The first thing you notice about Quitapenas is the arched French windows which open out onto the restaurant’s street-level terrace, where gothic-style lanterns shed light onto wooden tables and chairs.
Upstairs, the lounge and bar area is gloriously lavish, with dim lighting, exposed brick and plush cushions. It spills onto a terrace and features semi-private rooms for post-dinner musings – or just a large G and T. A rooftop bar is on the cards.
The new tapas joint, whose name means ‘no more sorrows’ in Spanish, certainly feels grand. The setting begs the question: Will the menu deliver?
On a recent, long, evening downstairs, Spanish zest was palpable: There were vibrant earthy toned accents on walls and furnishings, and a flamenco guitar soundtrack, yet it didn’t feel contrived.
Playful touches like menus tucked into airmail envelopes and a small wooden chest that concealed the bill, conveyed the owners’ affection for the venture.
Attention to detail is largely the byword at Quitapenas. Still, graffiti on walls and the relaxed music ensure that the atmosphere echoes the laid-back cool for which the Spanish are renowned.
Chef Joaquin made an appearance at our table, translating unknown menu items (pisto is a Spanish take on ratatouille), and detailing the provenance of ingredients (the micro salad was grown by an Australian farmer). The menu is divided into three sections – cold, warm and ‘happy ending’ - and it is refreshingly devoid of trite, Iberian stereotypes, such as patatas bravas or tortilla Española.
Instead there are nods to the regional cuisines of Andalusia, Catalonia and even France. A culinary smorgasbord, no less than should be expected from chefs that have graced the kitchens of both Spain and Asia, counting the Ritz-Carlton and InterContinental among their employers.
Here, Asian ingredients marry Iberian ones – there is Manchego with Hiroshima oysters ($8), Sihanoukville snapper with Sherry vinegar ($9). While all the dishes we tried were assembled beautifully on the plate, some failed to excite the palate.
The escalivada with anchovies ($6), a Catalan dish of grilled vegetables came wrapped in a blanket of red cabbage and smothered with onions. I had hoped for more pizzazz; perhaps a mightier punch of smoky grilled aubergine, or a saltier hit from the anchovies.
The red tuna tartare with mint and avocado ($8) was pleasant, with red onions adding a much-needed crunch to the smooth avocado base and the diced tuna. The mint never seemed to make an appearance, though perhaps it lost out in a wrestling match with the abundant pepper.
My initial disappointment when it turned out the “broken eggs” ($5.50) were not poached and the iberico ham wasn’t served in great furls of pork was overcome upon my first mouthful. Instead, the dish was composed of shavings of ham, wedged in between potato and scrambled egg. Delicious as it was, it didn’t strike me as matching the special surrounds. It seemed more befitting of a brunch dish at a cafe – albeit a very decadent one.
The goat’s cheese balls with caramelised onions ($5) were perfectly balanced, the sweetness of the onions counteracting the salty tang of goat’s cheese. It was only a shame there were not more than four to consume.
The dessert menu was unalluring for those who feel most at home in the company of tortes and tarts.
There were three options: fruits en papillote, white chocolate soup and assorted French cheeses. A crema catalana wouldn’t have gone amiss.
It is worth noting that the menu changes daily, but whatever the provisions it’s easy to lose yourself in the Mediterranean milieu of Quitapenas, though Chefs Adrian and Joaquin will be only too happy to help you find your way around the menu.
Quitapenas, #14B St 264, Phnom Penh
Open 16:00 till late, closed Sundays
On Saturdays brunch is available from 11am with a set menu.