Mushrooms rule at Ashima, the Vietnamese fine-dining chain that expanded to Phnom Penh late last year with a 100-seat venue on Monivong Blvd, most of which are filled on weekend evenings.
The seventh Ashima restaurant marks the group’s second foray outside Vietnam: its first foreign branch opened in Tokyo.
What they all offer is an exotic and extensive range of mushroom hotpot dishes, well-trained wait staff and management focused on ensuring consistency.
The highly efficient service is no accident.
Ashima is part of the Golden Gate Group, which has three mid-range hotpot chains in Vietnam, all of which are expanding to foreign countries after developing a service formula and décor that has proven a hit with the upwardly mobile crowd in Vietnam.
Their Monivong venue is already drawing crowds at lunchtime and in the evening.
Besides offering a new cuisine, the décor is personal and eye-catching and the serving style personal.
An LCD screen, for example, offers a slideshow describing the different mushrooms on offer, including their place of origin and their health benefits.
The wait staff double as cooks, providing individual service at each table.
After selecting appetisers – the crab-flavoured jelly fish is highly recommended – the waitress sets a pot of broth on the burner in the centre of the table.
There are four kinds to choose from: nutritious broth, special broth, spicy broth and vegetarian broth. As they begin to boil their enticing aroma whets your appetite.
Customers select from a wide range of meat, fish, vegetables and noodles to add to the broth – and, of course, the mushrooms. Ashima has 16 kinds to choose from, and this will soon rise to 23, according to the restaurant supervisor Chum Phirun.
Most mushrooms are imported, as the types offered grow only in mountainous, low-temperature areas in East Asian countries like Japan, Korea and China.
These include rare mushrooms like matsutake and morchella, the latter of which is honeycomb-shaped.
There is a set process to the tableside cooking, with the mushrooms added first (some take as long as 10 minutes to cook) followed by fish, meat and/or vegetables, and then the noodles.
Fish includes salmon and eel, while the selection of meat ranges from black chicken and pigeon to beef from Australia or the United States.
You create your own soup, with waitresses always on hand to offer advice.
Ours was difficult to rate because we had never tasted anything like it. We enjoyed the novelty as much as the taste, which was multilayered, savoury and fresh.
Despite the large portions, we left feeling perked up.
One important ingredient of the chain’s success is that all sauces and broths are made at each outlet using natural ingredients; chemical additives are banned.
There is also a separate room for large groups, which seats up to 30. This can be used for meetings or special events, and includes an LCD screen for presentations or videos.
Ashima also rewards loyalty with a Premier Card that offers year-round discounts.
Address: No. 336C Monivong Boulevard
Tel: (855) 23 801 222