Jon and I started our Loire Valley cycling trip by taking the Eurostar to Paris last weekend. In fact, we set off for Chartres just as the Tour de France pulled into town.
Predicting that we had a full week of French-only food options ahead of us, we wanted to avoid eating French food while in Paris. Additionally, thanks to last year’s Frugal Traveler Grand Tour series, Jon and I have been meaning to visit the much-hyped Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood of Paris (which somehow we haven’t had time to visit during our three other visits to Paris over the last few months).
So, I looked up Canal St.-Martin restaurants on this BlackBook site, which is great for searching by neighborhood and has well-edited, up-to-date Paris restaurant tips, and voila, it was between Le Cambodge (serving Cambodian food) and Japanese-inspired Ploum. Knowing that it’d be the last weekend of the Paris sales (Bon Marche, je t’aime) and not wanting to commit in advance to a dinner reservation time lest I run out of sale shopping time, I opted for the walk-in-only appeal of Restaurant Le Cambodge.
As the photo above attests (and as described in Blackbook’s blurb about Le Cambodge), there was indeed a queue when we rocked up at just after 8 pm on a Saturday night. On the plus side, everyone queuing spoke French and I figured the food *must* be good for a queue to be forming. On the down side, it was annoying to queue. The restaurant will take down your mobile number and ring you when a table is free, but we waited around in case the restaurant didn’t want to bother calling a UK number and just skipped us.
Le Cambodge had a lively, intimate atmosphere. In fact, it’s much like a charming, hidden-away bistro, except that it serves Cambodian food. The server hands out menus, papers and pens, and your job as a diner is to write down your own order. At first I thought that this system was genius (to speed things along in light of there being a single server for the entire restaurant). But then I realized that while you saved time writing down your own order, the sole server had a b*tch of a time keeping up with all the dishes as they were completed. We could see our dishes on the bar counter, waiting to be served. Perhaps Le Cambodge should just do away with the server all together and go self-service all the way.
Not knowing anything, really, about Cambodian food, Jon and I ordered haphazardly. Pates imperiaux sounded impressive. They turned out to be cha gio, which of course is hardly a disappointment. Even though they looked a bit ugly (seems like they were fried in a re-used oil?), they tasted good, chock full of pork, prawn and rice noodle bits and served with a nuoc cham. At 8.50 euros for six, it’s a fair deal, but pricey in an absolute sense. My personal preference would be for a smaller portion at a lower price.
The prawn rouleau was a bad value dish, even at the modest price of 6.50 euros. I wasn’t expecting it to look like a loosely-packed burrito. In any event, the stuffing consisted of two prawns sliced paper-thin, which were overwhelmed by the tons of rice vermicelli stuffing. Very bland and not worth ordering unless you love to eat flavorless rice vermicelli wrapped up in an equally-flavorless rice-flour crepe.
While the porc au caramel turned out to be more braised than lacquered, it was tender and fragrant. After polishing off the indulgently-fatty pieces of pork, I downed all the sauce as well. It was one of those sauces that you could eat all day when accompanied with plain, white rice.
Our total for two starters, two mains, and a 13-euro bottle of wine came to 50 euros.
Le Cambodge is a fun place in a currently-cool part of town. It serves enjoyable, simple dishes that seem to have a lot in common with Vietnamese food. The bottom line is that if you tire of French food while in Paris and/or want to eat where the other diners are all French, Le Cambodge is worth a try.
Restaurant Le Cambodge; 10, avenue Richerand (quai de Jemmapes), 10th arrondissement; +33 1 44 84 37 70; closest metro: Republique.