‘Sevensea’ Sails to the High-water Mark
Top: Maguro and Mekajiki Shoyu Zuke. Center: Braised Abalone with Wild Black Rice. Darren Gall
Sevensea is the latest culinary concept of Cambodia’s most accomplished and celebrated chef, Luu Meng. Its aim is to combine popular Asian cooking styles with the finest seafood available.
Specializing in Cambodian, Chinese and Japanese seafood, the restaurant recently opened at the new Almond Bassac Hotel, which sits in a quiet street on the south-west back corner of the Sofitel Hotel property, on the banks of the Bassac River, just before you cross the Rainbow Bridge to Koh Pich.
I must confess here to being friends with Luu Meng – we have a shared interest in developing the hospitality industry in Cambodia. He explains that the curious spelling of the name has something to do with getting the business registered in time. However, it does indeed refer to the legend of “The Seven Seas,” as sailed by Odysseus, Jason and his Argonauts, and Sinbad.
The “bahr al-sin” – “Sea of China” – was not a single entity, historian Paul Lund notes in “The Seas of Sinbad.” “Whoever wants to go to China must cross seven seas, each one with its own colour and wind and fish and breeze, completely unlike the sea that lies beside it,” the legend says.
This diversity hints at the culinary journey on offer. The restaurant features a spacious dining area with attractive arched windows that curve around the corners, expanding the view. The kitchen is large and central, with fresh tanks and a sashimi station, and there is a large timber bar and reception area with a back wall of steel, wine racks.
The dining area is a work of art, with instillations in the form of a giant steel conch sculpture and a large Chinese-style abacus suspended above. Upstairs, there are seven private dining rooms, each featuring unique installations and themes – from antique clocks to Chinese artifacts. Depending on the room they can accommodate from eight to 40 guests.
The menu is large and attractive. As expected there is a long list of seafood dishes with prices to suit everyone from lowly newspaper columnists to heads of state. Most dishes fall between the $6 to $12 mark, with the more exotic ones around $30. The most highly prized delicacies are listed at “market prices.” I get the impression that the ones who bother to ask what the prices are, likely do not need to. There are, however, plenty of affordable dishes to select from.
The wine list, too, is well thought out and offers a wide selection of reasonably prized options along with some helpful tips to help make an enjoyable pairing with the cuisine.
I decide to try three standards, one from each style. The Japanese offering was a Maguro and Mekajiki Shoyu Zuke – tuna and swordfish sashimi marinated in soy, mirin and chillies. Spectacularly presented in a large bamboo cradle, the dish is superb. The quality of the fish is excellent and very fresh, the flavours a perfect balance between umami savory-ness, chili spice and the rich amino fattiness of the fish. It is all about balance and harmony and it is delicious.
The next dish is a Khmer classic – Kampot pepper crab. It is presented in a tagine-like hooded chafing dish set on a copper stand over a sterno flame. As soon as its lid is lifted my universe is filled with the delicious, sweet spice aromas of the Kampot green peppercorns. The crab flesh is also sweet and juicy. This is a lovely example of one of Cambodia’s greatest dishes, pure joy.
For the Chinese dish I select a braised abalone with wild black rice. Slow cooked for 48 hours and coated in a subtle sauce that is made with dried scallop, black chicken stock, Kampot sea salt and Kampot peppers, it is a stunning dish made by a true master, a revelation in elegant complexity, refinement and balance. Cantonese cuisine is all about texture and subtlety and this is a marvelous example.
I find myself once again in awe of my good friend’s culinary imagination and skill and doubt anyone would object to this opinion. Sevensea offers a unique opportunity to combine classic Asian seafood dishes all in one dinner.