Restaurant News

Sydney’s Kingdom of Rice is coming back (sort of)

One half of the team behind the temporary Cambodian restaurant is hosting a pop-up lunch, for one day only.

By Yvonne C Lam
Bopha's Sophia Thach and Lillia McCabe at their former pop-up restaurant Kingdom of Rice.
Kingdom of Rice was there, and then it wasn't. The neon-lit lort-cha-slinging Cambodian restaurant, backed by Merivale, was supposed to have a six-month residency in the drive-thru bottle-shop space at Sydney's Tennyson Hotel, but prematurely closed just three months in.
But the Kingdom is making a comeback with a set-menu lunch at Café Paci for one-day only on 15 March. Kingdom of Rice (KoR) has been rebranded as Bopha (Khmer for flowers, or used as a term of endearment) and it has two of its original co-founders, Lillia McCabe and Sophia Thach, leading the charge.
For Thach, it's refreshing to run a project independently of a big business. "Bopha is something we've been wanting to do for a little while," she says. "It's nice to do it on our own – we have more creative freedom."
The lunch menu has yet to be finalised, but Thach says they're bringing back some KoR favourites. There may be murk ung, grilled calamari tentacles with a pork-fat dressing; the excellent cha dtrop, pitched as a Cambodian chicken baba ghanoush; or that stir-fried lort cha (rice drop noodles, similar to Vietnam's bánh canh) with egg, bean sprouts and the smoky char of the wok.
Lort cha - rice drop noodles, bean sprouts, spring onions and fried egg. Photo: Nikki To
Plus Thach is excited to bring back the slab moan baoek that only made it onto the soft-opening menu at KoR. The grilled chicken wings are stuffed with Thai basil, shiitake, minced chicken and kreung (a spice paste that's a cornerstone ingredient of Cambodian cuisine). "We'll be deboning a lot of chicken wings, making lots of kreung, and my dad is going help us smuggle in Kampot peppers from Cambodia," says Thach.
Some elements of KoR's restaurant design will make it to Café Paci for the day. Those bright plastic tablecloths and cutlery caddies are on the cards; the video projections of pre-Year Zero movies are not. "We'll see how it goes down with Pasi," Thach says in reference to Pasi Petänen, chef-owner of Café Paci.
Inside Kingdom of Rice. Photo: Nikki To
Bopha is part of Thach's broader mission to spread the good word about Cambodian food. The 2016 census places some 12,000 Cambodian-born people living in the greater Sydney region; yet despite this, there are only a handful of Cambodian restaurants in the city, and diners are far less familiar with the cuisine compared to Vietnamese and Thai food. Thach has plans for more Bopha events in the future – Cambodian breakfasts, anyone? – and gets a kick out of diners' growing appetite for the cuisine. "Awareness about Cambodian food has grown, for sure," she says. "There's no quantitative measurement, but the conversation has definitely changed."
Bopha's Sunday lunch at Café Paci is on Sunday 15 March from 1pm at 131 King St, Newtown, NSW.
Seven courses for $55 per person. Bookings are essential, and can be made here.
  • undefined: Yvonne C Lam