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Lunchtime best for grazing at Naturae

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If your first thought upon entering Naturae is, “the one day I forgot my lawnmower”, you are probably in the right place. Each wooden table, inside and out, has a healthy stretch of tall, green grass rising through its centre.

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Though mildly gimmicky it is the exception rather than the rule, as the restaurant design otherwise takes a fairly minimalist Scandinavian-Khmer approach.

Located in an adjoining room of the lobby of The 240 hotel (and part of the hotel, hence the US$3.50 fruit shakes) the restaurant consists of a few tables outside and in front, with the back half serving as a small shop for various organic products.

Quotes on the wall from people like Pavarotti encourage you to eat well and extol the virtues of things like spirolina and buckwheat (available as standalone shots or in your smoothie). The semi-open kitchen appears spotless through a glass window; if you’re so inclined, you can watch your meal being prepared by bandana-and-apron-clad staff.

On separate visits we had the restaurant almost entirely to ourselves and service was relaxed and efficient. All of our questions were answered andminor order changes went off without issue. Water refills are regular enough but nothing else that isn’t explicitly ordered will appear.

The fresh and organic motif continues on with the food. All salads and wraps are $5.50 but not all are created equal. On one visit at lunch the wild rice and lentil salad, served warm, packed a lemony zing, a week later at dinner it was underdressed and missing that final kick.

Another, dubbed the “fresh & light”, was just that: creamy, salty feta contrasting brilliantly with crisp, sweet watermelon (unfortunately the addition of watercress does nothing to provide much needed bulk and its bitterness is an unwelcome distraction).

Despite coming with a few slices of bread and an olive-tomato tapenade this was too light to satisfy anything more than an afternoon snack.

Instead opt for the Mediterranean wrap: The meatless sandwich is beefed up with perfectly grilled and diced eggplant, peppers, zucchini and feta, plenty of which will spill onto the included side salad, immensely satisfying.

Wines are offered by the bottle only (from $13-16). Organic from Spain, Australia or Italy is as detailed as the list gets, so take your chances or opt as we did for one of the extensive shake selections. The menu proclaims the “tropical enzyme delight tastes like an orange creamsicle”. It does, and while the addition of bee pollen makes it earthier than sweet it is still thick and refreshing.

Melted parmesan livens up an $8 pumpkin risotto but the dish calls for the addition of more pepper than should be necessary. The seared red snapper with citrus salsa verde appears, in actuality, lightly breaded and pan fried and with a mandarin-caper sauce. The fish, due to overcooking or perhaps catching the late bus from Sihanoukville, is a little on the dry side, but sits on a bed of spinach, which in turn rests on a healthy pile of thick fried potatoes, both of which soak up the sauce and are terrific.

Thick slabs of grilled vegetables served alongside are fine and filling but do little to complement the rest.

All in all nice but at $9 needs to be executed better.

We rounded out the meal with a small piece of flourless chocolate cake ($3.50), rich, dense and moist without being overly sweet: a winner.

It is difficult to take Naturae seriously if it doesn’t take itself seriously.

There is obvious thought and care put into each dish and everything is presented beautifully, however it gives the impression that if it weren’t for the adjoining hotel, it would be a lunch only spot. Go during daylight, stick with the lunch menu (anything under $6) and take anything marked “light” extremely literally.

Naturae, 83 St 240 (attached to The 240 hotel, near Norodom Blvd). Dinner for three (no wine) $40

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