Hoang Yen on Street 294 brings the taste and style of contemporary Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh
Hoang Yen, a Vietnamese casual fine-dining establishment that opened in Phnom Penh in early June, is the first of a Ho Chi Minh City-based restaurant chain to open in the Kingdom.
But thankfully the owners have managed to avoid the pitfalls of the chain model, where duplicate restaurants sometimes suffer from uninspired decor and cookie-cutter menus.
Three storeys tall and with sweeping art-deco style curves, the place is hard to miss on the corner of streets 294 and 29. It’s certainly no hole in the wall.
Yet despite its size, Hoang Yen manages to retain a feel of tranquility inside.
Perhaps it’s the tasteful minimalist-organic decor, with neat, clean walls lined with wood and stone.
From the third and second floors, where a collection of dried beige sea sponges hang haphazardly from the ceiling, diners can calmly observe the chaos of the street outside through wide windows and potted greenery.
The food is equally interesting. Consider the deep fried tofu ($5.50), a dish often derided as boring and bland.
At Hoang Yen, it soars, served in neat, crispy cubes with a sweetish tamarind sauce and a treasure of peppery minced pork concealed within the juicy white soy-meat.
The plate is garnished with green herbs and a carrot carved into a flower.
The firm, chewy texture of the tofu combined with the crunchiness of the hidden pepper balls makes for an experience that pleases taste buds and teeth alike.
The braised pork in coconut juice ($5.80) is tasty. A thick chunk of pink, salty pork resting in a shallow pool of coconut-infused broth and hard-boiled eggs slices, the meat falls apart with the side of a fork and the bacon-like layers of fat melt like chocolate in the mouth.
Moving seaward, there is the stir-fried squid with lemongrass and chilli ($7.50), a potpourri of cut-up squid bits with slices of onion and cilantro.
The flavour is heavy on the lemongrass, with a subtle burn from the chilli.
The squid, purple-spotted and nearly translucent, comes in hefty tentacled portions and one would guess that it was swimming minutes before it met the cleaver, probably inside one of the restaurants blue-lit aquarium tanks.
For early risers, Hoang Yen opens at 6am with a breakfast combo for $3.90 that includes a customisable order of bread, noodle soup, rice and tea or coffee.
Recommended is the iced coffee ($1.50), a delicious dark roast with notes of toffee and caramel prepared Vietnamese style with a slow drip.
Unfortunately, there is not much of a bar at Hoang Yen. While there is a lengthy selection of high-end whisky, cognac and liqueurs, there are no cocktails.
There is, however, a wine list, featuring flavour descriptions and pairing suggestions, including Australian, French and Argentinian varieties with bottles ranging from $19.50 to $55. Seven choices of smoothies, including the questionable tomato option, along with a list of fresh juices might be the real draw for beverage aficionados.
Along with the calming interior, a team of attentive waiters in maroon tunics make for a hassle-free ordering experience.
Ms Mara, one of the restaurant’s supervisors, said most of the customers were Cambodians, adding that there were also a good amount of Vietnamese and Westerners.
Nodding towards a red Confucian shrine lit up in a corner near the bar, she said: “We pray the customer comes in.”
But really, when you’ve got tofu that good, divine intervention probably isn’t necessary.
Hoang Yen, #35 Street 29. Open 6am-10pm. Tel: 069 531 777.