Sometimes it’s all too easy to stick with what you know. Many of us working and living in town will have a few favourite haunts we frequent on evenings catching up with friends and family, especially when we can’t be bothered to cook.
But sometimes it can pay to go the extra mile to find what’s on offer in the suburbs, hoping to find those precious hidden gems and support the independents grafting there.
This week’s review is a simple tale of boy meets girl. There’s even a diamond at the end.
The story goes something like this. Y Sok and her family emigrated to the USA having fled the Khmer Rouge regime following the civil war in Cambodia in the 1970s. She learned to cook traditional Khmer cuisine from her mother and from the extended Cambodian community in which she now found herself living.
As well as the influence of the food from their old country, Y grew up surrounded by music as her father was a musician. She would sell snacks at his gigs, her first foray into the food business. She later worked as a private chef, taught cookery, and ran a catering business.
But it was only after meeting her future husband, who also loved music, that she would combine both passions.
She returned to England with him where they set up Angkor Soul, serving Cambodian food on the ground floor of the building and selling vintage vinyl records in the basement.
That was in 2015. Since then the business has thrived. Angkor Soul has received glowing reviews (more on this later), and is busy every lunch and dinner, with waiting lists at the weekends. A second restaurant opened in Altrincham this summer.
Named in our choice of the 50 best restaurants in Greater Manchester, I visited the Marple original to see what the fuss is all about.
The space is colourful with a red and orange palette. It’s simple, unfussy and relaxed, and feels more like a café (it does, in fact, sell cake and coffee late mornings).
The menu is small and well-priced, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. You can choose your own main ingredient for most dishes, with a higher price for some (add a couple of quid for king prawns), so it feels like you only pay for what you eat.
Lunch at Angkor Soul is slightly more pared down than the evening menu but still has all the main showstoppers.
It’s a shame then that I couldn’t order the dish I really wanted – the honey siracha crispy chicken wings. Having been told by our server they hadn’t got any left, they were served to a neighbouring table that ordered after us.
The service was friendly but a little naïve and unprepared, my main course arriving before my drink or starter, but graciously dealt with.
Cabbage Salad £6.95 (£8.95 with king prawns) (gluten-free)
I opted for the king prawns in this traditional shredded salad with cabbage, glass noodles, onions, cucumber, mint, carrots, house roasted peanuts, and crispy shallots. I’m sure there’s also a touch of fennel thrown in. It’s such a beauty of a salad – light, fresh, zingy, and delightful in their sweet and tart ‘secret house dressing.’
Crispy Rolls £3.95
We chose the vegan option of these lightly fried spring rolls filled with wood ear mushrooms, cabbage, carrot, onion, and glass noodles – and the same dipping sauce I’m sure constituted the dressing on my salad. Although these were packed full of mushrooms which my my daughter hates, she declared them the best spring rolls she’d ever tasted.
Cambodian Fried Rice £8 (£10 with king prawns) Gluten-free
Sauteed jasmine egg fried rice with garlic, onions, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, peas, and water chestnuts. A healthy portion and the remainder boxed for my little one to take home she enjoyed it that much.
Cha Kari £7.50
Big, thick and very hearty sauteed egg noodles completely broke the mould with home-made coconut curry sauce, chicken, vegetables, and basil. It wasn’t stodgy, but it was so unlike the other dishes and much heavier. Quite unexpected but welcome on one of the first chilly days of the year.
I drank the Riesling Magpie Estate ‘Rag & Bone’ Australian (£5.50 175ml/ £8.95 250ml, £25 Bottle) which complimented the spice in the food.
What a fantastic little restaurant on my doorstep. The cuisine is similar to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, with a slight French influence. And although I love how most of the menu is clean and healthy and made up from the smallest list of ingredients, I still prefer Thai food as I find it more complex and elegant. But I’m talking a very small margin.
So to the happily-ever-after of this tale and the promised gem. London-based food critic Jay Rayner (whom I very much respect and admire) rarely gives glowing reviews to any restaurants in these parts, with two notable exceptions – Albert’s Schloss and Angkor Soul. He described this humble little local in my home town as a ‘diamond in Marple.’ I think I’d have to agree.
Now let’s go downstairs and leaf through some old-school vinyl…
12 Stockport Road, Marple, SK6 6BJ