimilar tasting from trout, with marinated jack fruit and tree cucumber.  The former has a rich piquancy, the latter the acidity to cut through it.



Scallops come lightly seared with the roe still attached.  They are a little fleshy and a million miles away in quality from those caught around the coasts of the UK.  Far better is a fried cake that tastes purely of cauliflower sitting central to the plate, and the rich garlic sauce that ties everything together.  Another pressed cake may have been my favourite course.  Confit duck oozed experience and technique, the soft meat bound with a little rice for texture.  On top was more of that acidic tree cucumber, with a puddle of homemade oyster sauce completing it.  The oyster sauce in particular was fantastic; rich, deep, and fruity.



There a couple of soups that I forgot to take pictures of.  I know we had them because they are on the menu, but that’s about it.  Blame the wine.  Far more memorable was the pork shank in the rich sauce flavoured heavily with anise.  Strips of pork breast were all crisp fat and tender meat, with a softly boiled quails egg for luxury.  Only the bamboo shoots spoiled the party.  It turns out I don’t like bamboo shoots, which is hardly a surprise given I am not a panda.  Still, this was one of those dishes you can’t leave alone, moreish to the point that the government may want to classify it as illegal.  We remove the anise from the last of the bowl and pour the rice in, ensuring that no waste is left.


Put bluntly, desserts were not up to same high standards.  A stodgy pancake is bad, the caramelised banana and chocolate crème with it less so.  It ate alright, but, honestly, it was nothing that couldn’t be done at home for a dinner party.  A coconut panna cotta was of a similar ilk – a little overset, served with pineapple salsa and sorbet which failed to set my world alight.

The wine list is great and very fairly priced for a part of the world not known for cheap wine.  With this we drink imaginative cocktails, lots of them, given they worked out around £4.00 each.  It all makes for a pretty fantastic experience; Khmer food cooked with a precision that you just don’t see in this emerging country.  Should you ever find yourself trekking through this part of the world, Cuisine Wat Damnak is a must do.

It should end there, but there is one more place I wanted to mention in Cambodia before I leave this fine country alone.  We spent a week on Lazy Beach, a little bit of paradise on Koh Rong Samloem, an island roughly two hours boat ride away from Sihanoukville.  It is understated luxury; twenty bungalows over a kilometre of private beach and a main hut serving some of the best Asian food I’ve eaten.  It is lazy for a reason – no TV’s, no Wi-Fi, just those views above and a good book to get through the day, whilst nights are spent snorkelling in a sea that shimmers with phosphorescence.  I could have easily wrote an entire piece on just how perfect Lazy Beach is, though I am not sure that Chris and the team would want that; they seem to have a lovely existence based almost entirely on word of mouth.  Once I got through the gecko’s sleeping in room it quickly became the best place I have ever stayed.  If they want word of mouth recommendations, here is mine:  The world is a big place and I’m not going to be around long enough to return to anywhere twice if I want to see a lot of it.  I draw an exception at Lazy Beach.  Whenever I find myself out travelling in the East I will do all I can to include a stay here.  It’s simply too perfect not to.

8/10 (For Cuisine Wat Damnak)

For information on Lazy Beach see










Black Lab, Via Deliveroo

This could potentially get me I trouble, but the pubs of Moseley don’t do food. Some try to, in the same half-arsed way that I try to do modesty, but it’s not there. I live next to one that I would love to tell you were brilliant, but the reality is it’s dismal; an embarrassment to the grand building and plush interiors it houses. Still, I like to have a pint in there occasionally and I’m not about to ruin that by calling them out publically. Others don’t even try; at present both The Prince of Wales and Patrick Kavanaghs are open to folk taking in their own food, on account of them not having a functioning kitchen in which to sell their own food. I prefer this, as I can control exactly what I want to eat. So, on a bitter January Saturday evening, we descend on Patrick Kavanagh’s for beer, football, and a takeaway courtesy of Deliveroo. That sentence was so masculine it should come with a beard and a pipe.

I’d never heard of Black Lab before we placed our order with them, though Google Maps tells me that it is on Kings Heath High St.  The menu reads well; some sandwiches, some tapas, mostly with a Mediterranean slant.  Food is ordered from phones, pints obtained from the bar.

Food arrives half an hour later.  Whitebait is crisp and lightly fried, exuding a whiff of ammonia throughout the bar that upsets a few nostrils.  Camembert has an equally strong aroma, baked with a little onion that has sunk into the skin.  The inside is molten and smeared thickly onto chunks of baguette.  We round up the food with a chicken quesadilla, cheesy and not exactly brimming with meat.  It all serves a purpose.

My biggest issue is the price.  The cheapest of those three items was £8.00, the other two a tenner each – this is when I could have ordered a Cafephilia from Deliveroo for about half the price.  Will I be hunting Black Lab down in Kings Heath?  Probably not.  Will I order them again on Deliveroo?  I doubt it.  But the experience has opened up a new way of dining that I’d probably not considered before.  Take one pub that doesn’t serve food, log on to phone and order what you like.  I’m eying up The Wellington in the city centre next, already dreaming of a pint of real ale, a game of darts and a Byron burger.  Now try telling me that doesn’t sound like a plan.

The credit for this meal was provided by Deliveroo. For £5.00 credit on your first meal use the code


Temper, London


I became interested in the concept of Temper long before it opened its doors in December, back when Neil Rankin announced his plans and an entire community of non-meat eaters decided the concept of cooking bits of animal in the middle of a restaurant was a bit too much for their heads to handle. Whilst they were in endanger of spontaneously combusting, I was busy working up a sweat of my own. You see, burning bits of animal is my thing; I understand if it’s not yours, but given the choice I’m always to take a slow cooked bit of cow over a carrot. And if I can watch the magic happen whilst eating said bits of meat then I’m all yours. Take me. Do as you will.


The first thing that hits you when you descend down the stairs is the smell.  It is one of victory of the food chain in the correct order.  Of smoke and of animal. It wears you more than you wear it.  I take one of the stools around the central counter and watch the team at work.  Various bits of cow, pig, sheep, and goat, each sold in mixed cuts of 100g portions.  There are taco’s, larbs and kofta.  Sides, sauces, and sprinkles.  Aged cheeseburgers are the first to arrive; mini patties of aged beef, rare in the centre and charred on the outer, sat on freshly pressed taco’s the right side of sandy in texture.  It is the perfect two bite snack; meaty, complex and undeniably masculine.


And then the meat.  Oh Lordy, the meat.  One plate of pork, another of lamb, piled on to flat breads so that the rendered fat has a final resting place.  Each has various cuts, distinguishable only by the amount of fat between meat and skin.  I remark to the chef working by me that the clarity of flavour each cut of meat is extraordinary – “just salt, pepper, and a little fire” is his response.  If only cooking was that simple.  The process works; leaner cuts come pinker than working muscles.  Fat opaque.  Skin crisp.  Some bits require your own teeth, others don’t.  All of it is incredible.  Asking me which one is my favourite would be like asking my Dad to choose between his two sons.  I reckon a decision could be made at a push, but it’s not for my ears.  With this I order a burnt pepper salsa that adds a nice piquancy to both meats and a crumb of pork scratchings, hot pepper and pickled onion that seasons the pork to a new level, as well as providing an additional texture to a bowl of burrata, jalapeno and lime. The latter is an inspired choice of side and one that I reach for in-between mouthfuls of meat to cool and sharpen the palate.


They do desserts; a soft baked cookie and a caramel drenched pastry.  Both sound like they could genuinely change my world, though by now I am sweating unattractively and unable to finish the slices of goat kindly offered by the same chef who shared his insight.  I sit for a while and take it all in; the place is heaving at lunchtime just weeks after opening and rightly so – these people are here for meat and theatre and both are delivered in abundance.  The smell of fire and animal would stain my jacket for the rest of the day.  I wear it like a badge of honour.




Fifteen Cornwall, Watergate Bay

I have a real soft spot for North Cornwall.  It’s rugged and handsome.  Where the south of the county is a refined collection of postcard perfect towns and villages which require sunshine, the north is a thing of beauty all year round.  I prefer it in winter, all windswept and daring, when the sea is vivacious and the sun occasionally beats through the clouds and transcends the vast beaches from a dull yellow to golden.  It’s less busy.  I can walk on the beach without crowds.  I can get a table at the places I want to eat at more easily.  Both of these things are important to me.

One of the places I have been keen to eat at is Fifteen Cornwall, a social enterprise from Jamie Olivier.  It’s easy to bash Olivier, others do frequently and I have in the past, yet the fact remains that his cooking has inspired a generation of home cooks, myself included once again.  I own several of his cookbooks; his onion gravy recipe is now mine.  And the restaurant serves to help those less advantage.  If it sounds like I am trying to justify eating at one of his restaurants, it’s because I did.  The reality is that we could have had lunch at Paul Ainsworth’s No. 6 restaurant for less, yet here we are, putting our empty stomachs in the hands of apprentices.


Those apprentices and this program are doing great.  At it’s best Fifteen Cornwall stands up with some of the finer Italian cooking found anywhere on this Isle.  Antipasto lives and dies and the quality of the produce and obvious care has been taken in this department.  High quality ‘Nduja thickly spread on toast is all fire and spice, arancini is an earthy mixture of al dente rice and spongey mushroom.  We go a little bit crazy over the soft Cotechino sausage with salsa verde, less so over the metallic strips of charred pepper which end up an accessory to the other dishes.  A bread basket has good sourdough and an outstanding focaccia which tastes like aerated olive oil.

Cream laden burrata is the centre point for scoops of roasted squash that are just about holding their shape.  There is a comfort about the plate, underpinned by warming leafs of crispy sage.  It’s simplistic, maybe overly so, but then the best things in life are.


Buccatini are fat ramen-noodle-like tangles of pasta, coated in a fiery tomato sauce.  The sauce was deep and rich, with plenty of chilli heat and something more sinister lurking behind (vodka, I think?! I’ve been wrong before).  Densely packed beef meatballs complete the generous portion, though these are too heavy to finish.  Compared to this a dish of pork belly is refined, the skin finely scored to fine strips of taught crackling.  The meat is unctuous and tender, the braised lentils underneath just cooked.  My scepticism towards a vivid green anchovy and herb dressing is short lived; it is clean, vibrant, and salty – the perfect foil for the fatty cut of pig.



Desserts give us less to get excited over.  A pear cake has lost the essence of the fruit in amongst the heady spices, and ricotta donuts are a little stodgy in texture.  Both have redeeming features;  the cake’s toffee sauce and the donuts chocolate dipping pot are decadent to the point of being plain naughty.  The high point is a brick of tiramisu, doused in amaretto and restrained in sweetness.  It is a grown up dessert, elegant and well balanced.

Unfortunately, if the kitchen came out with there guns blazing, front of house must have ran out of bullets.  Service was poor, bordering on abysmal at times.  We were abandoned by one server, another eventually taking over and completely forgetting to bring the wine which I specifically ordered for the pork.  I can forgive most things but please, I beg you, do not come between me and fermented grapes.  Other than that, it was bloody lovely.  Like, seriously bloody lovely.  Proper Italian, cooked with care and attention.  We need one in Birmingham, where the Italian food is generic crap and I struggle to find a carbonara that doesn’t have cream in it.  Plus we have plenty of less advantaged youngsters who would kill (not literally.  Bad choice of word.) for this type of training.  Come to Birmingham and I promise to eat there once a month.  I’ll even forgive the forgotten glass of wine. C’mon, Jamie, I can’t say fairer than that.


Fifteen Cornwall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The Physician, Edgbaston

If I spent much of last year eating in and around Edgbaston, I did it because it is the most exciting place in Birmingham right now. The leafy suburb has flourished in to an eating and drinking hub, all in and around the bottom part of Calthorpe Road which has housed Simpsons for the last decade and a half. Over the last month or so I’ve popped in to Blue Piano for that carrot cake, had lovely cocktails at both Rofuto and The Edgbaston, beers at The Highfield, and a spankingly good boozy luncheon at El Borracho De Oro. Oh, and I also went to The Physician on Boxing Day, though I’m trying desperately to forget about that.

No one can fault The Physician for trying to fit in. They have the white Georgian building, itself a maze of rooms, hard wooden floors, paintings and soft furnishings. They have a focus on ales, wines, and game. So far, so very Edgbaston. It just happens that whilst all around have their individual niche polished to a mirrored sheen, The Physician are far murkier in their delivery. To use the name of the establishment cheaply, they are in need a heart operation, not a boob job.

I enjoyed the first thing we ate, even if it was an exercise in shopping over cookery. A sharing board features some very good salami amongst the cured meats, a slightly grainy pate, good quality olives,  with bits of veg, pickled, stuffed, blended and deep fried.  As far as grazing goes, it works, and is fair value too at £17.00.  The only other starter was a wedge of brie, coated in a breadcrumb mixture devoid of seasoning and fried until the innards have given up.  The pickled cranberries are not sharp enough to balance out the cheese, whilst pecans are superfluous additions that add nothing other than taking up a third of the plate.



And then the bit that I’ve thought long and hard about including, now deciding that if its served to me, it should be mentioned.  Two hairs, long, dark, and way too thick to have ever resided on my bonce, nestled nicely in amongst the horseradish mash that came with an ox cheek Bourguignon.  It matters not that the cheek was meltingly tender, nor that the sauce was short of the depth of the flavour I would expect, they are hairs that are not mine.  The plate is taken away with an apology, an replacement is offered.  I am struck with a sudden loss of appetite and decline.  Instead I poke away at my girlfriends decent deep fried haddock and plunge limp chips into a well made tartare.  I try a bit of a game pie where the suet crust is lighter than expected and filling is full of bits of long braised rabbit and venison.  The long wedge of carrot is practically raw.  It sums up my day in one failed bit of detail.




They take the hair and other contents of the plate off the bill and offer a complimentary dessert that transpires to be one of the better things we would eat.  A cheesecake with a delicate base, a punchy caramel mouse, topped with a layer of chocolate.  A raspberry sorbet has real depth and cuts through the richness.  There is hope here and it is to be found in the pastry department.


We settle a bill that feels too high for what was served and head to 60 metres down the road to the Highfield.  Inside we enjoy well kept beers and, later on, a couple of snacks.  For once, I stop being such a self-opinionated bastard and seek the views of those in our party.  Was I letting the kitchen mishap ruin a potentially good meal?  No.  All agree that it was lack lustre and disappointing.  The Physician has all of the right ingredient’s to succeed and the wrong recipe to work with.  I simply cant see a reason why I would go back when there is so much more to found locally.