Ruth Allan enjoys homely Asian cooking in her imaginary Cambodian auntie’s house
Altrincham’s new Cambodian restaurant Angkor Soul comes with baggage - in a good way. The first one opened in Marple a couple of years ago, securing a great review from Confidential’s Neil Sowerby. He described it as ‘quietly brilliant’ in February 2017. Next thing, national critics like Jay Rayner came calling, waiting lists grew… and now Altrincham has it’s own branch.
Dishes are somewhat less grand than the names like Royal Amok (fish curry, £13.95) would suggest. Yet the spices really sing, perhaps due to Cambodian cuisine’s ‘easy on the chilli’ approach. The Royal Amok, for example, comes pocked with whole star anise, snuggling into coconut milk and flaky fish. Everything close to the warming stars is gently lifted rather than nuked by heat.
This is the kind of everyday restaurant I wish they had on the Curry Mile...
Corn fritters (nom pout, £6.95) serve doughnut realness stoked with lemongrass. As in Thai cooking, there’s probably more of each spice or ingredient (garlic, scallions, ginger) in every dish than Schwartz pack into a supermarket jar. Yet this is homely Asian food at its best; juicy prawns, hunks of tofu, seitan, oxtail and slow-cooked beef reconfigured into stir fries and comforting, coconut-based curries.
There’s a chilled vibe going on too. The guys at the next table are comparing Strava and sourdough stats. Elsewhere, couples catch up over Chinese Lucky Buddha beers (£3), honey sriracha wings (£6.95) and Angkor’s signature, sticky cauliflower balls (£6.95). As Sowerby notes, these are a little on the ‘hefty’ side but they’re a treat for old school sweet and sour pork lovers (ie. me).
I wish we’d tried the six-hour oxtail broth with braised brisket and meat balls (beef kuthiew, £12.95). But, it’s hot, so we have the freshly flavoured ‘pleah’ salad with tofu (£7.95, a little underwhelming) and minty vegan summer rolls (£4.95, very good) instead. Stir-fried flat rice noodles, with palm sugar, tamarind and prawn (cha kuthiew, £14.95) are the pick of the noodle crop.
Saraman - a North Cambodian braised beef and peanut curry (£15.95) - is basically my late nan’s stew; there’s some meat in here, carrots and potatoes. However more star anise and cooked peanuts (seriously, these are the nuts) make this the most intriguing thing on the table.
Other surprises include a white chocolate and raspberry tart (£4.50). Not very Cambodian you’re thinking… But who cares when you get a wodge of pure, molten white chocolate pocked with densely flavoured fruits, packed into a slightly overdone shortcrust. The brown crust adds to the textural waltz and we find ourselves out of tart before we know it. Not so Cambodian sticky-caramel-meets-molasses black rice pudding (£4). There’s enough here to satisfy a Cambodian sun bear - and his family.
Altrincham is a good spot for the second Angkor Soul. The food scene here continues to flourish. Blanchflower, Porta, Oxford Road Café, and home-grown concepts like Sugo are so successful they’re opening branches in the city centre. Bem Brasil’s new Sardinian concept, Sardus Cucina, is just next door too.
The décor at Angkor Soul is less polished than Sardus but feels more cohesive; the murals on the wall work brilliantly, the family photos and trinkets add a genuine, homely vibe and not in the contrived ‘front room film set’ feeling you get from some branches of Dishoom in London, or Tampopo at times. It feels like your Cambodian auntie’s house that’s been turned into a three-tier, higgledy-piggledy restaurant, complete with outside loo across a cobbled alleyway to the side.
We drink the Cambodian iced coffee (£3), a Camp-inflected treat and Lucky Buddhas. The menu includes a clutch of wines. I like the look of the organic, vegan merlot (Santa Digna, £20). It’s simple stuff, with the focus on casual fun.
I like the lack of pretension, and there’s an excellent range of vegan options too. In fact, most of the menu can be vegan if you like; nothing seems to be a problem. This is the kind of everyday restaurant I wish they had on the Curry Mile. Perhaps the owners will think about opening a third branch over there. Or near my house in Old Trafford. Just a thought…
Angkor Soul, 20 Ashley Road, Altrincham WA14 2DW. Tel 0161 2228760
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Pleah 5, summer rolls 8, cauliflower 7, corn fritters 8, Royal Amok 7, noodles 7, stew 8, tart 9, rice pudding 8
Homely chilled vibe going on