Travel Report: The Strand Restaurant, Kep.
The Strand Restaurant, Kep.
August 2020. Sometimes the most memorable travel experiences are the ones that come completely out of the blue. That place you didn’t even know existed. The one you ended up stumbling upon when your plan A didn’t work out.
This is precisely what happened to Sladja and I one evening in the Cambodian town of Kep. We were in need of a fancy meal, a culinary treat to ourselves after an extended period of simple eats.
We’d heard on the grapevine that Kep Sailing Club has some of the best seafood in town. Moreover, it enjoys an amazing location, perched right on Chhak Kep Bay. The magnificent views, we read, stretch deep into The Gulf of Thailand.
Thus we opted to swing by one overcast Monday afternoon. However, as soon as we jumped out of the tuk tuk I could see something was off. Sure, Kep was an incredibly quiet place in COVID times, but this was positively apocalyptic. “It’s closed isn’t it?” said Sladja with a sigh.
Kep Sailing Club.
It was indeed closed. Weirdly the gate was open, hence we could wander in for a look. The views certainly were special, with choppy waters and the distant form of Rabbit Island balanced delicately beneath a moody, blue-grey sky.
At the clubhouse itself you could have heard a pin drop. Not a soul in sight, chairs stacked together, its tables protected from the elements by plastic covers. “Bummer” was all I could say.
Back at the main entrance, we took some time out on the carcass of a giant tree embedded in the sand by the water’s edge. There was a pleasing breeze, which helped us gather our thoughts. “Guess we should walk to the end of the road” I mused, “grab a tuk tuk to the crab market”.
Just a few moments later, we noticed a sign pointing down a side street. “The Strand Restaurant? Let’s take a look”. It took just a minute to reach its arched entrance, where a wooden board informed us we had arrived at “Kep’s signature restaurant”.
Ducking under the archway, we entered the walled compound, following the path through a meticulous country garden. “Oh yes” I found myself muttering when the restaurant came into view, an incredibly handsome, restored fisherman’s cottage with a thatched roof.
The Strand Restaurant, Kep.
Inside, the woman behind the bar looked more than a little surprised to see us. “Are you open?” I checked, noting the entirely empty interior with its wooden tables and bamboo shutters. “Yes!” she smiled, grabbing a pair of menus,“you can sit anywhere”. So we took a table with a view out to The Strand’s private beach garden. As dining views go, this was ten out ten!
Feeling thirsty, we ordered a couple of mocktails while we perused the food menu. Sladja went for a deep red Water’s Edge, a mix of watermelon, lime, basil and tonic. I plumped for the orangey Crimson Dawn, comprised of passion fruit, orange juice and grenadine.
Having ordered dinner, we grabbed our mocktails and sauntered out to the beach garden. With late afternoon edging into early evening, the temperature was perfect as we sipped our drinks. Our light chatter punctuated by the periodic crashing of waves against stone.
Somehow, I thanked my lucky stars that Kep Sailing Club had been closed. Because it truly felt like this was where we were supposed to be.
After finishing our drinks, we took a stroll through the main garden. During our wanderings, I realised that The Strand is part of a boutique resort, Knai Bang Chatt. The compound, which actually includes Kep Sailing Club, was founded by a Belgian philanthropist by the name of Jeff Moons.
Knai Bang Chatt Resort.
Knai Bang Chatt features eighteen luxury suites spread across two buildings. The iconic Blue Villa once belonged to the governor of Kep and is a fine example of the famous New Khmer architectural style that swept through Cambodia in the 1950s.
What’s more, the Red Summer House, set behind the pool, was once owned by Cambodia’s Head of Customs. The French architect Francoise Lavielle, based in Phnom Penh, played a key role in restoring and renovating both buildings for the resort.
I was still marvelling at these impressive structures when news reached us that dinner had arrived. With increased expectations, we returned to our tables and set about devouring our fantastic dishes.
My pork belly was delicious, wonderfully tender on the inside, crispy on the outside. It came served with steamed rice and peanuts, while the broccoli, bean sprouts, tamarind and morning glory is sourced from the resort’s large organic garden.
Sladja’s similarly excellent Roast Barramundi sat surrounded by a quotation mark of smoked red pepper puree and three dollops of mustard aioli. Oh, and a battered crab cake topped with cabbage.
The Strand Restaurant, Kep.
Post-feast, we reacquainted ourselves with the beach garden and its fabulous wooden sofa. As had been our original intention, the end of dinner blended seamlessly into the gradual, magnificent performance of sunset. The perfect opportunity for photos, shared silences and declarations of gratitude for our situation during the global pandemic.
That evening at The Strand will definitely live long in the memory. In fact, it remains our favourite evening from our two month stay in Southern Cambodia. Consequently, it feels right to sign this one off with a selection of sunset shots taken that evening. Cheers to The Strand Restaurant! And cheers to Kep!
Unfortunately, at the time of publication, the entire Knai Bang Chatt resort is temporarily closed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest news, check out their website.
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