Sunday, 3 November 2013

Restaurant Reviews - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Royal palace, Phnom Penh

In September I went on a whirlwind tour of Asia, spending five days in Cambodia, one day in Kuala Lumpur and one day in Singapore. I visited Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields, went up the Petronas twin towers and took a boat trip in Singapore and visited the Night Zoo. I also ate some fantastic (and very cheap) meals...

First I spent three nights in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I had joined a tour group as I was travelling alone; the group was mainly couples with a few solo travellers, mostly a lot older than me, but all very friendly and every night most of us went out to dinner together as a group. On our first evening together we went to


The restaurant is run by an NGO called Friends International, which works with disadvantaged children and their families in Cambodia. They run two restaurants and train some of the marginalized young people they support as chefs. The restaurant serves traditional Cambodian or Kymer cuisine.

I think the dish I chose was called chicken amok - chicken cooked in coconut milk and spices including lemongrass and turmeric (if I recall), which was very nice and not too spicy as I don't like really spicy food. Rice was served separately on the side. Apparently this is a little pricey compared to other restaurants in Phnom Penh but the quality of the food - and the work they are doing with the young people- justifies it, and in any case pricey here meant about £5 or so for a meal!

chicken amok

Warning: the next picture may put you off your dinner if you don't like spiders!

There were a couple of dishes on the menu that really surprised me - and not in a good way. Anyone for fire ants? I did a double take when I saw deep fried tarantulas on the menu then we realised a couple of Japanese girls at the next table had actually ordered them! One Australian woman in my group went over to ask if she could take a photo and they offered her one - and she very bravely tried it! I couldn't even look as she put it in her mouth - she said it tasted fishy and the legs were a bit crunchy. Ewwww..... anyway just to prove it here is a photo of the deep fried tarantulas!

deep-fried tarantulas

The restaurant displays artwork and soft furnishings also made by the young people the charity works with. There is an indoor and outdoor seating area; we chose to sit inside as we were a big group and were glad we had when the heavens opened. I've never seen rain like it! Within ten minutes there was at least a foot of water in the street - I was told the drainage system in Phnom Penh is very poor. Ten more minutes, and we were seated in a tuk tuk travelling back to our hotel, and the water was coming in through the floor... when I got out I had to step down into water that turned out to be literally knee-deep, which was not a very nice experience in the pitch dark and pouring rain! I have honestly never been so wet in my life. The amazing thing was that this was classed as relatively normal (that is, rain, not a great flood, even though the roads had turned into rivers) - and by the next morning all the water had gone!

Sunway Hotel
I stayed in the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh, which is a good quality, centrally-located hotel.

The hotel had an extensive breakfast buffet with a mixture of Western and Asian items - for instance bread rolls (though only one type of cheese to have with it, so not really a proper continental choice to me), jam, hard boiled eggs, cereal, and a large station where you could select meat, noodles, vegetables etc, watch them stir-fried and placed in a bowl and then some sort of clear broth poured on top. Anyone know what the proper name for this dish is? It was tasty but I decided during this trip that my stomach preferred more of a Western style breakfast!

breakfast at the Sunway hotel

The breakfast cooking station

I also tried some dragon fruit, which I'd never eaten before. I think the fruit looks beautiful from the outside - pink and spiky like a dragon - so I was surprised that inside, it was grey with black pips. It tasted really salty and I didn't like it at all!

sliced dragon fruit

Friends Tapas Restaurant
This restaurant is run by the same NGO as Romdeng; we had lunch here the following day. The restaurant is bright and colourful, with plenty of art on the walls. The menu calls itself tapas, and consists of small dishes which are actually not that small at all - two per person is plenty. The dishes vary from traditional Kymer (including those tree ants again, but thankfully no tarantulas this time), to more international dishes such as leek tarte tatin and even a burger. I had spiced fish served in a banana leaf with a side dish of sweet potato and taro fries with tum tum mayonnaise. I have no idea what tum tum is but it was very nice. I was less keen on the taro which turned out to be a root veg a little like cassava apparently (I've never eaten cassava either) and it reminded me of parsnip. The sweet potato fries were really good.

taro and sweet potato fries

spiced fish in a banana leaf

Foreign Correspondents' Club
As a former journalist (albeit financial rather than foreign) I was excited by the idea of having dinner at the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) in Phnom Penh. I can just imagine Jon Swain from the Killing Fields film sitting here filing a story. The FCC is now a boutique hotel and is alongside the Tonle Sap river. It has three or maybe four floors; the top is a roof terrace where you can sit outside overlooking the river as the sun goes down, which is a lovely experience. The restaurant serves excellent food with a large international/Western style menu and very nice cocktails - even somewhere  like this, which I imagine is quite pricey for Phnom Penh, cocktails were £4 each and in happy hour (which seemed to go on for several hours) it was two for the price of one. So of course I had to sample a few!

Long Island Ice Tea

I fancied something familiar so tried the lasagne; it was delicious and though fairly small it was very filling. Not bad for about £4. I'm told they do very good pizza here as well.

For dessert I had the chocolate truffle cake, which was nice and well presented but nothing to write home about. Overall it was a very enjoyable meal with good service and a lovely view.

View from the FCC at night


  1. I've never known dragon fruit to be salty before! Then again, I've only ever had it from Tesco... I always thought it tasted very refreshing, like a lemonade flavoured lolly pop!

    1. Weird, I wonder why that is? If there is a reason it's any different - maybe the fruit I had was marinaded in something, or my tastebuds were deceiving me...I just googled it and found one website suggesting that you add salt to bring out the flavour so maybe they just added too much!

  2. tarantulas sound interesting-can't taste worse than escargot!

    1. There is no way I would EVER put a spider in my mouth! Can't even look at that photo really...


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