I stumbled upon this new restaurant last night so immediately gave it a try. I was particularly interested as I’d been to Cambodia earlier in the year and not only tried amok, I’d learned to make it in a cooking school. Amok is one of the most traditional dishes of Cambodia and is a curried fish dish steamed in a banana leaf.
The styling of the restaurant would have to be described as varied at best. There are many traditional Asian pieces around the room including paintings and stone busts. These are interspersed with pieces that might normally be found in a restaurant with industrial styling including a large sign spelling AMOK behind the bar, made of what appears to be steel guttering and a large lighting fixture which is basically a roll of wire fencing with an LED strip through it.
The waitress who greeted us was very friendly and helpful. Obviously the liquor licence hasn’t come through yet as currently the restaurant is BYO only so I was directed to the bottle store a few doors down to pick up some wine or beer.
The menu is full of mouth-watering flavours of Cambodia but many had a more modern Western twist as well. Divided in ‘small’, ‘to share’ and ‘big’, we chose cured salmon with pomegranate and a young coconut dressing in a betel leaf, and naked prawn with chocolate bacon, smoked paprika, mayo and gherkin in a slider bun from the ‘small’ section for starters.
For mains we chose char grilled quail with puff rice, pickled papaya, longan fruit and tamarind dressing from the ‘to share’ menu and the fish amok with Tasmanian salmon from the ‘big’ section. Oddly the char grilled quail was marked as a vegetarian option as was another dish with octopus so there maybe a cultural translation issue there.
The prawn slider and salmon in betel leaf were presented very nicely and the salmon dish in particular was delicious. I got the prawn slider as the chocolate bacon intrigued me. The chocolate flavour wasn’t prominent but it still tasted fantastic.
The quail was cooked nicely however the puffed rice in the salad did give me the impression of somebody pouring Rice Bubbles over my meal. That said, it was still very good. I thought the Tassie salmon was an odd choice for the amok since I believe it’s normally done with a white fish however I love salmon so who am I to complain and there are many many variations on how to cook an amok. The result was excellent with a lovely curry flavour but if you’re looking for any heat in your curry though this is not what you’re after. Cambodian food in general is much less spicy than some of its other South East Asian neighbours.
I think Amok has a lot going for it. I certainly want to go back and try other items on the menu. There are a lot of Asian restaurants in the area but no other Cambodian ones that I know of. This may be a boon for people who like Asian food at the milder end of the spice scale. The modern take on traditional food seems to be well done. The chef came out to chat to some of the diners about their experiences so they’re obviously not afraid of feedback.
I think the main issue the restaurant is facing is the decor. It doesn’t have a modern Asian feel like other local restaurants such as Saigon Sally, Tokyo Tina and Mr Miyagi. It’s sort of a half way house between modern and traditional and as such it lacks consistency and vibe. They may not have the decor budget of these other restaurants however a simple consistent style could work wonders for the place. The fact is, the only reason I was in Amok in the first place was that Tokyo Tina and Mr Miyagi had waits well in excess of an hour to get a table so it seems to be interior design is money well spent.
I imagine getting a liquor licence will be a priority for the owners as that’s generally where the best profits are. I also think the menu needs a bit of a tidy up. Beyond describing non-vegetarian meals as vegetarian, the descriptions of the meals could use work.
It would be a shame if these issues held the restaurant back from being a success as it certainly wouldn’t be the food at fault. Let’s hope they know how to run Amok.