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Not much special about the ‘specials’

Not much special about the ‘specials’

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Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

As the rainy season rolls in early and with full force, the likelihood of getting trapped in a particular neighbourhood around mealtime increases significantly. On the Riverside, there are stalwarts like Metro and Rahu, but fortune favours the brave and it’s necessary to branch out from time to time. With so many options across the board, however, the road is fraught with peril and it is becoming increasingly difficult to spot the few gems amid a sea of tourist traps.

La Croisette has been around for a while, in most areas this should be a good sign but on the Riverside all bets are off. The first sign of trouble, or at least curiosity, comes with the name. The nod to the Cannes waterfront stretch implies a French or at least Provençale twist, but the menu is decidedly Italian. Located on the corner, it’s a decent-sized space with high ceilings and an interesting if eclectic collection of pop art. A fairly ample outdoor seating area is mostly protected from the goings on of Sisowath Quay by a collection of moderately effective shrubs.

The menu is extensive featuring many in-house items and specials are written on chalkboards all around; it has all the makings of a restaurant that could rise above mediocrity, but that thought ends soon.

Upon closer inspection the “specials” are actually just items from the menu re-written on a blackboard and have not changed for a month. Quality ingredients for an antipasto platter should not be difficult to source in Phnom Penh, yet ours consists of a few pieces of rubbery parmesan cheese, what passes for parma ham and mortadella and salami that are non-descript to a point of frustration. At US$12.50 this is a poor showing. The “fresh pizza bread” is more like sliced white bread from a package and is even served unimpressively: with a couple of packets of anchor butter.

Homemade Papparadelle alla Senese ($8.50) is an improvement, the wide noodles are tossed with parma ham in an artichoke sauce, but it still has us requesting fresh chili to spice it up a bit. There is no saving the gnocchi in lamb ragout ($9.50). The gnocchi are massive and have the consistency of stale marshmallows; the “ragout” is a watery tomato sauce with a few bits of stringy meat – it certainly has no discernible lamb flavor. Pleas for cheese, fresh pepper, anything to add a hint of taste go largely unanswered. Finally, a standard salt and pepper shaker arrive but do little to help. With some of the best pepper in the world a mere three hours away there is no excuse for a restaurant to not have access to a grinder. Lamb chops “provencale” are juicy with a nice char but at $16.50 do little to salvage the rest of the meal.

Promises of homemade desserts offer one last chance for La Croisette to redeem itself and provide a reason for a return visit, but profiteroles ($4.50) come out stale and chalky and filled with a tasteless chocolate cream. Is that Hershey’s sauce covering the plate? Who cares, nobody has any interest in a second taste.

It’s unfortunate that such a prominent Phnom Penh area features so many restaurants that seem to make no effort. Skip La Croisette and head a bit further down to Pop Café where they take some pride in their food and don’t gouge you with tourist prices.

La Croisette, 241 Sisowath Quay (at street 144), dinner for three US$60

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