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Spaghetti with prawns. Eli Lillis

At Van’s Garden Café, same pedigree without the prices

One of the city’s high-end highlights since 2007, Van’s Restaurant in Post Office Square has branched out with a new outdoor café offering a more casual and affordable menu while still retaining its gourmet flair.

Since 2007, Van’s Restaurant has featured one of the city’s more elegant dining rooms, with the prices to match. Garden Café, an extension to the restaurant that opened last month, is a much more approachable affair, while still featuring cooking by a chef with a Michelin star pedigree.

Located in the garden of the well-known brasserie, which occupies the old Bank of Indochina Building on Street 102, the café sits in the core of the capital’s colonial district. The 150-year-old building was once the residence of the Khmer-Chinese Van Family, who made their fortune from a sandal factory but fled the encroaching war in 1970. It was not until 2003 that heiress Van Porleng reacquired the property and turned it into a French restaurant four years later.

By opening the café, she hopes to make the high-class French cuisine Van’s is known for more palatable to Cambodia’s growing middle class.

“French cuisine could be found in Van’s Restaurant, but the prices are a little high for middle-class and young people. The café allows Cambodian people to enjoy the Western dishes, with a lower price,” she says.

It’s also a way to showcase the “authentic grandeur” of the historical structure.

“Unlike 10 years ago, the young generation today is paying interest to their history and heritage as much as they value originality and authenticity,” Porleng says.

One can soak in this heritage in the morning alongside the café’s $6 breakfast set (a main dish and drink), which can be either Asian or Western, such as noodle soup and congee or the American Eggs Benedict. Also available is an English Breakfast ($7) or a Continental Set ($6).

All day, the café serves up a variety of entrées such as the French classic Croque Monsieur ($7), which consists of a slice of boiled ham between two slices of pain de mie topped with melted cheese, or spaghetti with prawns and tomato sauce ($6.5).

The skilled hands behind the menu belong to Chef Nicolas Malherbe, who has been with Van’s since 2009. Hailing from Perpignan, in the south of France, Malherbe’s 21 years of experience include working at his uncle’s Michelin-starred L’Almandin, and Joel Robuchon’s two-starred L’Astor in Paris.

“We are cooking Western cuisines with Cambodian ingredients, but I have to work my best to ensure the authenticity,” he says.

For Malherbe, part of this quality and taste control is a near-perfectionist attention to detail, all while hustling between the restaurant and the café.

“Instead of sitting in front of the computer, I choose to run between the two kitchens and pay close attention to even a small detail,” he says. “Everything needs to be perfect.”

The Garden Café by Van’s is located on Street 102, Place de la Poste. It is open every day from 6:30am-10:30pm.

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