With two successful restaurants already behind her, Chhaing Soda Pich was looking to create something different and didn’t give up, even when she came up against a brick wall
Photo by: JONATHON ALLISON
The open, airy feel of Touk.
The river is a significant feature for Chhaing Soda Pich, and its feeling flows into the name of her new restaurant, Touk, which is Khmer for boat.
"The river is important for many people," she says. "It is a wide, open, tranquil space."
But creating this sense of space and tranquillity in her new venture meant having a clear vision of what she wanted.
Chhaing Soda Pich opened her first restaurant in Phnom Penh, Herb Cafe, a few years ago in a then up-and-coming area near Wat Lanka.
It was a runaway success, and when she opened Shadow bar and restaurant down the road on Street 278, this, too, was a success. Chhaing Soda Pich then wanted to open another business, but one with a different feel.
"I wanted somewhere on the riverside, a new location, something bigger," she said. "I fancied a bit of a challenge."
It didn't take her long to find her preferred spot - a large, first-floor corner area overlooking the Tonle Sap.
It had been a bar before, but had been empty for over a year, she said.
"It was dirty and dusty through disuse, but it would have been easy to clean it up and start again, but it was not what I wanted. It was very enclosed - I had to change it."
When moving to a new site it can be difficult to decide what to change. But Chhaing Soda Pich's approach was simple.
"I didn't want to compromise on the style and feel of my new venture - so I changed everything."
Photo by: JONATHON ALLISON
Chhaing Soda Pich.
Being on the first floor on the riverside, the views should have been wonderful, but they were mostly hidden by blank walls.
"I wanted a fresh feel, I wanted to make the most of the location, so I had the enclosing walls taken down to both open up the view to the riverside and to allow the cool breeze from the river in."
Realising most of her customers would be tourists, Chhaing Soda Pich thought hard about the style and feel she wanted for her target clientele.
"Naturally I wanted something that would appeal to tourists, but I didn't want to copy other restaurants," she said. "I wanted to be different, unique."
Chhaing Soda Pich is not pretentious in her ideas. "It's not an old French building, so I didn't want to make out that it was," she said.
She is also confident in her abilities. "It's going to be a quality restaurant, so I didn't want tin tables, just a snooker table," she said.
She decided on a simple, effective, almost minimalist design: tranquil, relaxing and European in style.
"With the river being one of the main aspects of Touk, I wanted to capitalise on that," she said. "It is natural and I wanted to continue a feeling of nature inside as well."
The concept is evident in her choice of simple wooden furniture in neutral tones.
"It gives a natural, calming, almost romantic feel," Chhaing Soda Pich said. The natural theme and the colours associated with it are very important to her ideal.
"In an open space, such as Touk, when so much of the outside is visible, is part of coming here, the interior colours shouldn't be overwhelming."
This is why she plumped for the subtle, off-white hues which don't overpower, but blend in with the outside tones. The bar is picked out with understated splashes of green and terracotta, which make it quite distinct.
The slate-effect floor balances the natural feel.
The clever use of lighting gives the impression of more space.
The natural feel adds depth.
"I like the contrast," Chhaing Soda Pich said. "It adds to the natural feeling, having a solid, earth-like colour on the floor. Tiles with pink flowers would destroy the ambience."
The use of light is an element Chhaing Soda Pich spent some time perfecting.
"During the day the light is perfect," she said, "but after sunset I didn't want the lighting to be too bright."
After trying different kinds of lighting, Chhaing Soda Pich finally settled on subtle, soft wall lights which gives the place a warm, relaxing glow.
"Everything blends together beautifully," she said.
After all the hard work was done, Chhaing Soda Pich had a few finishing touches to implement. Plants are very important to her.
"They add depth," she said, and they certainly add to the feel that Soda Pich was striving for, trying to mirror the view outside.
"Nature is so important for the identity of Touk, given its location," she said.
Chhaing Soda Pich has a few plans for her restaurant.
"I'm tentatively organising a few special events here, themed evenings maybe, a party with free buffet,"she said.
"I'm even thinking about extending my happy hour."
As for design and styling changes, she has no plans.
"It's still new," she said, "and the customer feedback has been very good, so I don't feel the need to change anything, and the most important aspect of the design is the view - which money can't buy".