Chez Lipp: On parle Francais, on bouffe bien Chez Lipp #40 Achar Mean Blvd.
(Across from Calmette Hospital) Table for two: 10,000 riel
Given all the years the French dedicated to inviting Cambodians to share the secrets
of Chateau-briand, the subtleties of souffle and the indulgences of cream sauce,
one wonders why more bistros aren't springing up all over town.
It's too bad that the Khmer Rouge campaign against foreign imperialism and its decadent
influences had to include French cuisine, although Pol Pot is thought to have a particular
dislike for camembert. He probably wouldn't like Chez Lipp cafe either, whose two
elderly "patrons" survived the genocide despite their ability to speak
near-fluent French. They in turn have taught their staff to speak a menu's worth
of the language that sounds best when it speaks of love and food.
As one can imagine, this makes the semi-outdoor cafe-despite its rickety chairs and
tables and stained table linen-quite popular among the French community in Phnom
While an English menu is available at Chez Lipp, French remains the lingua franca.
Khmer, however, is always appreciated.
Chez Lipp is one of the city's handful of culinary stand-bys that has been popular
with aid workers and journalists since the old days when every restaurant was owned
by the state, offered the exact same menus, and had relatively friendly secret police
posted at the door.
Despite the arrival of UNTAC and scores of new restaurants in town, little has changed
at Chez Lipp since the 1980s. They now offer more of a variety of beverages, and
instead of closing at 10 p.m. as they used to, the owners realize they can make as
much money these days with UNTAC around and still get an extra hour of sleep at night.
Last order is at 8:30 p.m..
To begin, Chez Lipp makes a pleasant onion soup (soup a l'oignon-1,200 riel), which
some swear to be the best broth in Southeast Asia. The onions are sauted brown, giving
the beef broth a hearty, smokey flavour. Served in a white bowl with toasted croutons,
it's aesthetically pleasing as well.
For the main course, the pork cutlet (escalope de porc -2,800 riel) has a breading
that beats any Kentucky Fried Chicken original recipe, and the pepper steak (steak
aux poivres verts-2,800 riel) zings with a tangy onion and pepper sauce (no kissing
after this dish).
These menu staples are sure winners if the "plats du jour"-which include
brains sauted in butter and tongue of beef-don't look particularly appealing. Believe
it or not, some French people adore this type of food, when cooked properly, of course.
The fried fish is tasty, be it fillet or the whole elephant's worth, (2,500 riel
and 3,000 riel respectively), although the large grilled freshwater lobsters (langoustine
grille -8,000 riel) are a bit flavourless for the money and can give seafood-sensitive
people a stomach ache.
Any of the "plats asiatiques," which are essentially Chinese stir-fry,
make a nice meal for a group.
To finish, those who like vanilla souffle (1,200 riel per person) say Chez Lipp makes
it well. However, I've never been a fancier of sugary egg whites doused in firey
alcohol, which must be ordered directly from one of the "patrons" at the
same time as the main course in order to give the chef time to prepare. Chacun a
son gout! **
* Speak French, eat well. ** To each his own.