Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise

‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise

Lighting glares above the tables.
Lighting glares above the tables. Charlotte Pert

‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise

Phnom Penh has no shortage of Italian food: there is the cosy, deli-style Piccolo Italia da Luigi; the crispy pizzas at Limoncello and the fabulous gnocchi at Opera Café, washed down with red wine and jazz. Caravan’s, which opened a month ago, promises to bring “Italian fine dining” to the table.

And promise there is: on Sihanouk Boulevard, close to Norodom, the restaurant offers a prime view of Independence Monument, glorious when lit up at night. But when I dined there with friends last week, I found there to be almost no substance behind the shiny façade.

The staff did their absolute best to be welcoming. Before we’d even stepped inside, two waiting staff eagerly bombarded us with questions and tripped over themselves to invite us in, as though to leave us to our own devices would risk us slipping through their fingers. When we sat down, they gathered around our table – the only one occupied – and stood watching. Unnerved, we moved nearer the door and further away from the bar, which was marginally more private.

Caravan’s tortellini a fungo: I couldn’t taste any mushroom.
Caravan’s tortellini a fungo: I couldn’t taste any mushroom. Charlotte Pert

As with the service, so much effort was put into the décor that it was affronting. The tables, draped in white tablecloths, are set in the style appropriate to a fine-dining experience. But it’s all chillingly ostentatious. Walls are painted a garish gold colour with a shiny veneer, paintings in a faux-Picasso style hang on the walls, and the lighting, mostly dark, glared above us at the tables. It felt as though we were on a film set that could collapse at any second.

A first glance at the menu’s high prices prompted an intake of breath: $6 to $8 for appetisers; pasta dishes that ranged between $8.50 and $27, and as much as $30 for a main course of meat or fish. A cut of Kobe beef steak was a whopping $67. But then again, it was fine dining I expected – more fool me.

Our main courses were disappointing – obscenely so, when taking the price into consideration. I ordered tortellini a fungo ($9.50), described on the menu as “mushroom tortellini stewed in a tomato sauce, butter, chopped parsley”. It was in fact a very ungenerous portion of what tasted like undercooked pasta from a tin, covered in Heinz tomato soup. I couldn’t taste any mushroom.

A friend’s salmone grigliato was flavourless and unseasoned and came with sides of a peculiar spinach puree and lumpy mashed potatoes. It cost $20.50. The torta al cioccolato caldo dessert didn’t prompt too many complaints, but at $12.50 it was more than double the price of similar dishes available elsewhere in the city.

I don’t know what kind of clientele Caravan’s is trying to draw in. In Phnom Penh, $80 between three people – a price that includes just two glasses of wine – is a lot of money for cuisine that is underwhelming to say the least. Management is going to have to push the views of the monument as a selling point unless the menu is drastically improved, and fast.

Caravan’s, #68 Sihanouk Boulevard.

MOST VIEWED

  • LPG gas explosion injures 13 people, including foreigners, in Siem Reap

    An explosion on Wednesday at a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) car and tuk-tuk refuelling station in Siem Reap city has left 13 people, including an American and a Briton, suffering burns. The seven most severely burned, including a provincial police officer, were sent to a Thai

  • Over 100 Chinese nationals to be deported for online scam

    The Ministry of Interior is planning to deport 128 Chinese nationals after they were arrested in Preah Sihanouk province on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in an online money extortion scam. Y Sokhy, the head of the Department of Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime, told The Post

  • More than 800 people test positive for HIV in 2018

    The National Aids Authority (NAA) said more than 800 people tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) last year, joining over 76,000 others aged between 15 and 49 in the Kingdom already infected with the virus. The spread of HIV/AIDS in the Kingdom is showing few signs of

  • Rainsy vow to return on Nov 9 dismissed as ‘political warfare’

    An announcement from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that its “acting president” Sam Rainsy would return to the Kingdom on November 9 was dismissed on Sunday as “political warfare”. The CNRP made the announcement on Friday after a permanent committee meeting chaired by