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The El Carnicero of Phnom Penh

Darren Gall Share:
One of the flat, long, rectangular pizzas served at Tango. Supplied

The country of Uruguay in South America sits on the northern bank of the River Plate and cattle outnumber people four to one. 
 
Uruguayan cattle are free range, grass fed and tended by the legendary gauchos, or cowboys. 
 
Not surprisingly Uruguayans love their beef, eating more per capita than almost every other nation on the planet – 86 kilos per person, per year, (Instituto Nacional de Carnes, 2016). By way of comparison, Vietnam consumes about three kilos per person per year.
 
The tango is an intimate, creole-based dance for partners that originated in the River Plate area in the late 1800s. It is said that the finest practitioners must have enormous reserves of passion, connection and technique. El carniceros, Uruguay’s butchers, are highly respected for their skills as are the asado cooks of Uruguay’s national culinary pastime, the barbecue. 
 
They too must have great passion, connection and technique. 
 
Officially opened last Saturday evening, Tango is a new Uruguayan “asado” restaurant in Phnom Penh. Dario was a butcher in Uruguay and his father owned a restaurant in the capital Montevideo. Dario then followed in his father’s footsteps and was eventually cooking in his own barbecue place. 
 
This led to a move to the northern Spanish city of Orviedo, where Dario ran the kitchen of a large and busy restaurant. He says one of the best things about his small, family restaurant here is a lot less stress. 
 
The restaurant is a small shop house on Street 118 down near the river. With a small bar and a couple of tables inside, there is also seating for about 16 people in the covered area out front. The ambience is humble, the décor sparse. 
 
Furniture is simple, mostly made of recycled timber, giving it a rustic charm. Sitting out on the front edge of the pavement is the large metal cabinet on wheels that is the famous Uruguayan parilla, or grill for cooking the asado – barbecue dishes which include beefsteaks, offal, sausages, chicken, stuffed peppers and more.  
 
The parilla is Dario’s territory, whilst outback his son Gabriel, who is also a chef, looks after the kitchen, preparing the salads, sides and most impressively the flat, long rectangular pizzas that turn out to be some of the best I have ever enjoyed in Cambodia. 
 
Italians have a rich and colorful history in Uruguay and make up a large percentage of the cosmopolitan population. We ordered a half a meter long pepperoni pizza, opting to not take the full one-meter option. Gabriel’s wife brings the rectangular slab and I am immediately impressed with the crust, which is thick and doughy with great crunch. It is superb, the cheese is thick, tasty and stringy and the pepperoni fresh and spicy. 
 
It may just be my best in town and I already want to go back for more. There are 10 different pizza options ranging from $8 to $20 for the half meter and full meter options from $15 to $38, (note the top-priced pizza involves Serrano ham and goats cheese). 
 
Then it is Dario’s turn at the parilla. He prepares a sirloin steak and a stuffed red capsicum, which contains cheese and chimichurri. The parilla is like a large school locker tipped on its side and placed on a frame with legs. A flume and chimney has been set on top and a wood fire is lit at one end at the bottom. 
 

Dario’s son, Gabriel, runs the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Supplied 
 
Coals are scraped from the fire along the bottom of the parilla and a grill plate suspended from a chain can be raised or lowered to regulate cooking temperature. 
 
The beef is Australian as there is no Uruguayan beef available in Cambodia. My sirloin is perfectly seasoned and very tasty, and while the stuffed pepper is amazing, the chimichurri verde just perfect.  
 
We wash it all down with a delicious, fruity Argentinian Malbec and chat well into the night. 
 
The menu is quite extensive and the quality is very good based on two visits; it is not cheap but it is very good value. I found the whole dinner dance at Tango very enjoyable, good food, charming family, nice vino tinto and fine company. 
 

Dario works the Uruguayan parilla, or grill for cooking the asado. Supplied 
 
Tango
No. 10, Street 118,
Phnom Penh. 
19:00 till late

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