Diverse enough to cater to frequent visitors as well as those passing through
To be honest, I’m always a little sceptical about restaurants that are attached to hostels or guesthouses. In my experience, having a captive audience at their disposal rarely seems to inspire culinary excellence. With this in mind, it was with slight trepidation that I ventured out to The Mad Monkey. However, my fears were unjustified. As we were shown to our table amidst the simple but stylish décor of the restaurant and bar, my scepticism dissipated and it was easy to forget that the place doubled as a hostel at all.
The Mad Monkey was one of the more unexpectedly pleasant dining experiences that I’ve had recently. The menu was extensive and diverse enough to cater to frequent visitors as well as those passing through. While we were there the friendly staff mingled with a group of travellers, as well as chatting with more regular customers who happily worked away on their laptops.
Drinks, including house wine ($3.25), and tapas ($3.50) were a fantastic way to start our meal.
A choice of three from five tapas options meant we felt able to choose something to everyone’s liking, and we went with the prawns in a homemade tomato sauce (our favourite), the capsicum marinade, and the potato and chorizo tortilla. Served in soup spoons, the tapas was small enough to leave our party eagerly anticipating the main courses, but would also have been sufficient to nicely complement a drink at the bar.
While tempted by the cheaper local dishes on offer (Khmer chicken curry for $5 or fried rice for $3), I could not resist the 250g New Zealand steak ($13.50) which was nicely, if predictably, accompanied by a sweet potato mash, sautéed vegetables and a red wine sauce. The vegetarian in our party was pleased both by the range of vegetarian options available and her eventual choice, the veggie platter ($8). In her opinion it was nice to see “some good, western-style, vegetarian food for a change”. The potato gratin and bell pepper ensemble arrived with tasty garlic bread but the accompanying side salad was slightly disappointing.
The length of time it took for our mains to arrive had us temporarily casting envious glances towards the delicious-looking pizza being devoured at the table next to ours. However, when they did arrive, after a delay of about 20 minutes, all was quickly forgiven as the food was excellent and my steak was cooked exactly as I had requested.
Feeling rather full after the generous size of our mains, our party decided that we could only muster room for one dessert between us. After some debate, we were able to agree on the Chocolate Mousse ($5), which we were pleased to discover came served in two separate glasses, ensuring there was more than enough to share, especially as one of our party found her glass too rich to finish alone.
At one point a tired, sweaty, backpack-laden tourist group traipsed through the middle of the restaurant, serving to remind us that we were dining in a hostel after all. However, in keeping with the “no worries, no stress” slogan on their shirts, the staff swiftly assisted them to their rooms and it was not long before they were settled at a table in the corner enjoying a beer.
Speaking of the rooms, these seemed to be a little more of a work in progress than the restaurant. Similarly, the rooftop bar, advertised as “the perfect spot to take in the sunset over the skyline”, was not yet open when we visited. While the rooms were undoubtedly spacious and clean, they also came across as a little sparse and, in an odd departure from the rest of the venue, slightly unwelcoming.
Nevertheless, $18 for a double room with A/C, or $15 for a fan room with a shared bathroom did not seem unreasonable and has not deterred the guests who have ensured the hostel is fully booked for much of August.
All in all, The Mad Monkey far exceeded my expectations and I would undoubtedly return for the food but would want to see the impact of any new additions before committing to stay there. Having said that, if the rooftop bar and artistic additions to the rooms and stairwell (currently being commissioned) are able to emulate the already very good restaurant, then the talk of The Mad Monkey becoming “the hottest hostel in Phnom Penh” could well be justified.