The Khmer sister duo at this modest Siem Reap eatery serve up impressively genuine and affordable Italian fare.
Is it wrong to be so surprised that such mouthwatering Italian food comes from Cambodian hands? La Bruschetta is in the middle of the action, steps away from night markets and Pub Street, but has a humble location on subdued Street 07.
Ambience & Amenities
The restaurant is like you’re sitting at nonna’s dining table, waiting while she “whips you up a little something to eat.” There’s no secret kitchen down the hall or service windows. You can see and smell all your food being prepared at the small counter at the back of the restaurant. The wooden cutting boards hanging on the wall as decorations actually get used by the chef as she needs them. At first, I thought it was impossible to whip up arancini and a pizza (from scratch!) in a small space with nothing but a deli slicer, fryer and a toaster oven, but when you think about it, that’s really everything an Italian mammina needs.
When dining here, I wouldn’t say the ambience is the greatest. It’s a small space that will probably require you to get cosy with your neighbours if it’s busy. The hard wooden chairs and drab floors and walls don’t conjure an inviting mood. If you’re on the patio and the rain picks up, the thatched straw awning will leak and you’ll be forced inside.
If you’re worrying like I was where the hell the bathroom could be, it’s out the door to the right of the kitchen. It’s down an outdoor alley with a tiny sink set up and a little hut for the toilet at the end.
The menu is spread out over these blackboards above the kitchen and out on the patio. There’s also a small but comprehensive menu attached to a clipboard that will be on the table, which mostly features what you already see on the blackboard but has some new items. A couple of these clipboard dishes were not available when we visited, so the clipboard items are likely seasonal or limited quantity foods, whereas the blackboard food you can assume will be available all the time.
For those of us with Malaysian Ringgit in our bank accounts, the food in Cambodia is not any cheaper for us with the exchange rate. However, the antipasti at La Bruschetta is worth dropping a few bucks for. Arancini, deep fried risotto balls with cheese in the middle, are hard to find in Kuala Lumpur, so to get one for RM10 is pretty good. The best deals are the cheese and meat platters. In Malaysia, you’ll only find those at upper crust Italian restaurants… or those priced as one. You’ll be paying upwards of RM45 for cheese and RM60 for meat, and that’s at the severely low end where you’ll be getting a dinky plate with little variety. I’m pretty sure that in every country except for Italy itself, a cheese or meat platter for $7 and $8 respectively is a bargain and just makes financial sense.
We ordered their namesake Bruschetta ($4), which you can pick three toppings out of a total seven. It comes, unconventionally, on toast but the loaf is apparently homemade. The standout of the three was the olive and sun-dried tomato pâté. These two ingredients on their own are packed with so much flavour. Combining them into a creamy pâté that melts in your mouth means each bite really ignites every tastebud. The eggplant and mint was a close second, with balsamic vinegar infusing the usually bland-tasting eggplant to make it something worth noticing and the mint cutting any excess sourness from the balsamic. The anchovy and chili oil was last only because it was exactly what you’d expect it to taste like. That’s not a bad thing! There was still a “yum” factor, just no “wow” factor with this one.
Arancini ($2.50 each) is my favourite, and if it is ever on a menu, it will be drawn into my mouth’s gravitational pull. The arancini at La Bruschetta is a hefty morsel the size of a baseball, with a generous helping of marinara sauce on the side. The outer shell was perfectly fried, keeping its shape and needing only slight pressure from my knife to cut through. My only criticism was that the cheese in the middle wasn’t quite melted enough for my liking. The risotto surrounding it was nicely cooked, but being deep in the middle of so much dense risotto left the cheese a little cool and rubbery.
La Bruschetta fries their pizza, giving the dough and crust a nice crispiness. Taking advantage of how expensive salami is back home, we got a simple Diavola Pizza ($3) to share. The pizzas are small, personal sized ones, so don’t be expecting giant pies that you can share among a table for six. Did it remind me of authentic Italian style pizza? Not really, as it was already going against tradition by frying it, but the pizza was delicious for what it was.
I’m still impressed by La Bruschetta‘s hearty, unpretentious food – the way Italian food is supposed to be. The chef herself learned how to cook Italian cuisine from an actual Italian mother. That’s pretty legit. When biting into the food, you can almost hear an Italian mama ask, “when are you getting married?”
Price for 2 pax (USD): $9.50
Bruschetta set: $4.00
Diavola pizza: $3.00
Street 07 Number 247, Krong, Siem Reap
Daily: 11am – 11pm
Alcohol Served: Yes