Without having even set foot inside I was ready to dislike Fox Wine Bistro. As the offspring of the people behind Brown Coffee, with a glossy façade and a litany of largely recognisable Western dishes, I thought I had Fox’s number. It was simply another moneymaking venture for the Cambodian coffee company, with clean lines and sterile décor, devoid of soul and character, serving average but safe fare, I supposed.
It didn’t take long for me to be proven wrong. Within minutes, my dining companion cooed over the comfortable smooth leather seats, while I sang the praises of the swift service.
With its lavish interior, polished service and indulgent menu, Fox is not the typical definition of a bistro, which is traditionally a petite and modest affair serving homemade, hearty dishes.
Some might class a bistro as the more unfortunate-looking and lesser brother to the informal, yet infinitely more swanky, brasserie; a term that is probably more suited to Fox.
The space is vast, and on the Sunday night we visited a smattering of tables were filled with Cambodian families enjoying pasta, steak and salads, while a group of young women chatted over colourful cocktails.
In the background lounge music played unobtrusively, and nestled in the middle of the restaurant, yet visible from indoors, is a small, leafy and bright courtyard for al fresco dining.
The bistro is surprisingly tranquil, despite its Sothearos Boulevard location close to the interminable, raucous election rallies at Wat Botum Park. The curvaceous exterior, with windows stretching from tip to toe, suggests a contemporary European design influence. Inside, ambient lighting illuminates the industrial grey walls and exposed ventilation ducts, which counteract the otherwise suave design.
A Hollywood-esque sign sits proudly above the bar, with the word ‘Fox’ in lights. Wine barrels tower nearby, and shelves of bottles line the walls; with more than 80 bottles on show it’s a veritable library for wine connoisseurs and the house white proved dangerously quaffable.
Despite the lavish surrounds, (and much to our delight), the portions at Fox were surprisingly plentiful, and not at all like the tiny tasting plates en vogue in much of Europe.
The monolithic menu, however, does take culinary inspiration from the continent.
After ordering, a beaming waitress presented us with a free cup of taro chips. The delicate, perfectly seasoned morsels were simple yet moreish - the perfect aperitif.
Our tuna sashimi salad appeared quickly. Slivers of fresh, cool tuna, perched on layers of crunchy wantons, crisp romaine lettuce and sweet grated carrot, all topped with a sesame dressing and chili lime vinaigrette.
The five-spiced duck was seared beautifully on the outside and left blushing in the middle, accompanied by a sweet, rich port reduction.
What I thought were blanched, peeled cherry tomatoes turned out to be small scoops of watermelon. Despite an earlier admission of loathing for fruit served with savoury dishes, my dinner guest happily helped himself to more of both.
Fried calamari and tiger prawns came freckled with chipotle mayonnaise. The batter was light and the squid tender, though the accompanying tomato salsa tasted like jarred pasta sauce.
Lacking seasoning and crunch the French fries were underwhelming, but by no means unpalatable.
While the name bistro might be misleading, there’s no mistaking the quality of food at Fox Wine Bistro. Much to my consternation, the sly Fox wooed me.
Fox Wine Bistro at at 104 Sothearos Boulevard. Dinner is served seven days a week from 5pm. They have plans to open for lunch in the future.