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Spring rolls and an infinity pool make for a happy afternoon.
Spring rolls and an infinity pool make for a happy afternoon. NICK STREET

Elephant in the Kitchen makes itself heard

Phnom Penh residents may be forgiven for suffering from chic boutique fatigue. Since the now defunct Elsewhere opened in 2004, countless ‘urban resort’ hotels and restaurants have popped up in the city’s touristy areas. A pool is mandatory, and sleek white walls preferable. Not a bad way to spend a lazy Saturday, but with so many options, new additions are easy to ignore.

For the past nine months I have watched the construction of such an establishment, the Patio, across my alleyway just off the intersection of Streets 51 and 282. With its white exterior and faux-Angkorian bas reliefs in the lobby, it seemed at first to fit the cliche.

Sun-dried tomato hummus.
Sun-dried tomato hummus. NICK STREET

Nonetheless, I had been kept awake too many mornings during its construction to ignore the place, so I went to the restaurant on its seventh floor for dinner last week.

I quickly realised that Patio was better than most, with a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the city that complemented the extensive tapas menus of their restaurant, Elephant in the Kitchen.

The chef is a graduate of Friends Restaurant, which trains local at-risk young people in the culinary arts. The fare is very similar, with a diverse selection of 10 vegetarian and 17 non-vegetarian tapas, available from $4 to $6.25 apiece. Although lacking any twists on the Friends formula, quality is up to par.

The menu says one or two tapas will be adequate for one person. I ordered three. My first course was the sun-dried tomato hummus on crispy wonton wrappers ($4.75). Each wonton wrapper had a small scoop of hummus with a basil leaf and cherry tomato sticking out, giving a pleasant garden taste accompanied by the wholesomeness of the hummus. In addition to being my favourite of the three tapas, it was also some of the best hummus I’ve had in the Kingdom.

Next came the honey garlic pork and beef meatballs ($4.25), which were reminiscent of the supposedly ‘German’ meatballs that my mother cooks on Christmas Eve. Drenched in syrupy honey sauce, the meatballs were as sweet as they were heavy.

By the time I had finished the meatballs, I was worried I had ordered too many tapas.

My fears were confirmed when I was delivered crispy shrimp wonton with sweet chili sauce ($5). Deep fried in oil, I gluttonously worked my way through the half-dozen wontons, enjoying the greasy shrimp but regretting my excess.

While Elephant in the Kitchen has a fine menu, the view is its real winner. In daylight, bathers can enjoy a towering view of Sihanouk Boulevard from the rooftop pool above the restaurant.

The next day, as I ate from a plate of mushroom and leek spring rolls ($5), I splashed in the saltwater as I looked upon the Independence Monument many metres below me. I then looked eastward for a direct view of my office’s windows, and felt both satisfaction and guilt as I imagined my colleagues busily typing while I sipped my blue margarita. ​​​​​​

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