Cambodia

Culinary extravaganza

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am

As Cambodia continues to open up - attracting increasing foreign investment and tourists - the capital, Phnom Penh, is becoming a more international city. The city's transformation is particularly noticeable in its restaurant and bar scene.

While in years past, tourists had few choices, with the Foreign Correspondents' Club usually topping the list, dining options now abound, from casual cafes to 5-star Italian restaurants, and elegant wooden dining rooms serving traditional Khmer food, to street stalls selling pig on the spit.

Phnom Penh may never compete with Siem Reap's wonders of Angkor Wat, but the capital is attracting foodies in droves.

'People who visit Phnom Penh often tell me how shocked they are to see how advanced the city is,' says Didier Lamoot, area general manager of Sofitel, running the new Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel (26 Sothearos Boulevard, [855] 23 999 200), which has four restaurants, a bakery and a bar. The Italian restaurant, Do Forni, is the hotel's signature venue and specialises in Piedmont cuisine, while the other venues cover international dishes with a French twist, Chinese and Japanese.

The new NagaWorld Hotel Phnom Penh (Samdech Techo, Hun Sen Park, [855] 23 228 822) also offers a number of dining options, from Korean to Chinese, while the Raffles Hotel Le Royal (92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, [855] 23 981 888) remains a stalwart of the dining and drinking scene with its legendary colonial-style Elephant Bar and fine dining option, Restaurant Le Royal, which serves modern French and Royal Khmer cuisine.

But there are also options for diners wanting to sample top quality restaurants away from hotels.

Romdeng (74 Street 174, [855] 92 219 565), housed in an old mansion, the top floor of which is an art gallery, is a highlight of any visit to Phnom Penh.

It serves a range of traditional Khmer dishes, such as an excellent fish amok in banana leaf, and dishes suited to more adventurous foreign diners, including tamarind-scented frog leg and tree ant soup.

The restaurant is run as a training venue for former street children by a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Mith Samlanh.

The NGO also operates the more casual Friends the Restaurant (215 Street 13, [855] 12 802 072), which is ideal for a light meal of international, Khmer or Laotian food. Khmer Surin is equally worth a visit.

Set in a traditional Khmer-style building, the multilevel restaurant oozes elegance with ceiling fans, wood and silk. Expect Khmer and Thai dishes. As with Romdeng, the quality is astonishing.