When it comes to South East Asian cuisine, Cambodian isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But a humble restaurant at the Windsor end of Chapel Street is on a mission to change that, bringing the authentic flavours of the country to Australia’s shores.
Amok Restaurant is the culinary baby from the chef, Woody Chet, and his wife Chanthida Penh. Having completed stints at esteemed CBD restaurants Coda and Tonka, Woody wanted to share his interpretation of his homeland’s distinct flavours with Melbourne locals. Since 2015, amok has been giving diners a unique culinary experience that expertly blends modern Australian cooking techniques with Cambodian flavours.
The venue takes its name from a traditional Cambodian dish (and unofficial national dish), where curried fish is coated in thick coconut milk with kroeung – a traditional wholesome mix of turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, chilli, shallots and kefir lime. It’s then steamed or baked in a cup made from banana leaves. As a ubiquitous part of the cuisine, Woody and Chanthida felt this best reflected how well Australian produce sits with classic Cambodian recipes. Woody’s own signature style of amok features on the menu with Tasmanian salmon, reaffirming just how well the two cuisines go together.
However, the emphasis on local produce doesn’t stop there. Oysters come from South Australia and Tasmania, grass-fed lamb and pork come from the Yarra Valley and fresh produce is sourced daily at local markets.
This combination results in the creation of sumptuous dishes that will have you calling out for more. Start your adventure into the South East Asian country with freshly shucked oysters, served with pomegranate boba, black Kampot pepper and truffle oil.
Move onto the share plates, where the delicate yet punchy flavours of Woody’s mother’s traditional Khmer cooking shine. Opt for the cured salmon with betel leaf, pomegranate and young coconut dressing, or chicken ribs with taro chips and sweet pineapple chilli. You won’t want to share either, so order another serving or try the fresh market calamari salad, served with baby mango, jicama, green apple and chilli bok. If you do want to share, remember that the majority of the dishes are gluten-free so no-one feels left out.
As tempting as it is to fill up on the sharing plates, make sure you leave some room for the big ones. Woody’s Cambodian duck curry won him Most Outstanding Apprentice Chef at the Australian Culinary Federation’s Fine Foods competition and now sits proudly on the menu. You’d be silly not to order the restaurant’s namesake, but there’s also some stiff competition in the form of twice-cooked beef rib with caramelised coconut chilli, pickled pineapple and pickled morning glory.
If the thought of choosing sends shivers down your spine, opt for the popular chef’s sharing menu. Your palate will be taken on a rollercoaster of tastes and textures over seven courses, making it the perfect introduction to the Cambodian cuisine.
There aren’t many places that you can safely claim are changing the culinary game in Melbourne. However, Amok is doing just that, introducing the diverse flavours of Cambodia to the locals and creating a standout dining experience that can’t be found elsewhere.