There’s a scene in the 1955 musical Guys and Dolls where Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) tries to hoodwink Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) into making a rigged $1,000 wager on whether the cheesecake at neighbourhood diner Mindy’s sells more than the apple strudel.
“Would you not agree that Mindy’s cheesecake is the best cheesecake alive?”, asks Detroit, as he digs into what looks to be the pinnacle of a classic, creamy New York cheesecake.
I’ve been chasing that perfect wedge my whole life. Who knew it could be found in an unlikely corner of Phnom Penh?
Aside from its cheesecake — more on that later —Digby’s, a high-end deli and diner that held its soft opening last week, is more Harrods than Mindy’s. Or it would be if Harrods took its design cues from German industrial aesthetics.
The place is airplane hangar enormous, with lofty ceilings and slate black and grey walls. Gleaming silver shelves bear imported favourites from Germany, Australia, Singapore and more. The farmer’s market crowd is well-catered for with quinoa oat flakes, buttermilk pancake mix and local, organic fruit and veg.
The real draw, however, is the generous selection of fine meats. My first encounter with Digby’s was in the form of 10 fat sausages for $8. Half an hour later, they were sautéed with caramelised apple slices and bacon. Smoky, juicy comfort food.
The other side to the business is in-house dining. A seating area in one corner of the room has the feel of a Steampunk set — think Dr Who, or Back to the Future. Hanging lightbulbs dangle from the ceiling and black pipes stretch out of faux chandeliers. Models of vintage cars and telephones sit on shelves. Comfortable sofas and thick wooden tables add warmth. It’s an interesting place to eat.
The menu, printed on paper, is varied and has a homey feel, featuring dishes which are, optimistically, dubbed already ‘famous’. Fusion pasta throws up some surprise hits — fettuccine bolognaise ($7.80) was drenched in a miso-paste sauce that added a salty Asian kick. Iced tea ($3) was given a sherberty twist with blobs of lime sorbet.
The kitchen is still ironing out some kinks. Lunch was a very long time coming, though friendly, sharp-dressed staff quickly compensated with a sweet, if slightly mistimed, appetiser of homemade mango cheesecake and two slabs of fudgy mud-cake.
Other problems included a disappointing bubble and squeak ($4.80). Traditionally made from the fried leftovers from a roast dinner, bubble and squeak should be a crisp and greasy guilty pleasure and packed with vegetable choppings. This was soft potato mash. Had the beautifully poached egg oozed over a crunchy fried texture instead, the dish, which was also served with very good bacon, would have been glorious.
We had none of those problems the next morning at breakfast. Service was swift bringing a nutty cappuccino ($2.35), and caramel latte ($2.45). Fluffy American pancakes ($4.20) came served with banana and butterscotch sauce — heavenly. A corn chive frittata ($6.50) was crisp and slickly presented with a sticky balsamic reduction and avocado tomato salsa.
Dessert yielded a stronger showing yet. Mud-cake ($3.50) was dense and rich, with a fudgy consistency and an icy topping. Then, there was the cheesecake ($3.50). It was baked, with a chewy top layer and soft lemony centre, with the sticky consistency of melted white chocolate. The base was made from crushed biscuits and peanuts. The whole thing was fresh, light and wonderful.
The original Lindy’s restaurant in New York, for which Mindy’s was a stand-in, may be gone but the bastion of terrific cheesecake stands strong.
From one amiable local joint to another, Digby’s has the air of something both familiar and exciting. And the city is all the better for it.
7am - 5pm
#34A, Street 306