Two French first-time restaurateurs are serving up Euro-centric snacks and meals from a converted wooden house up the quiet end of burgeoning Street 308
Set in an adorable renovated wooden stilt house – painted in fetching turquoise and yellow – up the quiet end of Street 308, the Lemon Tree offers the simple pleasure of quality fresh food in a relaxed setting.
The place was opened by French couple Emeline Fantaisie, 29, and Philippe Baudez, 30, in February and, as first-time restaurateurs, they’re sensibly keeping things straightforward.
“The concept is just to have good products, not so expensive, in a quiet place and eco-friendly,” said Fantaisie, who runs the restaurant day-to-day while Baudez continues to work for development NGO SNV.
“Our plan is to see how things go over the next couple of years and hopefully, if the business is successful, we can train our staff and leave it in their hands.”
The couple – who both have backgrounds working in NGOs and were previously living in Vanuatu – came to Cambodia two years ago. After finding the location for the Lemon Tree, Fantaisie said it took about eight months to get the place ready to open.
“We watched all these other places – whoosh – opening in just a few weeks, but we wanted to get things just so,” she said.
The experience wasn’t without its challenges – prominent among them, contractors who took two months to lay the concrete floor after saying it would take two days and an upset neighbour who briefly forced the restaurant to close before the couple assured the local authorities they would have 11pm as closing time.
“Today, we laugh about it all, but at the time, it was difficult,” Fantaisie said.
To keep costs low – and to reduce their environmental impact – the couple recycled as much as they could. The bar under the house is made of planks reclaimed from another demolished timber house, while the sturdy tables outside are made from old telecommunications wire spools on top of massive Khmer earthenware jars.
Getting the food right also took a lot of work – especially the pasta made with a specially bought pasta machine from Italy.
“We ate a lot to find the good recipe,” said Fantaisie. “I don’t know how long it took, maybe three months.
“For the other dishes, like the sauces and everything, we would try one time and say: ‘Oh, this one is good’ but the most difficult thing was to do it the same way again and every time.”
Fantaisie said she wants to change the dishes regularly, using as many organic and local ingredients as possible.
Last week, the short Euro-centric blackboard menu was restricted to a few homemade pastas ($5.50 to $6.50), gourmet salads ($6), sandwiches ($6), quiches ($6) and dessert shots ($1.75).
Recommended to share between two or three is the $12 tapas board – a cornucopia of roast potatoes, imported cheeses, pickles, charcuterie, salad, homemade dips, cheese toasties and sinful rennet – while the $6 quiche lorraine with dried and cooked ham, mustard and parmesan makes a tasty lunch for one.
And for those seeking to save a few pennies, during “happy food hour” between 5pm and 7pm, most of the dishes are a couple of dollars cheaper.
The Lemon Tree is located at #8b Street 308. Tel: 015 315 300. Open Monday to Saturday 10am to 11pm.