The mirror ball might have been taken down, but the party looks set to live on at the Tennyson Hotel at Mascot in Sydney's south. Acme's Mitch Orr and the team behind Sydney's favourite Italo-Asian pasta joint will roll the garage doors open on Kingdom of Rice in early October.
The inspiration behind the concept is Sophia Thach, Orr's friend and Acme front-of-house gun. Thach is of Cambodian descent, and recently spent two years in Phnom Penh working for an NGO and reconnecting with the country's vibrant flavours.
"Sophia's an amazing cook," says Orr. "I've known her for eight years now, and in that time she's cooked so many traditional dishes for me, introducing me to Khmer ingredients and origins."
While vastly fewer restaurants in Australia specialise in the food of Cambodia compared to, say, Thai or Vietnamese, Orr believes the overlap of those neighbouring nations' cuisines with the tastes and textures of Khmer food mean the menu at Kingdom of Rice will be more familiar to diners than they might expect. "There are lots of fresh herbs, lime, fish sauce, noodles, rice dishes and proteins straight from the wok and the charcoal grill," he says.
It may seem like a far cry from Acme's baloney sandwiches, Halal snack-pack carpaccio and riffs on cacio e pepe, but Cambodian flavours aren't uncharted territory in Orr's cooking. Acme fans will recall steamed pipis slathered in a lime and pepper sauce, perhaps, or barbecued calamari with a pork fat and scorched spring onion dressing, while Sydney snack lovers got a taste of Orr's lemongrass beef, caramelised pork and shiitake skewers at The Dolphin Hotel's Aperitivo Hour back in March.
A broader selection of snacks kicks off the family-style menu at Kingdom of Rice, where a meal might begin with green mango dusted with sugar, chilli and salt, cubes of watermelon with dried fish, or glazed chicken wings stuffed with mushrooms and kreung, a fragrant paste of ginger, galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime leaf and garlic that's a staple of the Khmer canon. It forms the base of a vegetable fried rice, as well, caramelised until it's "nice, dark and rich," says Orr.
The skewers make a return, too, served with pickled green papaya and a fluffy baguette for a DIY take on num pang, Cambodia's answer to Vietnam's banh mi. "There are always vendors on the streets pushing little carts with small chargrills and cooking skewers to order," says Orr.
Whereas Acme is known for its mash-up approach to Italian cooking, the Kingdom kitchen will play a straighter bat. Expect whole fish from the grill, scented with lemongrass and coconut, and a rotating repertoire of vegetables hot with the wok's breath and teamed with salted egg, oyster sauce, dried shrimp or green peppercorns. (Jatz crackers - something of a signature for Orr - have yet to enter the conversation.)
The thirsty and the curious will be rewarded with jasmine tea on arrival, and relieved to know that a wander through the walk-in fridge is still a drawcard. Merivale's rockstar group somm Franck Moreau is stocking it with Asian beers and hewing to Acme's natural lean with the wine. "The big, bold and punchy flavours of Cambodian food play so well with the natural, oxidative styles we like to drink," says Orr.
Thach will be running the floor, and former Acme sous chef Lillia McCabe is on the pans, fresh from a stint at Blackwattle in Singapore. Orr and Acme frontman and partner Cam Fairbairn will split shifts between the two venues so there's always a familiar face at each.
And as for the soundtrack? "Hall & Oates, George Clinton, Prince," says Orr. "We want everyone moving and having a good time."
Kingdom of Rice, 952 Botany Rd, Mascot, NSW, merivale.com