OCEAN PRIME STEAKHOUSE (****L): Of all the things an Epicurean could wish for in the city - a first-rate pizzeria like Il Forno, a source for modern French food in the style of La Pergola - another place to shell out a lot of money for legal vices is not one of them. Fairly priced compared internationally for its quality, this chic venue has amazing food, great service, whilst a little pricey for Phnom Penh.
Ideally located for the expatriate and upper-class Cambodian alike, it will take the traveler a 15 minutes taxi ride to reach Tuol Kok: where the Californian facade of the restaurant brings some electric blue to this Plain-Jane, yet exclusive residential area. The place is inviting, indeed. With large dining rooms (we prefer the bright and quiet one, under a verandah, left to the entrance), monumental tables made of wood and sand-washed concrete, and of course VIP rooms (6 in total) much requested by the Khmer for business and family banquets.
What characterizes the Ocean Prime Steakhouse is the flow of regular patrons. This is not a touristic restaurant at all. We felt miles away from the Riverside pubs... The service is on-par with PP: it does the job. In New York or Paris, the first five minutes of a meal can be taken up by a waiter, actually wanting you to know more about the menu's signature dishes, how the beef is dry or wet-aged for almost a month, cooked beneath a 1500-degree broiler, and so on. Here the staff just inquires whether you prefer your steak well-done (the Asian way!), and with what kind of side dish. Our tip: those wishing to have medium-rare the Western way should ask for rare, to enjoy the best experience ever!
The star attractions, the USDA Prime Graded Steaks (the “caviar of steaks”, with 2% of the cattle only!) are the most tender, juicy, and palatable ever. With a discreet charcoal savor. The selection is limited to eight steaks and cuts. From the 160 gr “Tartare” prepared at the table, to the gargantuan 800 gr “Porterhouse” set for a table of four. We sampled the 130gr “Petit Fillet”: nicely textured and sappy, this is a ladies' favorite. We then went for some bites of 250gr “Sirloin”: a best seller, with its aromatic fat melting in the mouth like butter. The 300 gr “Ribeye” is an ad hoc choice for those with a solid appetite. The quality was prominent, and very few -if none- steakhouses in Phnom Penh can provide the WOW factor we got in this eatery. The meat is served with various trimmings, including super fresh “Grilled Asparagus”, or “Wild Mushroom & Spinach Sautéed”. You can ask plush toppings, like “Pan Seared Foie Gras”. We liked the large selection of sauces and mustards.
A set of Laguiole cutlery, handmade especially for Hervé Béal & partner Two Michelin Star Chef Thierry Drapeau's restaurants in Phnom Penh and Saigon, is presented in style to the guests. Confirming that we sat in a fine dining restaurant, indeed; though the Ocean Prime Steakhouse is a most casual place, designed for a relaxed gastronomic experience, which can be concluded with the best “Cheesecake” in Cambodia.
The wine cellar caters all budgets. A selection of 100 labels are listed on an IPad presented to the table, with a daily offer of fairly priced house wines at USD 9 per glass.
That was our first visit. We shall certainly come back for a seafood experience next time: the Ocean Prime Steakhouse is the unique restaurant serving life Alaskan King Crab in Cambodia. It has “Fines de Claires” oysters, and “Boston Lobster” directly from the fish tank.
Attractive menus start from USD 50+ (price for the three-course “California Menu”, exclusively set by Two Star Michelin Chef Wout Bru”).
Open daily 11:00am - 10:30pm.
OCEAN PRIME STEAKHOUSE: #74 Street 592, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 883 600
THE CHINESE HOUSE (****L): A fragrant flower growing in the jungle of tacky, often pretentious and rarely gastronomic restaurants in Phnom Penh, this very chill, trendy society lounge and upscale eatery with a casual garden, comes with a vibe which we loved at first sight. Located in the new fashionable part of Phnom Penh, less than one kilometers from the infamous red-light streets, it stands in a “tourist-free” section of the Riverside. Set in a beautifully refurbished colonial French storehouse built in 1904, it reminded us of those nostalgic restaurants which you only find in Singapore, Malacca, or Shanghai. With a dreamed Chinese atmosphere.
It might sound old but, from our first experience, this is not strictly a Chinese restaurant. We would rather call it Pan-asian. Of course, the atmosphere, the private room on the first floor, and some dishes can give the impression. But, maybe because it is managed by South African, we had from the wine, portions of the delicious cuisine, and global ambiance, the pleasant and unexpected feeling to be a bit in Capetown or Stellenbosch. The owner and restaurant manager, a nice pair or Epicurean, are first of all wine lovers. The Chinese House has one of the best cellars in town: we stepped in, and the choice is super extended in term of origin, quality, and price. It has super affordable interesting brands, indeed. What would make us come back, is wine.
The bar-lounge is impressive also, and the excellent Singapore Sling which we had been served was on par with the cocktails from the best palace-hotels barmen from Paris, London, or New-York. It seems that a lot of guests rather stay in the lounge area, enjoying “tapas”. The splendid first-floor dining-lounge, ideal for casual-chic gastronomic experience, was not full at all the evening of our visit. But lots of locals and expats alike prefer to stay in the breezy garden. Crowds of foodies rush to the Chinese house during the weekend; so you'd rather do like us, and enjoy it during the week. Unless you like it festive; when the lounge looks like the Elephant Bar in The Raffles Singapore, or the Bamboo Bar in Bangkok...
We started with a spicy ma non troppo “Peanut and Red Curry Consomme, with Pork and Lemongrass Wonton, crispy Thai Basil”. Nicely presented in a cast-iron pot, preserving the ideal temperature of this signature dish. We paired it with refreshing Californian “Beringer, Maine & Vine, Chardonnay, 2016”. Nice and fruity, displaying flavors of peach, oak, and apple, this is the kind of (too) light wine which we would never buy in Europe, though absolutely perfect in a tropical country.
The “Confit Pork Belly”, juicy and melting like butter, with Orange and Tangerine extracts, Asparagus and Carrots, crispy roasted Pork Skin over a delicate Purée, was worth Escoffier! A simple, yet well-mastered recipe. Ideally textured. It could be paired with Beringer, but we prefer red wine with pork. South African “Chocolate Block, Franschhoek, 2014”, with its strong note of dark fruits and an abundance of precious perfumes, matches the savor of the spices amazingly well. Though we had visited many times the South African vineyards,The Chinese House made us discover this complex brand, mixing alchemical doses of Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Viognier. Confirming what we wrote in the introduction of our review: this is the place for wine in Phnom Penh.
East meets West with the signature “Asian Short Rib with Risotto, Pumpkin and Water Cress”, served on a generous gourmet portion. Or with the “XO Seafood”, mixing Fried Salmon, Prawn, Squid, Baby Vegetable, and XO Sauce. Paired with another glass of Chardonnay.
We concluded this fine dinner in style, with the best dessert ever enjoyed in Phnom Penh, tough a classic in France since its invention by Joël Robuchon in the 1990s. Made with local organic chocolate, rich in cocoa, the flambéed “Chocolate Bomb” is the top signature dish which shall make us come back in the magic Chinese House, recommended to our attention by our friends from “Secret Tables” affiliating this restaurant in its posh catalog of the hidden, most exclusive eateries in Asia.
The average bill is USD 50 per person for a gastronomic dinner. Approximately 20-30 for Tapas. Wine is most fairly priced (USD 70 for “Chocolate Block”, for instance).
Open daily 11:00 am - 01:00 am.
THE CHINESE HOUSE: #45 Sisowath Quay (Corner street 84, in front of Phnom Penh Port), Phnom Penh 12200, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 92 553 330
NEW YORK STEAKHOUSE (****L): A few weeks after reviewing its sister restaurant in Saigon, we couldn't leave Phnom Penh without experiencing the most American fine dining in town. If the Ocean Prime Steakhouse keeps a slight Asian touch, this centrally located eatery is guaranteed 100% New Yorker. Not only by the main dining-room design, between Keens and Gallaghers, which made us feel like in Manhattan or Brooklyn, with its read semi-circular cushioned banquettes, the posters of movie stars from the golden years of Hollywood, and the soft jazz music mixing unfortunately with some intrusive Khmer hits which don't match this classy place). But by a menu which only a real steakhouse can provide.
Hervé, the owner, is French. He spent many years as an F&B in New York. Offering the best of both countries to his guests. Just like in his Ocean Prime Steakhouse, he mostly caters expatriates and local. This is not a touristic restaurant, which adds more style to the dining scene. The evening of our visit, the dining room was quite full, and the dress code very casual, since with a touch of class.
The offer is the same compared with the NYSH Saigon. Our starter, “Pan-Seared Foie Gras with Truffle Sauce”, was the most expensive, but well worth the USD 19 for a generous portion which fed our table of two. “Beef Carpaccio” (USD 10) was also very tempting, with another signature: “Char Grilled Sea Scallops Wrapped in Bacon” (USD 15). Bistro prices in Europe.
The meat is served in different portions: small, classic, and large. With three till four offers of beef and cut in each section. We made it the European way, with a 170gr “Tournedos Rossini” (USD 30), available wet-aged or dry-aged. We opted for the second option. Asked it rare, to make sure that it would finally come medium-rare in our plate. Joker! That was a good choice. The cut was perfect, the meat buttery, accompanied by a pepper sauce which, though succulent, wasn't necessary: the meat talked by itself. It was so refined that we could have believed that this was USDA Prime beef. It was topped with Pan-Seared Foie Gras. So “bourgeois”! That was one of the best Tournedos eaten for many months. Our side dish was very New Yorker: “Macaroni and Cheese”. It came with plenty of extra sauces, a selection of aromatic mustard, and a luxury set of Laguiole cutlery like in Ocean Prime Steakhouse.
Those liking larger portions should order the good valued, 250gr “New York Sirloin Steak, Wet Aged” (only USD 21), or the 800 gr “Porterhouse, Wet Aged” (USD 83) to share with a group of friends.
We paired our meal with one bottle of Bourgogne "Vieilles Vignes, Pinot Noir, Domaine de Rochebin"(USD 65).
The signature dessert is “Mousse de Chocolat”. Rich in cocoa and sugar, it concluded in style this very bistro dinner.
Open daily 11:00am - 10:30pm.
NEW YORK STEAKHOUSE: No. 264, Street 63 – Sangkat Tonle Bassac (Corner of Mao Tse Tung Blvd.)
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 987 500
IL FORNO (****L): The gastronomic scene is changing so fast in Phnom Penh. Five years ago, Sisowath Quay, and some gloomy red-light streets in this touristic perimeter, concentrated 90% of the restaurants. Sometime good; often bad. Now positive reviews in Tripadvisor and a fantastic mouth to ear can drive you to new locations, ignored by backpackers and loud tourists, where the action goes like in Sukhumvit (Bangkok foodies’ favorite area). Actually, when our tuk-tuk stopped in front of the contemporary, brick and glass-structured of Il Forno, we actually felt like transported to Bangkok. A smart restaurant among other cool eateries, along an animated street where expatriates and some well-informed gourmet travellers have got their routine.
We loved at first sight the trendy, warm interior design. It is not large; it is not small. Just convenient to please the eye and make you feel comfortable. There is even a private room for the “families” (we are talking about Sino-Khmer, who like a high degree of intimacy), and the tables are not too close from each other: those on a business lunch or romantic dinner will appreciate this intelligent display. We liked the vegetal wall refreshed by a fountain. Black and white pictures, representing gourmet scene from vintage Italian movies, create a clever bridge between Italian culture and gastronomy: we had our dinner in front of Alberto Sordi enjoying “maccherone” in “Un Americano a Roma”. Our favorite Italian actor worked up our appetite…
Actually, we didn’t even open the menu, as an extensive selection of “piatti del giorno” (“Il Forno Special”) indicated with price over a blackboard gave made us mouth watering. Fresh meat, fish, aromatic herbs, vegetable and spices are purchased from the daily market to create the best “trattoria” delights available in Phnom Penh. Good pizza is quite easy to find in town nowadays; even if the ones at Il Forno is considered much superior, and cooked in a real “forno”, like in Napoli. But trattoria delights, inherited from the Etruscan cuisine, are still reserved to a special clientele of well-trained gourmets. Lots of them used to be regular patrons at Il Forno Siem Reap, opened in 2011 and yet an institution. Some regular patrons convinced Edward Carminati, the Italo-New Zealander owner, to open a branch in Phnom Penh. He did so in September 2015, and already get full dining room. This is, by the way funny, but a detail made us really feel like in Italy: we entered an almost empty restaurant at 7pm, with maybe a couple of clients at the bar. This is “late dinner” time in Cambodia, where local people dine between 5 and 7pm deadline. At 8 / 8:30pm all the tables and the bar were occupied by expats (no Asian the night of our visit), calling the owner by his nickname, “Ed”. Returning guests is a very engaging proof of quality.
Ed left New Zealand to Italy when he was a child. In Bergamo, he spent hours in the kitchen assisting his grandmother, as assiduously as his father (a born-gourmet) did when he was his age. This genetic Epicureanism (with a faithful devotion to Bacchus) naturally turned him into a chef. Like a gypsy plays guitar from his mother’s belly, Ed was born with a spoon and pan in hands. This results in a cheerful, spontaneous, so-homey gastronomy. We are far from the “Nouvelle Cuisine”: portions are generous, with sauces which we finished with our home-baked bread, trying to wrangle little bit more food from the plate which we shared with a friend. You’ll take bad habits at Il Forno…
We started with the “Deluxe Cheese Platter”, which consists in a selection of delicious delicatessen imported from Italy: the Coppa and Cacciatorini Salami melted in the mouth, with a savour that only bio-farming and traditional butchers can produce. Associated with Pecorino Al Tartufo Nero and Blu 61 (Blue Cheese with black truffle, red-currants and eventually a spoonful of honey), richly perfumed by the truffle unique aromas, this was a royal appetizer for USD 14.
Those with a solid appetite should straightly go for the so-gourmand “Homemade Tortelli in Pink Sauce”, filled with Parma Ham and Ricotta. This signature dish is a pure delight to the palate. Order more bread for the sauce, and clean up your plate. So good! We surely gained a few calories; but nothing in comparison with the pleasure procured by that kind of old-fashion specialties of pasta, with cream, sauce, cheese, which our grand-mother (she was Italian…) cooked when we were kids. This pleasant memory trigger feeds two persons, at USD 11.5.
Another signature dish, the “Pork Belly Tuscan Style” is a patrons’ favorite. The secrets of the recipe, making it tender inside, crispy outside, are simple: Ed is using bio-pork for this preparation (purchased from the best butcher in Phnom Penh: “La Table du Boucher”), roasting it in the pizza-oven. It looks like suckling-pig. It tastes like suckling pig. But this is pork from the best quality ever. It is accompanied with roasted pumpkins, carrots, shallots and celery, and it is simply WOW! USD 12.5 and, again, can feed two.
If you still have some place in your stomach for a dessert, do not hesitate and order the nicely presented and yummy “Fruit Pannacotta Delight” (USD 6.5), with Mango, Passion fruits, Strawberry and Dragon Fruit Purée. It could fit Joël Robuchon’s Michelin-Star menu. Excellent with a real, strong Italian-Style Espresso (USD 2.5): the powerful yet refined mixture comes from Ratanakiri, in Cambodia, Chiangmai, in Thailand, and Laos. If you want to make it the Italian way in this “Italian restaurant for Italian people”, clean up your palate with a glass of aromatic “Grappa di Amarone” (USD 6).
The average bill is more than reasonable: approximately 23 – 30 USD with beer. But we rather recommend pairing such a noble diner with a noble wine, for a global bill of USD 40 – 45. This is a wine bar also, don’t forget it. We ordered a powerful, aristocratic “Brolio, Barone Ricasoli 2010” which had it all from a “grand vin”. At USD 40 by the bottle, it is warmly recommended. Alternatively, you can enjoy a good Chianti at USD 15 / 0.5l.
Next time we shall taste pizza and fish (“Crispy Sea-Bass Fillet” for instance), or simply an original Panini (like “Ghiotto”, with Parma Ham sliced transparently, Scamorza and Tomatoes, at only USD 5), as there is always a “next time” in nice restaurants like Il Forno.
IL FORNO: St. 302, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
PHONE : +855 10 660 515
E-MAIL : email@example.com
NAMASTE INDIA RESTAURANT BKK (****L): Inaugurated in July 2018, and already ranked as the number one restaurant in Phnom Penh by Tripadvisor, the trendy Namaste India BKK house makes luxury rime with quality at affordability. We like Indian cuisine, but should recognize that the small eateries, which we experienced here and there in Phnom Penh, were much more targeting backpackers than demanding gourmets. Since July, tourists are quickly discovering this sophisticated place upgrading Indian gastronomy in Cambodia. During our last visit in March 2019, the tables had been booked by a majority of local Khmer / Western patrons. It is easy to reach: strategically located in the safe and central BKK 1 (Boeung Keng Kang 1) district. Not far to the Independence Monument, ministries, fashionable coffee shops (Starbucks, Brown Coffee 57...), and best hotels.
The menu features a surprisingly large selection of South Indian, North Indian, and Mughlai dishes with a contemporary, definitely fine dining orientation. Despite a soft pricing policy, with most of the generous portions billed under USD 10, the food experience at Namaste India BKK is actually fancy. Halal certified, catering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, the chef's mouthwatering specialties are cooked according to the original Indian rules. Often from the Indian clay-oven Tandoor specially imported from India. Herbs and spices all originate from the sub-continent, and the traditional breads (Roti, Naan, savory “Stuffed Tawa Parantha”, etc...) are simply the best in PP, in term of quality and variety alike.
Though designed by a reputed British architect, the extended dining-room comes with a true Indian atmosphere... and unique fragrance. It has a touch of modernity, allowing a pleasant comfort for everyone. We are in Asia, and the management didn't forget to design a private room for its VIP guests, meeting, or gastronomic family gathering.
Checking the encyclopedic menu was challenging: everything was so tempting... though we knew fairly well that after swallowing greedily a couple of “Naans” our stomach would promptly get full, with little space left for the nicely described delicacies. Visiting the restaurant on repeated occasions would be wise: sampling each time a little bit of the legendary Indian cuisine.
We knew from mouth to hear that Namaste India BKK served the best “Bhatti Da Murgh” (USD $8) in town: smokey chicken legs, reserved overnight in a yogurt and spices marinade, first cooked in tandoor, then finished on “Bhatti” open fire grill. “Boneless Chicken Tikka” (USD 6.8), cut into small pieces, marinated in spicy yogurt batter and roasted in tandoor, served with sliced green salad & mint and mango chutney, is one of our favourites.
This is also the place for inviting curries: like the scarce and sumptuous “Paneer Tikka Masala” (only USD 5.8). From what we know, no other restaurant downtown serves this epicurean roasted cottage cheese cut in small pieces, cooked with onion, tomato, and capsicum in thick spicy gravy.
Popular dishes like “Seekh Kebab” are defined into a vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions (excellent with lamb, at USD 7.8), but the spoiled foody will straightly go for a divine seafood experience. “Patiala Shahi Machchi” (USD 6.8) is a signature dish, once served to the princes of Punjab, incorporating tangy cubes of river sole, fried and cooked in a dried plum and tomato gravy. A delicacy! “Kadai Prawns” (USD 6.8), cooked with onion-tomatoes, ginger- garlic and fresh spices is a best seller, together with the classic “Spicy Prawn Curry”.
As a dessert, you can't skip the enticing “Phirni - Saffron Rice Pudding” (USD 2.8), allowed to set in a shallow earthen dish, and garnished with strands of saffron, chopped almonds, and pistachios.
Though we always enjoy Indian cuisine with beer, Namaste India BKK wine cellar stocks a lovely collection of wines for all budgets.
Those living in Phnom Penh can be delivered at home for a little extra (USD 1 - 2, depending on the distance).
Open Mon - Sun: 10am – 11:00pm.
NAMASTE INDIA RESTAURANT BKK: #177, Street 63, Corner 294, Boeung Keng Kang1 (BKK1), Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 76 626 2783, +855 99 811 663
RESIDENCE (****L): This
is one the poshest and preferred
restaurants in Phnom Penh. Thus,
you will hardly meet a tourist in the refined dinning rooms and private
salons. Only foreign residents, ambassadors and wealthy Cambodian made
the French run La Résidence
their canteen. Located in the quiet
diplomatic green belt, in the centre of Phnom Penh, near the
Independence Monument, this opulent oasis of peace surrounded by the
lush of beautiful tropical gardens opens on monumental carved door. It
gave us much more the pleasant impression that we were visiting a rich
Cambodian friend, than routinely inspecting a restaurant: and La
Résidence has been designed such a cool and intimate way, that it
doesn't look like a restaurant at all. This is why we, like all the
guests, loved it at first sight. There is a small lobby in the
entrance, flanked with elegant stairs up to some of the mysterious
“salons privés” (the best one stands downstairs, with a private
entrance and parking lot, and opens to the swimming pool: it is much
wanted by the royal family and the “big shots”). The staff (totalling
40 people; we would come back just for the nice looking hostesses!),
described as “too friendly and obtrusive” in some reviews that we have
read in Tripadvisor, is on the contrary extremely discreet, producing
an as smooth as silk quality of service.
YI SANG (****L): With five branches in operation, this now the best established Chinese restaurant in Phnom Penh. Launched by Chef Luu Meng, this fast-growing brand specializes mostly in Cantonese cuisine. Yi Sang success story started in the Almond Sothearos hotel dining room, where we had a remarkable lunch, mixing popular specialties and top notch delicacies designated to the happy few. At noon, the vibrant atmosphere reaches its daily peak. This is when 90 % of local patrons prefer to visit this inviting place, and enjoy the popular banquet-like daily menu at USD 18 only. The dinner is more family or business-oriented, with a group of friends leaving their Zegna silk jacket in the back of their Bentley convertible for a richer treatment. We mixed both options, and for not more than USD 45 spoiled our palate the best from Yi Sang.
We started cheaply, yet deliciously, ordering a small selection of Dim Sum with resulted as the best we ever had in Phnom Penh. The texture and aroma of the stir-fried "Shrimp Wonton", crispy and fishy, reached a climax with the steamed "Ha Khao". The skilled Cantonese chef enlightened this classic with a well-dosed -yet explosive- Wasabi topping... That was just perfect! We discover another category of Dim Sum: deep-fried, with a pleasantly textured rice paste layer covered with almonds. Probably a chef's personal creation, or one of those 1000s hidden dishes from one of the richest cuisines in the world.
Roasted pork and duck are Yi Sang best sellers. Selected from the best bio-farm, they are slowly and lovingly cooked. With crispy skin and savory, almost melting flesh. So tempting that we shall focus our next visit on further specialties from the restaurant special lacquer stand.
What makes the succulence and excellence of this fine-dining Asian restaurant are treasures of the Cantonese cuisine, now totally prohibited in the Western countries. The "Shark Fin Soup", exquisitely fishy, lusciously appealing, is worth at least one Michelin-star. We ordered only one portion for our table of three, and found it great value for money at less than USD 50 (just a bit more than USD 16 per guest, like in the small Bangkok Chinatown restaurants). The tight price (and portion) was almost the same for best dessert ever: "Bird Nest with Coconut Milk". Those who never experienced those two “musts” of the magic Cantonese cuisine can't die before a visit to Yi Sang.
There is a large selection of wine, including some “grands crus”; but we did it as always, preferring jasmine tea to give our gastronomic tasting a 3D impression, and let the ingredients and the chef's mastery reveal their peak. It was very high at Yi Sang Sothearos.
Open daily from 6 am to 9 pm.
YI SANG SOTHEAROS: No 128F, Sothearos Blvd. Corner of the Russian Embassy,
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 12 81 44 88
LA PERGOLA (****L): It took young Chef Olivier Guillon less than five years to catch enough know-how to make foodies a great impression. Olivier is less than 25 years old; but already acquired a rapid, yet effective experience in the kitchen of one and two-Michelin star chefs. He initiated his career as a pastry chef. His menu, therefore, features noticeable desserts. Pastry means also design, with artistically displayed dishes reflecting a “grande table”. The concurrence is not considerable on the matter in Phnom Penh, where the “gourmet” experience is as hard to encounter as a taximeter... So we should not risk much in telling that we had one of our best gastronomic experience in his restaurant, located at the elegant hotel Plantation first floor. Avoid by all means the tables with a monotonous -and quite poor- street view, and prefer the pleasant and quiet perspective on the hotel lotus pounds. There is also a smart air-conditioned dining room, which we would recommend for a business lunch or dinner.
We had a classic amuse-bouche: “Smoked Salmon”, with Mango, Water Lily, Popcorn, Lemon Dressing, served with black bread. The salmon from Scotland is slowly smoked by the chef. It results in a rich texture, and a delicate taste excited by the lemon dressing. More interesting, the “Foie Gras” came with the Michelin-star touch: was it for the gingerbread crust, giving some crisp and a sweet pairing to the duck liver cooked slowly at a low temperature? From the Port jelly and strawberry coulis presented with touches of color over the monochromatic plate? That dish was perfect with some a light pinch of Kampot pepper. Even the Tartare came with a touch of aristocracy: veal meat had been preferred to beef, for a subtle union with truffle, balsamic vinegar reduction, Parmigiano Reggiano cream in a crispy tube, and lukewarm pumpkin espuma, that was a short trip to Italy. A classic from the Milanese trattoria, relatively unexpected at a French table in Cambodia. Yet actually delicious.
Chef Olivier is a “master es pork belly”! Imported from “La Ferme de Bassac”, where selected cattle is raised, and the meat cut, according to the traditional French techniques. The crisp of the skin and the smoothness of the meat create a double pleasure, amplified by the palatable corn purée, green cabbage, and demi-glace beef sauce. This is our recommended main course, with the positively surprising and perfectly prepared “Poached Mackerel”, with grilled leeks, tomato pulp, sprouts, bathed in a tasty Dashi broth. Don't miss the well-textured “Tiger Prawns”, with coconut milk sauce, usually presented in a large raviole, with tangy wok-braised vegetable, and aromatic kafir lime oil.
Desserts are masterpieces of art. The presentation is based on the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” techniques. The “Milk Cardamom Chocolate Mousse, Rooibos Tea Crémeux, Chocolate Sea Salt Crumble, Cocoa Jelly, Caramelized Hazelnuts, and Rooibos Tea Ice Cream”, made with Weiss chocolate, is just impressive. And what could say about the inventive “Orange-Carrot” (sweet creamy carrot, gingerbread, hazelnut crumble, orange supreme, honey-ginger ice cream, carrot chips and orange sauce), which we enjoyed with a twist of Cointreau. Yummy! We felt like sitting at L'Atelier Robuchon Paris, not in a tropical restaurant where the average bill comes under USD 50 with one glass of wine (we noted that the wine list was quite mediocre, with only a few bottles worth pairing such a promising cuisine). If Olivier doesn't become a renowned chef withing the next ten years, we swear we become veggie.
LA PERGOLA: 828, street 184 - Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 (0) 23 21 51 51
THE BEL CIBO (****L): We expected to find out authentic Italian cuisine everywhere in Phnom Penh, but in this measureless dining room. At the top panoramic floor of a gigantic five star hotel principally catering Asian guests.
Forget the impersonal appearance of the restaurant, have a look on the million dollar Mekong / city view, and concentrate on the short thought mouth-watering menu, featuring excellent trattoria specialties, and surprisingly perfect pizzas.
The limited selection of antispasti, made from super fresh ingredients, features signature dishes like “Antipasto Misto Bel Cibo”. A large portion at a fair price (USD 25) for a convivial share with two or three friends, it offers a Trio of Bruschetta, Parma Ham, Cured Pork Neck, Salami Milano, Risotto Balls, and Filled Green Olives. All freshly imported from Italy. Other signatures: “Wagyu Beef Carpaccio”, with Parmesan Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar (USD 15) and delectable “Burrata Classica al Natural” (USD 12). Not to forget the selection of fresh, well-seasoned salads.
If this is your first visit, you should order and share two main dishes. First of all, order a pizza. They come on a separate menu, with a great selection of authentic fire-oven cooked Napolitan pizza. Price goes from USD 9 for Margarita till USD 14 for the sophisticated “Chef Giorgio’s Very Special One” which we ordered. It was so perfect. The texture was soft in the center, with crispy borders. Very thin, and covered with a generous spread of Mozzarella and Gorgonzola cheese, bacon and mushrooms, over a thick layer of aromatic tomatoes. Pour some spicy oil on the top, and it will fly you to the moon. We would say without any hesitation that, with the excellent Il Forno, The Bel Cibo is the best place in Phnom Penh to find pizza which would please an Italian visitor (while 90% of pizzerias in town copy the mediocre, fat, American recipes).
Second dish could be another signature: “Black Squid Ink Risotto with Scallops” (USD 15), creamy and succulent, for instance, or the distinctive “Ossobuco alla Milanese” (USD 24): the braised veal with saffron risotto melted in our palate. We are at Sokha, where the origin and quality of the ingredients do matter.
Italian desserts are yummy at The Bel Cibo: particularly the creamy and soft “Panna Cotta” and the chocolate / almonds “Torta Caprese” (USD 6)
You won’t spend much on wine: with by-the-glass available from USD 6.5. This price buys you a decent Chilean or Australian wine, nice with pizza. We paired our dinner with a traditional, simple yet pleasant and aromatic “Lornano Chianti, Sangiovese, Piedmonte” at only USD 28 by the bottle. This was more than reasonable in a five star hotel.
Open Daily: Dinner: 06.00 pm - 10.00 pm
THE BEL CIBO (at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh): Tonle Sap St, Chroy Changvar, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 685 8888
BISTRO ROMANO (****L): This is surely the most intimate; not to say “romantic” restaurant in the extravagant and super exciting Nagaworld: one of the largest 5-star hotels and the only luxury premium casino in Cambodia. Though set lunch menu offered a better value alternative, we preferred to have a chic a-la-carte dinner in this plush Italian restaurant. Bistro Romano looks like a “supper club”: with a ritzy setting, luxurious tableware, nice staff providing a most efficient service. Ignored by the Chinese gamblers invading Nagaworld night and day, it is a haunt for distinguished travellers experiencing this bustling hotel and looking for quite an authentic Italian experience. This is not a pizzeria; this is not a trattoria. Let's describe Bistro Romano as a good international cuisine restaurant with a strong Italian note.
“Bisque Soupe” was engaging and served generously. Actually succulent, aromized with crab meat and enriched with delicious crab dumplings. Fairly priced at US$ 7, this is a signature dish which we would like to recommend. As a main dish or even appetizer, “Fritto Misto” is simply delicious, with rich portions of crispy deep fried calamari, sea-bass, prawns, mussels and snapper, accompanied with a fragrant garlic aioli. Maybe little bit overpriced at US$ 20, but still on the list of those unforgettable specialties which we would like to experience one more time when we visit Cambodia again.
All dishes came up with home-backed small olive ciabatta, lukewarm from the oven, and a selection of sauces for gourmet dips. Each time we finished our portion, a new selection of bread and sauces was immediately sent to our table. We liked a lot the anticipating service. Everybody was so kind and professional. The Cambodian chef, trained in France and Italy, left his open-kitchen many times to check if everything was OK with our dinner. He suggested that we should conclude our Italian experience with the most Italian dessert: “Tiramisu”, which we found as authentic as yummy. Strong on coffee and light on Mascarpone, it was light and tasty. US$ 7, which was quite reasonable. Spending US$ 34 for a classy supper in a five-star restaurant looks like a great offer. Plus US$ 7 for one glass of acceptable table wine from Tuscany (“Santa Cristina, 2014”); much more if you prefer to order a bottle of the extraordinary vintage wines, like Petrus or Chateau Lafite Rothschild, from the richest wine-list in Phnom Penh. For easy casino winners only!
BISTRO ITALIANO: (at Nagaworld): NagaWorld Samdech Techo Hun Sen Park, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 2 322 8822
TAKEZONO (****L): The classiest, most authentic and highest Japanese restaurant in town stands 15 minutes ride from the city center. At the extremity of the quiet Chroy Changvar peninsula, on the 19th floor of the five-star Sokha Hotel.
Seating 125 guests, this prestigious restaurant is astonishingly intimate compared with the other F&B resources in this pharaonic hotel (the largest in Cambodia). It has private dining-rooms for VIP guests (but you’ll be allowed to use one of them, providing you book in advance), and a dramatic view over the River Mekong, the Quays and the city.
Executive chef Kunihiko Hamada has been hired from Tokyo to bring a real Japanese taste to Phnom Penh. And from our recent dinner in May 2016, we can confirm that the savors of Japon came on our plate with a touch of class.
We enjoyed the supreme refinement of having our Teppanyaki prepared in front of us, by our private chef and in our VIP room! The setting looked ideal for romance, family or business dinner. The anticipating staff only interfered with our intimacy to bring us premium sake on crushed ice, mizo soup (strong on “dashi” stock), crispy salads which were so tasty that we ate them without any condiment, and a set of prime class hand-craft sushi featuring crude salmon, and the best assortments of fresh tuna imported the same week from the Pacific. Unlike in Paris or London sushi bars, fish was sliced thickly: developing a richer taste with a better texture.
Takezono is, first of all, a Teppanyaki restaurant. We got sea scallops, crunchy giant tiger prawns, and super tender US sirloin, all cooked with plenty of garlic from the “teppan”. Takenozo is also a steak-house. Japanese style, of course, but yet offering prime steaks and a well-mastered cooking time. Compared with our experience at “The New York Steak House”, a few weeks ago in Bangkok, we found the price more than reasonable. A well-sized sirloin from Texas will cost less than USD50. We like the attractive packages on the menu: with average USD 50-80 price range for two. We are in a five-star Japanese restaurant; when it might sound costly on the Phnom Penh standard, it will look amazingly good value for visitors from the USA, UK, Europe… or Japan.
Don’t leave without tasting the Green Tea Sherbet: if, like us, you don’t like so many Japanese desserts, you will make an exception with this one.
Open daily for dinner: 06.00 pm - 10.00 pm.
TAKEZONO (at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh): Tonle Sap St, Chroy Changvar, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 685 8888
XIANG PALACE (****L): This high-end Cantonese restaurant, known for serving the richest Dim Sum in Phnom Penh, is elegantly set in the five star hotel Intercontinental. The large dinning room, with a few private rooms and a smooth-as-silk atmosphere, accommodates large family venues and intimate diner alike.
The Xiang Palace targets the wealthy Sino-Cambodian clientele, more than the western hotel guests who usually prefer to dine out. The experience at Xiang Palace is, therefore, 100% original. Those who like one of the best cuisines in the world, should use the opportunity to enjoy Sino-Malaysian Chef Soon Roo's creative and delectable recipes. Prepared in small portions and presented in steamer baskets, this Dim Sum master's specialties are usually served by 3 pieces. The Scallop, Crystal Har Gau (shrimp), Shanghai Siew Long Bau (pork) and fantastic Squid Ink Whelk are actually among the very best steamed dumplings that we ate in our long gourmet life. There is also an extensive choice of Pan Fried / Deep Fried / Baked Dim Sum: try the crispy and tasty Wanton Salad (prawn), or the wealthy “Golden Cheese Prawn Ball”. Dum Sum costs between US$ 2 and 5, approximately. Most of them are available in the money saving “Unlimited Dim Sum Bonanza”, served only lunch time (US$ 18 ++ / person during our last visit, in November 2015). Pair your Dim Sum with one glass of “Moët & Chandon, Brut Imperial”. At US$ 25 / glass, this remains an affordable luxury.
Plenty of Cantonese food lovers in town are easy spenders. After Dim Sum, they order fabulous abalones which are the pearls of the Asian cuisine. Imported from South Africa and Australia, they are braised with Goose Web, stewed, cold cut or sliced. This most refined experience will cost you between US$ 40 till 87. A great recommendation, at a lower price: the Peking Duck at Xiang Palace is expertly cooked after a long marination in fragrant herbs and spices. Served with lettuce, noodles and strong black pepper from Kampot.
Diner, featuring a couple of baskets of Dim Sum and Peking Duck will set the bill to 30/35 US$. Plus US$ 10 if you pair it with one glass of frangrant and fruity “Koonunga Hills Shiraz Cabernet, Penfolds”: one of Australia's favourite premium red wines.
Open from 6.30 am (for Chinese Breakfast), until 10.30 pm.
XIANG PALACE: (at Intercontinental Phnom Penh): 296 Boulevard Mao Tse Toung, Phnom Penh
PHONE: +855 23 424888 TOLL FREE: +800 80 800 800
THE CHINA HOUSE (****L): As it happens in all the restaurants in Sokha Hotel, we ate brilliantly at The China House, which lurks in the still secret residential peninsula of Chroy Changvar.
Discreet and functional, the dining room looks almost modern compared with the other venues in this megalomaniac hotel. A well provisioned fish tank hosts groupers, lobsters and further varieties of fish available on the nineteen page menu… I would take dozens of visits to properly review what can be called “the temple of Chinese cuisine in Phnom Penh”. It is supposedly oriented toward Sichuan cuisine, cooked by an expert chef recently imported from Beijing.
We did it the basic way, and selected our dish from the pictures. The “Jelly Fish and Baby Octopus Thai Style”, served by a generous portion at USD 8, were subtly refreshing and tasty. Not so spicy, despite of the Thai reference. “Crispy Bean Curd with Spicy Salt” (USD 4) are a classic which we would also warmly recommend; just for the pleasant texture. One more time, the portion could feed two gourmands at least.
We wished to check if the “Traditional Style Crispy Roast Peking Duck” was as good as at Siang Ping Loh in Bangkok, considered as one of the best place in the world to enjoy this specialty. It could not compete yet, as our dish was limited to the excellent crispy skin but not enough flesh, which we rolled in delicious pancakes. We still prefer the real receipt featuring the broth, the flesh pan-woked with basil and pepper, and the pancaked skins. Half portion costs USD 19, which remains more than reasonable.
If the plain “Pan-Fried Egg Noodle with Seafood and Vegetable” (USD 10) didn’t make us much impression, we have certainly eaten the best Dim Sums in Phnom Penh. Just to take an example: “Prawn Dim Sums” feature not less than three pieces of crunchy, ultra-fresh crustaceans. The variety of dumplings is almost unlimited, and featured on a separate menu with a money saving “all you can eat” option at USD 24 per guest.
Desserts are profusion: the “Cream Custard Buns”, by six pieces at USD6 are so yummy.
You can pair the whole lunch with chrysanthemum tea (USD 3) or Angkor beer by the can (USD 4.5).
Open Daily: Lunch: 11.30 am - 02.30 pm Dinner: 06.00 pm - 10.00 pm .
THE CHINA HOUSE (at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh): Tonle Sap St, Chroy Changvar, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 685 8888
TONLE SAP BAR (****L): This pantagruelian all-you-can-eat buffet is the smart choice if you are looking to stock up a prime class variety of food from all over the world, with loads of draught beer, for less than USD 40! The new GM at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh works –and spends- a lot on F&B to promote this new five star hotel.
We took the opportunity of the incredibly good value offer to spend two pleasant and gourmand hours at the panoramic open-air terrace, embracing the whole city. Like at Takezono, we found the service extremely professional and friendly: welcomed by a hostess, we have been courteously accompanied to “the best table” (actually, all have got the same romantic Mekong view), welcomed by the maître d’, and served refreshment within less than two minutes. We should add that the Tonle Sap Bar was not so busy for a Friday evening, with maybe 20 tables occupied in a restaurant seating 250 guests at ease; this was not such a heavy duty to take care of the patrons that night. Anyway, it was done nicely and elegantly, meeting our total satisfaction.
The buffet is Las Vegas style by the volume, and Bangkok or Hong Kong style by the quality. The food is well presented, with plenty of cooks to fry, grill, barbecue, boil, steam or simply recommend the finest tastes brought together on different food stations. King crab (from Kamchatka: the best in the world!), tiger prawns, oysters, lamb, beef, duck, sashimi, super fresh dim sum… it is all there. We would like to warmly recommend the BBQ pork-ribs, well marinated, super crispy and juicy. The myriad of desserts goes from tropical fruits to a rich selection of yummy French pastries as authentic as in Paris.
The day of our visit, the atmosphere was quite local, and agreemented by a Khmer band performing cheesy music and singing nostalgic melodies. You will like it or not: we did.
Open daily for dinner: 04.00 pm - 10.00 pm.
TONLE SAP BAR (at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh): Tonle Sap St, Chroy Changvar, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 685 8888
PANGEA FUSION (****L): Great value, great food, great view over the River Tonle Sap. Triple cheers to Nagaworld buffet, where almost all kinds of cuisines are available: western with an Italian note, Malaysian halal, Japanese, Chinese and of course Cambodian.
Our stay at Nagaworld was enlightened each morning by a splendid buffet breakfast. Really five star, with plenty of food stations and open cuisines. At dark, we had a remarkable yet “painful” dinner: it was so difficult to make a choice from so many delicacies. We pick up a little bit of the most appealing dishes. We recommend the soft shell crab, excellent homemade shushi, fantastic sautéed Asian mushrooms, spicy clams, mouth watering grilled Pla Kha Mekong fish and sautéed prawns.
Among specialties which we discovered for the very first time was the delectable “Coca Cola grilled chicken” and the local “Khmer Banchao”: tasty and rich crepe with chicken, shrimps, basil, cucumber, bean sprouts, and mint.
The home backed bread was French (we loved the small baguette so much!) and Italian: Nagaworld actually hires the best backer in Phnom Penh! There was a small selection of cheese, including an international though acceptable version of the French Camembert and Gruyère. The profusion of desserts featured juicy tropical fruits, yummy mango sticky rice, good pastries and jellies. There was even a chocolate fountain for the kids!
Try to book at 8pm: this is when the Khmer Dances Show starts: and it is worth indeed.
Our bill, for full buffet, Khmer show, and one glass of local Anchor Beer was a little bit under USD 30 per person. Which sounds adequate for a buffet with a WOW factor and one of the best service in Phnom Penh.
PANGEA FUSION: (at Nagaworld): NagaWorld Samdech Techo Hun Sen Park, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 2 322 8822
ROYAL (****L): We don't like so much
restaurants; but Phnom Penh don't offer many five star tables, and Le
Royal is so classy that this would have been a pity to ignore it.
Located in the historic Hotel Le
Royal, by Raffles, erected by the French in 1929,
featuring one of the most elegant “Belle Epoque” architecture in Phnom
Penh, this is a pleasure and a privilege, which only money can
pay, to seat in this smart dinning room mixing French
Colonial, Art Deco and Khmer styles.
Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 23 981 888 FACSIMILE: +855 23 981 168
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS CLUB “FCC” (***): Affectionately referred as FCC by its regular patrons, this is “our club” in Phnom Penh, located next door to the Royal Residence , and where the expats traditionally gather for sundowner. We can't compare it with its homonym in Hong Kong; no need to be a member (is there a membership, by the way?) to climb up to the rooftop floor, enjoy the most beautiful tropical terrace in the city centre, and sip a chilled glass of “Angkor Beer” (on the rocks, to look like a long term resident!) lulled by the “flop-flop” of the 1950's Westinghouse ceiling fan.
The place attracted us each evening, like a lamp attracts moths. Not that much for the relatively plain quality of the food: though the wood-fired pizza is fine... but as expensive as in Europe or in the USA, at about USD 10, and the Khmer Dessert Tasting Plate is OK, at USD 6. What we rather liked in the FCC is the lazy colonial atmosphere, surviving here more than anywhere else in Phnom Penh. Let the tourists capture the remarkable view over the River Mekong, and straightly try to find a seat at “The F", as the patrons frequenting the big horseshoe bar like to call it. It has served stiff drinks, camaraderie and comfort to a storied cast of journalists and diplomats, movie stars and intrepid travellers since 1993. You might like to stay little bit away from the crowds, on a nostalgic night, drink a glass of French Armagnac and smoke a Cuban cigar, listening to live rhumba, in one of the remote corners of the rooftop terrace, where foreign correspondents like to meditate during the war, in front of their Underwood type-writer. Feeling like somewhere, indeed!
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS CLUB “FCC”: 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
PHONE: +855 23 724 014 FACSIMILE: +855 23 427 758
SOVANNA (***): We would like to offer a gift to the gourmets looking for an informal, friendly atmosphere in an authentic Khmer restaurant, located right in the city center but still ignored by the tourists, offering amazingly tasty food and chilled beer for a handful of one dollar banknotes. A gift with a name, well known by all tuk-tuk drivers: Sovanna.
We discovered by chance what quickly appeared to be one of the top 10 most popular beer gardens in Cambodia. Booked in the chic La Rose Suites, we had been attracted by the animation… and the mouth-watering smell of BBQ next door. This is how we stepped into Sovanna, where we could miraculously sit at rush time, between 6 and 9pm. Before we received the extensive illustrated menu, three lovely hostesses were already trying to sell us the brand of beer which commissioned them: Angkor, Cambodia, Heineken… all are refreshing, extremely inexpensive by the draft, and served on the rocks.
Local patrons (95% of the guests) share and regularly reorder plenty of small or medium portions of meat, fish or vegetables, plus a large portion of rice. Do it that way. We would recommend mixed grilled meats from the BBQ: pork came in our plate delicious, little bit sweet and much tender, and they do know how to cook the best and cheapest steaks in Phnom Penh. A small portion costs only 3 USD: making Sovanna the best valued steak-house which we ever visited in South East Asia, where beef costs much more compared with most of Western countries.
Seafood was ultra-fresh each time we visited the restaurant. Grilled Gambas with Salty Eggs, and Pan-Fried Squids with Basil & Garlic, are signature dishes. As far as Cockles in Tamarind Sauce and Spicy Frogs (our favorite dish).
Beer tastes always better by the pitcher, and we drank a couple of glasses extinguish the fire from the strong spices which made our Stir-Fried Seafood and Vegetable as hot as in Thailand. Food tends to be blend in Cambodia; this is not the case at Sovanna. They actually do it Thai-style, and we like it. If you want to make it 100% Khmer, order Sngor Chrouk Trey: fish soup with a lemongrass broth, lime juice and fresh herbs. Sack Ko Ang and Lok Lak Beef are also worth a try. Fish Amok, with a thick coconut sauce and a myriad of spices, the national specialty, is supremely palatable.
A rich selection of tropical food comes as the best dessert ever.
One of our preferred restaurants in Phnom Penh, Sovanna opens all week: 6:00am - 11:00am, 3:00pm - 11:00pm.
SOVANNA: Street 21, Tonle Bassac 12301, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
PHONE: +855 016 840 055
OF THE BEST RESTAURANTS