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Konnichiwa, bella: pizzas and pasta from Japan

If it wasn’t for the bandanas, Trattoria Bello would look every inch the Italian eatery
If it wasn’t for the bandanas, Trattoria Bello would look every inch the Italian eatery. Charlotte Pert

Konnichiwa, bella: pizzas and pasta from Japan

A new Russian Market eatery targets Phnom Penh’s Japanese community

\With Phnom Penh saturated by yakitori joints, sushi bars and ramen restaurants, the Japanese are turning their hand to other nationalities’ cuisines. First there was the Mexican eatery Salsa Cabana, which has a Japanese head chef and owner, and now a new Japanese-run Italian eatery has opened in Tuol Tom Poung.

Trattoria Bello is located on Street 460, just down the road from longtime expat eatery Sesame Noodle Bar and next door to (yet another) ramen place. Judging on decor alone, you’d struggle to tell that the owners hailed from the Land of the Rising Sun. The walls are done in a rough ochre finish, and the curved bar features Mediterranean-style patterned tiles, shelves of wine bottles and chalkboard menus. Cute details abound, like the grooved wine corks that hold the table numbers, and the rustic potted plants that separate the open-fronted restaurant from the street.

It’s your welcome that gives the game away: all the waiting staff – wearing cute red and white check bandanas – shout “Welcome, please come in” in unison, similar to the Japanese tradition of shouting “Irasshaimase”. And the menu, website and Facebook page boast some amusing linguistic missteps: “Itarian meatball”, anyone?

Manager Hiroki “Hiro” Kitaura, a friendly Osaka native, explained that the eatery’s owner had two successful Italian restaurants back in Japan and decided to open Trattoria Bello in Phnom Penh to cater to the city’s growing Japanese expat population. Hiro was sent over in August last year and opened the restaurant at the start of this month.

Trattoria Bello’s pasta has a softer texture than usual
Trattoria Bello’s pasta has a softer texture than usual. Charlotte Pert

Hiro said the majority of the restaurant’s customers were Japanese and the recipes were modified to cater for their tastes: the pasta is made to appeal to noodle-lovers, the sauces are mild in flavour and a bit sweet and the salad dressing includes soy sauce and carrot.

At the moment, the lunch menu is pretty short, with just a few varieties of pizza and pasta that change daily. The dinner menu adds some antipasto options including pork belly (cured onsite) and vegetable ratatouille. Red and white wines are available by the glass for $3 or by the bottle for between $18 and $100.

A taste test of the food this week revealed the Japanese influence to be most noticeable in the pasta. The Bolognese had a smooth consistency and slightly sweet flavour reminiscent of Heinz tomato soup, while the pasta itself had an unusual texture, softer than normal.

The pizzas were much like you might find at any other Phnom Penh pizzeria. The margarita option needed chilli oil to give it kick, but the vegetarian had big chunks of eggplant, olive, mushroom and potato. The thin bases had good crunch, and the free salad was a nice touch.

Hiro said he loved Cambodia – citing the friendly people as the main appeal – and wanted to stay five or 10 years.

“I want the restaurant to be a success and be happy with the staff, who are just like my family, and open more restaurants,” he said.

Trattoria Bello is located at #17c Street 460.

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