With friendly staff and easy charm, Spice Garden restaurant is the latest addition to Phnom Penh’s sizeable subcontinent dining scene
It’s not often one is able to get a private meal at a brand new restaurant on the off chance. But just by walking through the front door, I sat down to lunch at Spice Garden, a new addition to Phnom Penh’s Indian dining scene, before it had officially opened.
The small but charming eatery opened its doors to the public last Monday and first impressions went down well. The menu boasts a broad range of treats from northern India, with more than 30 signature dishes, and a large vegetarian section you would expect from any subcontinent establishment worth its salt.
The section “From the Tandoor” was unavailable at the time of our visit – as were many other dishes, due to a barely set-up kitchen – but it looked promising, as did the Chinese-Indian fusion section. The vegetable pakoras and onion bhaji were fresh, crispy and well spiced, and came with a ketchup accompaniment which raised a few eyebrows around the table.
The meat in the chicken tikka masala was tender and swam in a rich sauce, and the only fault in the aloo matar (potato and peas curry) was the slightly undercooked potatoes.
But the dal makhani was a clear favourite, surprising for such a simple dish. It was a moreish balance of a creamy base and an array of fresh spices, complemented by the earthy taste of lentils. All this served on a bed of fluffy basmati rice and mopped up with smoky, chewy chapatti resulted in several happy, satisfied stomachs.
The generous portion sizes and reasonable prices make Spice Garden a go-to for group dining. Five of us ate our fill of starters, curries, rice, bread and soft drinks for only $34 with a decent amount left over, which the staff happily packed into takeaway containers for us.
This place was still ironing out the kinks when we visited. The main one was the waiters’ grasp of the menu – my lemon iced tea somehow turned into a hot Lipton with lime slices in it. A friend’s salted lassi was awfully sweet, and rather tasteless.
Errors aside, the staff were charming and eager to help. While the décor at Spice Garden may border on garish – be sure to visit the bathroom to check out its golden-tiled floor – the restaurant holds a certain charm that can only be improved upon as management find their feet.
My recommendation is to grab a spot at the large low table with ornately cushioned bench seats in the front window. The location on Sihanouk Boulevard makes it a great spot to relax, watching traffic crawl around Independence Monument, mango lassi in hand.