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New ‘tapas’ bar Katanashi is cozy, not cramped.
New ‘tapas’ bar Katanashi is cozy, not cramped. Eliah Lillis

Tapas, tipples and fortunes at Katanashi

Irasshaimase – welcome, we are ready to serve – is a quite common refrain in Phnom Penh.

At Katanashi, the wait staff haven’t quite mastered it yet. It is one of a few ways the “tapas” bar, which just opened its doors to the alley off Street 51 south of Wat Langka, charmingly, if accidentally, manages to differentiate itself from the growing number of Japanese establishments in the capital.

For starters, the customary hand towel is served not just cold, but frozen. The chopsticks are passed out wrapped in a traditional Japanese paper fortune (o-mikuji), doling out a blessing or a curse – on a scale of severity – before the meal begins. (Reassuringly, Post Weekend was bestowed with ‘good luck’ two times over.)

Then there’s the tapas bit. The bar takes its name from a Japanese phrase meaning “think outside the box”, and the menu reflects that notion. “Japanese cuisine is tasty,” it proclaims. “However, that is not enough.”

Katanashi’s fusion model has been successful abroad, according to owner Yuta Yamauchi, who runs a chain of restaurants in Japan and Singapore, and says he wanted to bring a less traditional and less expensive Japanese option to Phnom Penh.

There’s just one flat-board menu per table and the items are presented without much context aside from “fusion”, which at first made choosing what to eat a daunting task – until we realised that everything came in at under $4, and ordered more than could fit on the table at once.

Katanashi playfully mixes Japanese cuisine with Mexican or Italian dishes. There’s a pesto-based wasabi guacamole, a cheese pizza drizzled in honey, and a carbonara pasta dressed with green tea.

Japanese nachos, pickles and pressed sushi.
Japanese nachos, pickles and pressed sushi. Eliah Lillis

The signature cocktails exhibit a similar creative licence with traditionally Japanese ingredients. The sparkling sake arrives in a champagne flute overflowing into a wooden box, as well as a deceptively sweet matcha mojito with a double punch of rum and shochu.

Post Weekend enjoyed the Japanese nachos ($1.90), corn chips with a side of chili and minced pork sauce with a miso base; the spicy chicken wings ($2.90); and the aforementioned carbonara ($3.90).

There was also the salmon oshi sushi ($3.90), which arrived at the table accompanied by a chef wielding a cooking torch to lightly crisp the salmon before our eyes.

Like many of the bars and restaurants popping up in Phnom Penh’s alleyways, Katanashi is restrained by space, but remains cozy rather than cramped. There’s a long wooden bar that doubles as an open kitchen, a couple of tables up front, and a loft with extra seating for a small crowd.

Open late according to custom, it seems like the sort of place you could arrive early and stay for awhile – the menu offers a “bring your own bottle” system, with a corkage fee – that is, if mixing your cuisines (or liquors) doesn’t get old.

Katanashi is located down the alley off Street 51, opposite Street 288. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm to 1am.

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