But how did you come across this?, Carlo asks as we set up our delicate seats on the terrace on chairs that look a little wobbly. To be honest, no idea! Phnom Penh has been on my “restaurants to try for So Soir” list for months, but I have absolutely no idea how it ended up there. I wouldn’t have stopped and looked at the lure without it being recommended to me. It’s an old neighborhood establishment with a slightly dusty interior, with a few tables on the sidewalk when the weather permits. The boss brings us the menu, in the form of a table, and warns us: Not everything is Cambodian. Lacquered duck, for example, is not typical at all, but hey, people like it! This good old European tradition of Asian restaurants, where we have been used to eating “Asian things”, while Chinese, Thai and Korean cuisines resemble the Pope (and his sister) as much as I do.
In the video, the recipe for a carbonara is revisited:
On the plate
So on the menu, do we trust him or do we want to choose like adults? Then he would prepare a Cambodian menu for us. Spicy or not? Carlo and I turn to Elena, his youngest, by the way, the best of the goddaughters, since she is mine. A little. He walks back to the kitchen, stops on the way, says that he and his wife have been married for forty years, and continues his journey smiling.
It’s hot that evening, a heat to put on big bottles of sparkling water like pekets at the Walloon festivals. As a starter, the chef prepared two salads for us. There I admit I was a little scared. The first, with fresh pineapple and scampi, visually reminds me of painful memories from the company canteen. All it takes is one bite to make it right. The pineapple is fresh, ripe as it should be, spices based on fish sauce, sugar and lemon, the fresh herbs galore; in short, it is balanced. I would do it again but with good shrimp that haven’t crossed the planet, Carlo concludes, finishing the plate. Elena is reluctant to share the second salad with us, with (raw) salmon, peanuts, carrots, red onion.
While feebly battling a wasp that’s a little too cute for our taste, we receive thin – and juicy – cold slices of pork with five flavors and chilli spareribs, served with strips of cucumber. The case is packed in a few minutes. The chef and his wife then bring us two dishes that are currently making me drool over my keyboard (this is how you kill a computer). The first is a sort of minced pork and curry scampi casserole. Instructions: Take a leaf of chicory, spread a small blanket of rice in its cavity and then a spoonful of cassolette, then bite into it and spread it all over up to your wrists. Even the wasp, faced with our palpable emotions, decides to leave us alone. The second dish, also made with pork, eggplant, soybeans, onions and “we never know what else”, is caramelized, addictive, with a very precisely dosed smoke flavor. We actually don’t know much, to say nothing, about Cambodian gastronomy and we tell ourselves that we really missed something.
In the video you can discover these vegetables that are actually fruits:
Sinking into our not-so-wobbly chairs, almost passed out with happiness and already drowsy from eating too much, we watch the last course arrive with a hint of trepidation. I swear I didn’t have a cubic inch of stomach left when I plunged my fork into the roast beef with basil. A dish found from Bangkok to Phnom Penhsays the chef, who briefly reproduces the history of the Khmer Empire and its consequences for gastronomy. But they are all different ! In one of the planters that separates the terrace from the street, he picks basil, which has nothing to do with the Thai basil we are used to. Elena threw up her arms and unbuttoned her jeans. Carlo and I bravely honor the dish, whose beef is unfortunately a bit overcooked.
In pictures, here is our menu:
We pay around €35 per person, after eating for two days. And we spend the drive home repeating how amazing it all was. Gourmet, if you love good wine and you like white tablecloths, go your way. At worst, you can always sit on the terrace next door, Tortue, order some natural wine and be served a dish from Phnom Penh. And don’t ask me who recommended this address to me, I still don’t know. But let him or her be thanked here!
The address? 36 rue Edith Cavell, 1180 Uccle. T. 02.343.31.31. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday.
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