The Wonderful Wild Bar in Siem Reap.
Wild Bar, Siem Reap.
In the spring of 2020 Sladja and I found ourselves stranded in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. Like so many others we had tried to exit when the global pandemic exploded. But in the end, following numerous failed escape plans, we decided to simply stay put. The decision turned out to be a good one, especially thanks to our boutique hotel (more on that later) which for the most part we had to ourselves, cut-price. From there we could sit tight, work online and monitor world events.
It didn’t take long for us to see how damaging COVID was for the locals. The famous Angkor Temples, for example, sat largely devoid of tourists. Pub Street, once a hive of activity, promptly shut down. On the occasions we dared to dine out, we learned how the virus had decimated Siem Reap’s food and drink scene.
Keen to support local businesses with a little blog love, we set about meeting the city’s cafe and restaurant owners and documenting their stories. The people we met, the tales they told us and the hospitality we received was incredible, something Sladja and I will remember for the rest of our lives. So let’s kick off this new Siem Reap series with a look at the wonderful Wild Bar & Creative Eatery.
Back in January of that year Sladja and I were wandering down Wat Damnak Road when we came across the most immaculate jungle garden. Peering through the gated entrance, we spied several groups of diners spread out across various bed-tables on a perfectly manicured lawn. Curious, we made our way inside along the pretty stone path, pausing a moment along the way to admire a large, painted wall mural.
“Oooh, sounds dangerous” I whispered, my interest suitably piqued. Hence we pushed on towards the bar to have a look at the menu. It makes me chuckle to think of my initial reaction on that first visit. “Uh…. they only do spring rolls”.
However, what I didn’t realise was that these were no ordinary spring rolls. In fact, I’m confident most people have never tasted spring rolls like these. Looking through the descriptions, I had an instinctive feeling Sladja and I were in for a culinary treat. “Wild Wild West”, I read, my eyes widening. “A tantalising mix of beef, cheddar and caramelised onions”.
With plenty more creative spring roll fillings to choose from, Sladja and I decided to make a night of it and really go to town. Speaking of creativity, Wild also offers their customers the opportunity to dine in a very cool tree house! Feeling adventurous, we figured what the heck and climbed the ladder to experience dinner up in the branches.
Wild Bar, Siem Reap.
Our Wild Bar tree house experience was a hoot! All our dishes were delivered in a pulleyed basket, hoisted by the waitress from ground level. “Cheese and Basil!” she called, joyously. Yes, that’s right, a plate of spring rolls stuffed full of cheddar cheese and chopped basil. They were delicious!
Our meal at Wild Bar ranks among our top five Siem Reap dinners. In addition to Wild Wild West and Cheese & Basil, we went for a plate of Taco Loco, a mix of chicken, bell peppers, tomatoes, cheese and Mexican spices. Finally… just because… we added a round of Duck with local vegetables. Fresh, crunchy, moist and lovingly presented, all the varieties were flawless. 11 out of 10, if you will.
It was one of those meals that’s so good it actually puts you in a great mood for the next 24 hours. Moreover, we were so impressed I knew I had to find out more. Who are the architects behind this deliciousness? And how the hell did they come up with everything?
“The idea for Wild actually started as a joke!”
Wild Creative Bar and Eatery is the passion of Lorraine and Renaud, a French couple who left their homeland for Cambodia in 2017. Lorraine had been working in communications for the Publicis Group, Renaud in Yield Management for Accor Hotels.
Constantly exhausted, Lorraine and Renaud felt as if they were working themselves into the ground in jobs they had fallen out of love with. One Friday night, on a train back in France, it was Lorraine who first joked that they should “leave everything behind and open a bar on a beach!”
Lorraine and Renaud first fell in love with Cambodia during a holiday here back in 2015. Thus, when they began dreaming of a new life adventure, it was Cambodia that sprang to mind. Before long, visions of a beach made way for a lush, green jungle garden.
“We both love imagining new spaces”.
Regarding the restaurant’s design, they say it was “enormous fun” laying everything out. Especially the garden, which they wanted to feel “like someone’s home”. In the early days, they used to live onsite in an old Khmer house they renovated themselves. So it’s no surprise that they were so successful in sculpting such a cosy feel.
Their incredible dishes came about, they say, through fearless experimentation. First, they started with fresh spring rolls, laying rice paper out on the table and “filling it with whatever came into our minds”. Then they reimagined their creations deep-fried. As a result, they realised they could wrap pretty much anything they wanted into a compact package of fried yumminess.
“Homemade spring rolls were our typical Sunday dinner with a movie”.
Lorraine and Renaud have applied this same spirit of playful tinkering to their cocktails. Both are self-confessed “cocktail lovers” who claim to know, by heart, the menus of the best cocktail bars in Paris. When they first got to Siem Reap, the couple spent hours in local markets discovering the best produce. From there, they began working on recipes and holding “test evenings” to gauge reaction.
We can certainly vouch for the cocktails we’ve had. I ordered a refreshingly icy Mojito Mule, comprised of rum, mint, ginger syrup, lime and ginger ale. Sladja’s choice was the Midnight in Paris, with benedictine, extra dry Vermouth and Absinthe.
As with so many of our favourite Siem Reap restaurants, Wild is passionate about helping the local community. They financially sponsor a local primary school and act as “godparents” to the NGO-run Bayon School. This involves offering professional advice on all kinds of stuff, including efficiency and menu development.
Wild Bar, Siem Reap.
Furthermore, they donate to several local NGOs, such as APTBY (A Place to be Yourself), connected to the good people of Krousar Cafe. Proceeds from their little shop at the back of the restaurant, meanwhile, goes to Soulcial Trust, who support people with disabilities through sport.
Lorraine and Renaud had been “living the dream” until COVID-19 came along and wiped out “90% of our customers”. With no tourists, an expat community who largely stayed at home and a workforce to protect, Wild made the tough decision to close its doors for a while. But then… drum roll… they reopened with an improved layout and some spatial changes they believe will make customers feel more comfortable.
Wild Bar, Siem Reap.
Fancy wolfing down a batch of Planet Earth’s most delectable spring rolls? Grabbing some cocktails up in the tree house? Or maybe just chilling in the garden with coffee, beer, wine or a homemade soda? Whatever you feel like, why not swing by… treat yourself… go Wild.
UPDATE: October 2022. Wild Bar is one of few Siem Reap success stories to come out of the pandemic. As you will read throughout our series, so many of the city’s wonderful restaurants had to close their doors.
Not only did Lorraine and Renaud manage to save their business, they have also opened a new restaurant in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Congratulations guys, you’ve all done a magnificent job. For more on Wild Bar, take a peek at their beautiful website. You can also get in touch with Lorraine and Renaud through their Facebook page.
For more on Siem Reap’s excellent cafe, restaurant and bar scene, check out my detailed guide on Where to Eat and Drink Siem Reap.
You can also read my exhaustive overview of What to See and Do in Siem Reap.
Looking for a roof over your head? Check out my articles on Where to Stay in Siem Reap.
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