Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tepui at Chinese House: South American and Mediterranean flavours

Travelfish, Apr 19, 2011

Bringing a bit of South America to Phnom Penh, a team of Venezuelans have opened a new restaurant and bar at the Chinese House on Sisowath Quay. Antonio Lopez de Haro, originally from Caracas, Venezuela, first visited Phnom Penh while he was living in Singapore. He liked it so much he kept coming back, and eventually decided to open a restaurant here that drew on some of his favourite cuisines -- the Venezuelan food from his childhood and Mediterranean tapas influenced by the flavours of Asia, where he has lived for the last six years.

A tepui is a table-top shaped mountain that is found in South America; the name means “house of the gods” in the language of the indigenous Pemon peoples who inhabit Venezuela’s Gran Sabana. “Each tepui is a completely different ecosystem,” Lopez de Haro explains, and it’s clear that this idea has influenced Tepui, which is worlds apart from the average Phnom Penh eatery.

There’s the interior, for one. The Chinese House is one of the best preserved buildings in town, having been barely changed since it was built in 1903 by a Hokkien Chinese family in the French villa style with Asian touches, like a Chinese-style doors and traditional tiled roof. Since Tepui opened, they’ve moved the bar and lounge area downstairs and the restaurant upstairs, which was built of hand-hewn hardwood and has a decidedly elegant atmosphere.

But what’s made me a regular at Tepui is the food. The head chef, Gisela Salazar Golding, is also from Venezuela, but trained in Spain, most recently working in Dublin and Shanghai, which is where the pair met when Lopez de Haro was a regular at the restaurant she cooked at. Golding’s creations are easily Phnom Penh’s best tapas -- the seafood salpicon with avocado served with banana chips, patatas bravas and the tuna tartare with a wasabi emulsion are some of my favourites. The drinks menu is also creative, and shows a more Asian influence than the food, with cocktail ingredients like tamarind, sake and green tea liquor (luckily not all in the same drink).

Tapas plates at Tepui range from $4 to $14 (for foie gras) and the mains are between $12 and $17. Cocktails are $4.50 or $5. Prices are on the high end for Phnom Penh, but they’ve just started a happy hour offering free tapas to those who purchase drinks between 17:00 and 19:30.

Tepui at Chinese House, 45 Sisowath Quay, at Street 84 in front of Phnom Penh Port.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, bar is open 17:00 til late, kitchen is open 18:00 until 22:30.