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A different sort of sandwich

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The Lunch Box in Phnom Penh offers an experience altogether beyond lettuce, tomato and meat on bread – gourmet meals amid unpretentious surroundings

Photo by:

Stephanie Mee

Co-owners of The Lunch Box, Thoeun Soeun and Eliza Mealey.

SANDWICH orders in many of Phnom Penh's restaurants and cafes generally consist of the ubiquitous baguette or plain white bread with mandatory lettuce and tomato, and a choice of meat. In fact, most of the time it hardly matters where the sandwich is ordered, as the basic formula is the same across the board.

Bona fide foodies will rejoice, then, that Phnom Penh's newest lunch spot, The Lunch Box, has dared to deviate from the norm, offering many hard-to-come-by gourmet ingredients and home-cooked specials in a shady garden setting next to Wat Lanka.

"The idea was simple really," said Eliza Mealey, owner of the Lunch Box and a native of Brisbane, Australia. "I wanted to open a place where I could offer food that I really miss from home, things like creative deli-style sandwiches with a variety of fresh breads, vegetables, meats, cheeses and condiments to choose from, and unique specials - things that people might not necessarily find in many other eateries around the capital."

Diners at the Lunch Box can opt to construct their own sandwich using a myriad of ingredients from the brightly lit refrigerated display case or try one of the cafe's original concoctions from the menu board displayed above the cosy wooden bar.

Gourmet all the way

Gourmet sandwiches include the Vego-delight: roasted pumpkin and red pepper, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions and basil, wrapped in fresh Lebanese flat bread; or the Antipasto Wrap: basil cream cheese, salami, mozzarella, olives, red pepper, artichokes and gherkins in a soft pita bread.

Fresh, inventive ingredients at the cafe include Turkish flat bread, olive and herb focaccia, lightly spiced pepper ham, homemade pesto chicken, roasted pumpkin spread, guacamole, tzatziki and marinated artichokes, to name a few.

Lunch specials change daily, and can range from a flaky ricotta and asparagus tart to a fresh Nicoise salad, bursting with veggies and tuna, to home-cooked lasagna.

The cafe also offers a full breakfast menu with a range of coffee selections, including espressos, lattes, and iced blends, as well as omelettes, croissants, fresh Cambodian fruits and muesli. The oddly popular Aussie favourite, Vegemite with gourmet toast, is also on offer.

"It was important for me to create a space that wasn't stuffy or pretentious," said Mealey.

"I want people to be able to come here and order a really nice breakfast or sandwich, relax, read the newspaper, or meet friends for a coffee and a chat."

The location of The Lunch Box is ideal for a casual breakfast or lunch given that it is centrally located on a quiet side street next to Wat Lanka, mercifully free from the jarring noise pollution that often plagues the city.

Lush tropical greenery creates shade and seclusion, and a large, flowering jasmine tree next to the gate scents the air in the cafe.

All of the fluffy pillows adorning the wooden and rattan chairs were made locally with materials purchased in Cambodia, and a few of the tables, chairs, and lamp shades were made by the cafe's Cambodian co-owner, Thoeun Soeun.

"I like to use the word ‘quirky' to describe this place," said Mealey.

"We like to joke and say it's a little bit of Brisbane and a little bit of Prey Veng (Thoeun Soeun's home province)."

The cafe is open from 7am to 4pm daily excluding Mondays, and offers dine-in service, as well as quick and easy take away.

Plans are afoot for delivery service in the near future.

To enjoy gourmet food in a tranquil setting, visit The Lunch Box at 14, Street 282 in Boeung Keng Kang I, or for more information call 012 893 784.

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