The number of places to sit and watch the sun set over the city with a drink in hand has rocketed over the past few years. From the hotels along Riverside to towers on Monivong, there are plenty of opportunities to sip a cocktail on rooftops.
Dining, however, is another matter. Eclipse Skybar and Restaurant offers marvellous views over the city, but the food isn’t the selling point. Ditto Frangipani. But a lesser-known, Cambodian-run boutique hotel, La Maison d’Ambre, boasts a rooftop restaurant with spectacular 360-degree views, and a few months ago, The Fifth Element launched a new menu. I decided to take a look.
Once inside the hotel, we took the lift to the fifth floor rooftop, which is protected from the elements by a shelter overhead. With hanging pod chairs by the balcony, angular shapes and bright orange and red colours, the décor has a 1960s feel – it’s almost like walking onto an Austin Powers set. I would have to dispute the website’s claim to a 360-degree view – when we came out of the lift there was a very tangible wall. But 180 degrees suited us fine, particularly as it included the very white tip of Wat Phnom shooting into the dark sky.
The Fifth Element’s Cambodian chef has split the menu between Khmer and French cuisine. It’s not extensive. There is a reasonable list of tapas-style snacks, two salad options, and starters such as tomato and mozzarella, gazpacho and raw tuna.
Main courses are strictly split between fish dishes, meat dishes and Khmer cuisine, though there was also a blackboard offering specials such as Mekong fish and spaghetti bolognaise.
To drink, there is a wide selection of cocktails, though we stuck with wine – $18 for a bottle and $3.50 for a glass of house red or white. My white wine was fruity, which I liked, but the red wine was served cold: not uncommon in Phnom Penh, but not popular either.
Before our main courses arrived, we were served warm bread rolls with pots of butter. The offering was welcome but sadly the only example of good value we experienced. We paid $4 for a 1-litre bottle of water. All the main dishes were overpriced and poorly presented.
The ham-stuffed chicken breast with tagliatelle was completely white, aside from a couple of tiny chunks of tomato and a sprig of basil. The pasta tasted fresh and came with a hint of olive oil; the chicken was average. It certainly wasn’t worth $12.
Reports from my fellow diners were also disappointing. One friend ordered the duck confit, which he said was too dry and very unimaginatively served. At $18, it was the most expensive dish on the menu. Another friend who chose the Mekong fillet with pesto sauce ($10) described it as tasteless. But the spaghetti bolognaise went down well with a friend who has ordered the same dish in restaurants all over the city, so that’s saying something.
Dessert was an upswing. I ordered a chocolate fondant, which was small and light enough not to make me feel guilty, and classically served in a tall glass with vanilla ice cream to offset the warm gooeyness of the chocolate. Slices of banana flambé tasted wonderful, but had all the grace on the plate of a handful of pork sausages.
I would only go back – but just for the wine.
#123, Street 110.