After changing hands and a brief closure, the much-loved eatery enters a new phase
After closing briefly for renovations, Phnom Penh’s historic Chinese House is once again serving up craft cocktails and fusion dinners with new management striving to recapture the spirit of Phnom Penh’s fin de siecle Chinatown.
The building – which has seen a series of owners in recent years – is among the capital’s most beautiful. Built around 1905 by wealthy Hokkein trader Tan Bunpa, it incorporates a French-like facade and tiling but Chinese pillars and roofing.
“The building is stuffed with all the features of an eternal China which will soon exist only in books,” said Corsican linguist and historian Jean-Michel Filippi in his 2012 book Strolling Around Phnom Penh.
Greeting guests is the same door as before – the building’s UNESCO protection prevents structural changes – but the paint has been scrubbed with sandpaper to give it a more aged, vintage look.
The ground floor tapas bar bears the same distressed treatment.
“We wanted to give back that feeling… make it really look like how it was before, and try to emphasis the beauty of the building,” said new co-owner Chiara de Lucia.
Chinese House’s cuisine has gone through multiple incarnations – it’s most recent being Latin American-Asian fusion.
New head chef Amy Baard is stressing a cross-cultural “contemporary Asian” approach, with a hint of her South African roots.
“We try to touch all of Asia with the menu,” said Baard, who previously worked at Thailand’s Sofitel So Hotel.
Using her experience across the region, which won her the coveted Iron Chef Thailand award last year, she has added diverse gastronomical samplings ranging from Japan to India.
On the dinner menu is her Iron Chef-winning pasta“It’s kind of a seafood tortellini, with soy garlic roast vegetables on quinoa, and then with amok curry coconut sauce and sweet chili,” she said.
Meanwhile, the tapas menu includes a sharing platter ($14.95) with elements from across the globe; from Indian garlic butter naan, to Japanese wasabi aioli and fresh Spanish tomato salsa.
Those seeking something relatively traditional can get the mixed dim sum basket with its pulled pork buns, lemongrass shrimp and pomegranate and mint yoghurt dip ($6.75), while the downright gluttonous can order the chocolate fondue fruit platter ($9.50).
The culinary philosophy, said Baard, was to be creative but comforting.
“It doesn’t feel as uptight as a fine dining restaurant usually is; we want people to feel comfortable but still have a beautiful plate of food,” she said.
The cocktail list, designed by the house mixologist, further pushes Chinese House’s creative mission with elaborate presentations unique even to Phnom Penh’s rapidly growing lounge scene.
The Explorer’s Punch ($5.75), one of Chinese House’s five new signature cocktails, is served in a glass bottle wrapped in twine at the neck and placed upon a vintage map of the world alongside a compass.
For added effect, deep-fried crickets surround the bottle on skewered sticks.
The punch itself contains only locally sourced ingredients: Samai rum, pineapple, jackfruit and palm vinegar.
“What we aim to achieve is to offer something that we feel is still lacking in Phnom Penh: a multi-sensory experience that is able to combine quality with creativity,” said Selim Sinai Latrous, director of sales and marketing.