A Cambodian restaurant given a glowing review by renowned critic Jay Rayner has opened in Altrincham town centre.
Angkor Soul, described by Rayner as a “little diamond” when he reviewed its Marple restaurant for The Observer newspaper in October, is the only Cambodian restaurant outside London.
It has opened in the former Ashley Road unit previously occupied by Scalini Italian restaurant.
It’s owned by head chef Y Sok, whose family emigrated to the United States in the 1970s after the horrors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, who moved to England and was an art dealer for 20 years before moving into the restaurant trade.
“I’ve cooked my whole life and when I was living in Boston we used to hold an open house dinner every Tuesday. More and more people came and I started to get hired for private events, and that’s how I started my life in food professionally.
“After realising there was only one Cambodian restaurant in the UK, I just thought ‘why not’?”
Within three years, Angkor Soul – which also has a vinyl record shop in the basement – was booked out for months in advance and was recently nominated as the best restaurant in Stockport. More space was required – and Altrincham is the lucky beneficiary.
“I’m a bit nervous coming to Altrincham because it’s a bigger place and there’s more competition here,” she said. “But I’m very happy to be here and very excited.”
So what can diners expect from Cambodian food?
“I hate comparing it to other countries but I would probably say the closest thing is a combination of Thai, Vietnamese and, because Cambodia was a French colony, there’s was a lot of French influence.
“To me it’s important to keep the integrity of what we cook. Not everybody gets us, but we get a lot of hardcore foodies who support us, and that’s the clientele we intend to have.”
The food – which uses lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and garlic as a base – certainly proved a hit with Rayner.
He wrote: “It’s always the grilled pork dumplings, that leak stock with each bite, alongside a few pickles. And then the crispy chicken wings, which seem to have Sichuan peppercorns in the batter, and which make my lips tingle and my heart sing. Plus a little bowl of chilli oil for dipping. That’s lunch done for £11, or £12.50 with a tip. God, it’s good.”
The publicity instantly added around 30% to takings, Y Sok said.
“The funny thing is, I didn’t know who Jay Rayner was, so it was a complete surprise,” she said. “I think he was actually on a train to Manchester and I think he just stopped off with his partner because we’re on the border of Derbyshire. When he left someone said ‘oh my God that was Jay Rayner’, and then the review followed.”