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A touch of French charm on the riverside

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La Provence is already drawing crowds of loyal customers. Eliah Lillis

A touch of French charm on the riverside

A small french eatery that opened on Phnom Penh’s riverside earlier this year has quickly gained a loyal following. Post Weekend stops by to find out why

A French café opened earlier this year is bringing a touch of Saint Tropez to Phnom Penh’s riverside. At least, that is what its owner has in mind.

Rodolphe Seiller, who has family roots in the resort town on the French Riviera, says he felt compelled to place his restaurant “near the quai”, the riverbank. “[Here] there is life,” he says. “You can go walking everywhere.”

With only a few tables and a small bar, La Provence looks the part of a small-town French café: Its narrow façade peeks out from beneath a pale-blue awning, and the day’s specials are listed on a chalkboard on the shaded patio. Classic French movie posters hang on the walls.

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La Provence is aiming for the air of a café on the French Riviera. Eliah Lillis

This month, Seiller expanded the space to include a second kitchen just for cold cuts, a private dining room, and a wine cellar.

That’s likely because – whether owing to the location, the ambience or the food itself – the eatery is becoming a not-so-hidden gem amidst the myriad bars and restaurants dotting the riverside. In the seven months that it has been open, La Provence has shot to the top of Phnom Penh’s TripAdvisor restaurant rankings, where it currently sits at number six.

Seiller describes the menu, which he changes frequently, as 50 percent Provençal cuisine, 25 percent Italian, 20 percent Mediterranean and 5 percent “all over the world”.

The last bit reflects his life’s trajectory. Seiller spent much of his youth in Africa, and continued to travel as an adult. When he happened upon Cambodia, he says, he “fell in love with the country” and decided to remain.

La Provence is not his first business venture in the Kingdom. Seiller has had a hand in planning a number of restaurants and resorts, including Le Flamboyant in Kep.

But Seiller has divested from those to focus on his new eatery, for which he’s gone back to his roots. “My grandmother was a big cook, so I learned from her,” he explains.

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The crevettes flambées au pastis. Eliah Lillis

La Provence has no permanent menu; the owner instead keeps it in constant rotation. “I change at least one plate three times a week. A fixed menu would be boring,” he says, adding that certain dishes, like foie gras and a few other Occitan mainstays, are always available.

To start, Post Weekend sampled the delightful Carpaccio Cipriani ($8), thin cuts of raw beef served with an aioli and named for their creator, Giuseppe Cipriani of the iconic Harry’s Bar in Venice. The poivrons marines ($6), grilled bell peppers marinated in oil and copious amounts of garlic, were a nice meat-free option.

Last week the crevettes flambées au pastis ($12) – a tour-de-force of regional flavourings – was the main course on special. The dish consists of a generous serving of shrimp flambéed with the anis liquor and served with a side of ratatouille and sautéed potatoes.

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The chocolate mousse is a delight. Eliah Lillis

It went down well with a glass of rosé – “only from Provence”, of course.

For dessert, Seiller offers a light and fluffy chocolate mousse ($7) flavoured with Grand Marnier, coffee and fleur de sel (specialty sea salt) and served in a martini glass with a cocktail umbrella.

So if you find yourself out for a stroll on Phnom Penh’s promenade, and catch a glimpse of a row of old men seated at the counter sipping wine, stepping in for a bite to eat could be worth your time. The crowds are likely to follow.

La Provence is located on the riverside at #48 Street 118, and is open from Monday to Saturday from 11am to 2pm for lunch and 5pm to 10pm for dinner. Tel: 096 999 0278.

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