03 Jan 2015
Owner of classy new Siem Reap eatery Charcoal worked her way up from bartending on Pub Street
Ambitious young restaurateur Saryroth Chan has opened her first venture, Charcoal in Siem Reap’s Wat Bo Road.
The stylish eatery – which specialises in upmarket French food as well as creative Cambodian dishes – is a long way from the clamour and crush of Pub Street, where she got her start.
Chan, who was born into a poor family in Battambang, built up her skills and experience under the mentorship of Frenchman Serge Billot.
Billot, the owner of a string of restaurants including Champey and Banana Leaf, hired Chan in 2005 while she was studying at the Paul Dubrule Tourism School.
She started off as a bartender, but quickly rose to being his number two, leaving in 2012 after her mother died. By then, she was running seven different restaurants across town.
Saryroth Chan is one of Siem Reap’s newest restaurateurs. Nicky Sullivan
“For 10 years now, every morning when I get up, I make a plan about what I’m going to do that day,” says Chan. “Every day I do it.”
After buying the former Selantra Restaurant and Lounge last year, the 34-year-old ran the place as it was for a short while, but planned to create something bolder and soon closed the doors for a full renovation.
Now a slatted wooden front facing the road gives the restaurant an open look, a vast improvement on the dark nook it was before.
Once inside, a dining conservatory leads you into the main dining room, an elegant space with white walls and soft grey accents.
The service is attentive and professional, the decor soothing and elegant, and the Khmer and Western menu small but carefully selected.
Top billing on the menu goes to an entrecôte served with perfectly crisp French fries and Charcoal’s own “secret sauce”, a rich blend of chicken liver, pepper and a secret ingredient.
The ritzy interior of new Siem Reap restaurant Charcoal
The ritzy interior of new Siem Reap restaurant Charcoal. Loven Ramos
Other winners include the succulent twice-roasted pork ribs and crispy fried mushrooms served with a cream dip. On the Cambodian menu, Chan has opted for more unusual dishes: there is a nhom banchok with chicken leg or beef tenderloin, a traditional crêpe stuffed with minced chicken and shrimps, and a fish fillet simmered in coconut cream with prahok and tamarind.
“I wanted it to be more authentically Khmer, so there are more herbs and spices in the dishes here,” said Chan.
After opening her own restaurant, Chan is trying to step back a little and relax. For the first time in a long time, she’s letting things follow their natural course. “I don’t really have a plan at the moment. Now that Charcoal is in place, I feel a lot more confident and can let things go.”