One of the great attributes of Phnom Penh living is the ability to write off US$15 for lunch as a decent splurge.
For the price of a sandwich in New York you can have your pick of multi-course prix fixe meals around the city, but all things relative, a splurge must nonetheless be justified.
La Residence is.
Smack in the centre of the city, halfway between Pasteur and Norodom Boulevard on busy Street 214, La Residence positions itself as an escape.
Within the high-walled compound – heavy doors, lush gardens, even water cascading over a glass roof – any sense of the outside world is blocked out.
Overkill? Perhaps, but the effect is refreshing, especially without having to first walk through a stale hotel lobby.
Reservations should not be an issue, the space is enormous, yet divided cleverly enough into separate rooms and alcoves that there is little feeling of eating in a near empty restaurant although this can certainly be the case.
A never-ending supply of staff doesn’t hurt either.
The prix fixe lunch is set at $15 for three courses, each containing three or four options. For a $14 supplement those options expand to include things like foie gras and rib eye.
We begin light. The tomato basil terrine isn’t quite dull but lacks character: a palate cleanser and nothing more. A pumpkin and pomelo salad delights, however. Citrusy crunch melds with soft root – the whole thing drizzled with creamy whipped yoghurt – a knockout.
Pork shoulder confit is mostly fork tender, although it might not have hurt to let it confit a few more days (the menu says in a mustard sauce, but it arrives in a brownish sauce with mustard on the side; goulasch is the first thing that jumps to mind).
It comes with only a few haricot verres and somewhat oddly a caramelised half onion. There must have been a shortage of potatoes that day.
Fried dorade filet is remarkably crisp and so packed with flavour that the sauce of capers and bits of candied tomato can and should be scraped off and enjoyed separately (waiters will bring more bread).
Accompanying the fish is an eggplant puree and grilled thin slices of tomato and eggplant sprinkled with shaved pesto.
If valuing the lunch on the sum of its parts, at this point you are already coming out on top, but don’t write off dessert.
On the menu the choice is ice cream or the pastry of the day, but when we inquire we are offered no less than seven options. Black forest cake is more or less a double chocolate mousse with a few sweet black cherries mixed in. It is big and rich; we have trouble finishing but find the inner strength somehow.
The strawberry tart is lighter and in a moment of genius, pistachio cream has been substituted for custard. At this point, if a return to work is absolutely necessary (the special is weekday only), an espresso will set you back another three dollars. It’s also worth it.
Back in the real world the meal lingers; it’s not mind-blowing, the whole experience is just enjoyable enough that it sticks with you.
The people at the Michelin guide may not come knocking just yet, but La Residence is a great deal at lunch and with the right menu choices a total steal.
La Residence: 22-24 St 214 (near St 51). Lunch for two with coffee and tax, $39