Remembering The Village Cafe, Siem Reap.
The Village Cafe, Siem Reap.
I think a part of me had always wanted to have breakfast at a 1930s style NYC jazz cafe. Call it a bucket list wish. I suppose this was something I could have done in New York City itself during my visits, but alas the idea never came to fruition. How odd and delightful then that I would end up fulfilling this subconscious fantasy in Cambodia of all places. Enter The Village Cafe in Siem Reap!
Before the damn virus hit, one of the great joys of our Siem Reap routine had been morning blogging sessions at a local cafe. Literally two to three hours typing away over coffee and breakfast. In this respect, The Village was just what we’d been looking for!
Making our way to one of the large tables facing the main bar, Sladja and I drank in the low lighting, the chic decor and the tastefully arranged plants. Meanwhile, the dulcet tones of Louis Armstrong drifted out from the sound system as a waiter handed us the menus.
The Village Cafe, Siem Reap.
This relaxing vibe proved to be the perfect setup for a morning of quiet productivity. Moreover, the chocolate croissant was fluffy and the coffee beautifully presented in a traditional French press. To top it all off, the service came with a genuine smile. “We’ll definitely come back here!” whispered Sladja.
The Village Cafe sprang from the mind of Stewart ‘Strangefruit’ Kidd, a moustachioed Glaswegian with an impressive background in art and design. Among his many life achievements, Stewart worked as the Creative Director of the Indochine Group in Singapore.
Stewart had been in Cambodia for over eight years, starting out with a fashion boutique and clothing label called Established in Phnom Penh. The Village Cafe was his second business venture and, back in the spring of 2020, it had been open for just over two years.
“I pay my staff enough to stay, but train them sufficiently so that they can leave and fulfil their dreams!”
Like all the best cafes and restaurants in Siem Reap, Stewart supported the local community as much as he could. In fact, his team of loyal staff had been with him for years, even before the launch of The Village. His eyes sparkling with pride, he explained how three of his ex employees now work in world class hotels.
Furthermore, a young woman by the name of Sophan, “my baby” as he puts it, recently departed to open her own cake shop. “She could make you the best Ginger Martini. Brew the best cappuccino! Remember your name and give you the best smile ever!”
“Our customers always love the poached eggs with avocado on sourdough with grilled tomato and crispy bacon”.
For the food, Stewart focused on locally sourced ingredients from companies such as Happy+Co and Eggselent. Our favourite breakfast dish, like so many others it seems, is the poached eggs with avocado. Absolutely delicious!
Sladja and I are always guilty of finding a dish we love and ordering it over and over. Nevertheless, we promised ourselves that one day we’d try one of The Village’s famous fusion curries. Especially as Stewart explained that they’re influenced by both Cambodian and Indian flavours. Another house special was their Fish & Chips battered in a savannah cider.
The Village Cafe, Siem Reap.
I don’t ever recall the toilets being such a memorable part of a cafe visit. But at The Village, it seems no area is untouched by Stewart’s love of art and history. Beautifully designed with dark wood and flickering candles, I couldn’t imagine a more pleasant environment in which to do my business.
While you sit/stand, you’ll also find yourself listening to the recorded radio programmes that continually play out independently of the main sound system. One day it might be an archive interview with Alan Whicker reminiscing about Hong Kong. On another visit, Melvyn Bragg discussing the work of Francis Bacon. “I didn’t want to come back to the table” admitted Sladja one morning.
You wouldn’t know it from our sleepy morning visits, but The Village Cafe was a fantastic event venue too. From movie nights, book launches and live bands, to a set from the pioneering house music DJ Danny Rampling, Stewart certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking ambition! He also converted the building’s loft area into an art gallery, which held exhibitions throughout the year. One morning, he was kind enough to take Sladja and I up there and show us around.
Where to Eat and Drink, Siem Reap.
As with most cities around the world, COVID-19 all but decimated Siem Reap’s food and drink scene. Hence Stewart took the difficult decision to close for the month of April in 2020. However, he was keen to reassure his customers with an emphatic “WE WILL BE BACK!” After all, Stewart has deep roots in SR, with a dedicated team of staff, close friends and even an adopted Khmer daughter! True to his word, The Village reopened on May 1st with a new social-distancing-friendly layout.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2022: Sadly, in December 2020, The Village lost its fight to stay afloat in Siem Reap’s damaged economic landscape. I read the news on Instagram, with Stewart and his team resolving to regroup and return in some form “leaner and fresh”.
As it turned out, it took him just a a few months to come up with a new cafe/bar called Stewart on 26. We are so happy that The Village Cafe got to have a rebirth and that this particularly sad COVID story has a happy ending. Stewart, if we ever make it back to Cambodia, we’ll be sure to swing by!
Like this? 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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