Any number of puns can be made regarding the difficulty of finding The Lost Room, but it is not particularly hard to locate: it’s simply not in the spot most people would expect to be looking for it.
The area around street 21, south of 294 is a terrific neighbourhood (I know because it’s mine), but it’s not a hotbed of activity after 5pm. In a recent piece in GQ on the new face of Paris dining, Alan Richman wrote about the surge in low-key “destination restaurants masquerading as neighborhood restaurants”.
The Lost Room is the Phnom Penh equivalent.
Eventually you’ll spot the painted gate of The Lost Room as you make your way down the narrow and winding portion of Street 21. The shophouse interior has a small bar in back and lots of exposed brick.
Reward yourself with an aptly named Lost on 9, a crisp gin and tonic perked up with a frozen lychee. The Lost on 21, a ginger and lemongrass spiked riff on the vodka tonic is equally refreshing.
The wine list is decent and heavy on the Australian selection thanks to owners and Phnom Penh veterans Wendy Lucas and Derek Mayes (also the chef).
Most bottles sit around the US$20-22 mark, but a dry and pleasant cava is downright delightful at $15. Pair it with an order of the pear and blue cheese parcels, filled phyllo dough, served with a delicate mango chutney ($4).
The menu is billed as small plates and though they work well for sharing most dishes are small courses within themselves. Wendy will guide and advise and if desired plan your meal for you with substitutions welcomed as required.
Vegetarians are catered to as well. In fact between the chef explaining your many courses and hidden surprises along the way the experience is more tasting menu than tapas.
You might start with falafel, dense and moist, topped with beetroot hummus ($4.50). Lamb comes barely pink and tender, atop a chunky butterbean mash. The house red, a smooth and light Le Colombier merlot ($14) doesn’t overpower the subtle spices.
A stuffed baby pumpkin ($6) packs a surprising wallop, while crispy pork belly ($7) is intensely fatty but not over-caramelised. Kangaroo ($8.50), which falls somewhere between duck and venison in terms of flavour and texture, is a bit on the stringy side and the saccharine papaya red wine reduction doesn’t help it.
Instead opt for the actual duck ($8), sliced thin with a layer of fat and crispy skin it comes with lentils and a smoky date puree.
A lighter option, fleshy local seabass ($7.50), an underutilized fish here, is marinated in a chimichurrirub for 24 hours. Phenomenal.
Everything about The Lost Room is pleasant. It is relaxed, service is easy: a true neighbourhood spot that’s worth a trip. Just have your tuk-tuk driver wait, it could be a while before you feel like leaving.
The Lost Room, 48 Street 21 (closest cross st is 354), dinner for four with wine, $75