I love asparagus. I adore panacotta. It has never occurred to me to combine the two.
Last week I discovered the result: asparagus panacotta, mint-green and wobbling on the plate.
You’d expect a similar culinary shock tactic from chefs-meet-scientists elsewhere, but in Phnom Penh this sort of thing still carries some novelty value.
But then, there’s nothing humdrum about The Common Tiger. It’s been open three months but I skipped the teething period and thought a rainy Tuesday night in August the right time to try something new.
Namely, their trademark degustation menu. Degustation! A wonderful word. Not a mere tasting menu, but a degusting one, taking the gustatory system into careful consideration with five courses ($40) from the ordinary menu.
It wasn’t the ideal evening for a multiple-course-meal. My dining partner had a bad cold, and so moaned and coughed his way through the doorway.
A butterscotch and lime cocktail put me at ease. The first of the evening’s marriages of flavours worked well, the acidic tang softened by a gulp of honeyed sweetness.
The décor is pleasant and unpretentious. Big wood tables. Brick walls. It’s quiet, apart from the buttery laughs of other couples sitting inside. There’s a soulful soundtrack and the waiters wear Converse and kramas.
The place has a seaside feel, from the abundance of fish on the menu to the painting of a coastline on the bathroom wall.
Perhaps chef Timothy Bruyns’ globe-trotting background plays a part. The former executive sous chef at Koh Rong island paradise Song Saa has picked up different techniques around the globe, from classic European cooking, traditional Asian to modernist ideas.
I had therefore expected some verbose guff on the menu, but the tiny line-up is surprisingly readable, and changes every few days depending on what Bruyns finds on his daily trips to the market.
Let’s start with the bread ($4). Our waiter Samnang brought the sourdough wrapped up in a tablecloth which he unfurled onto the wood tabletop. He placed the sourdough beside pots of butter and savoury jams to be slathered on with plastic spatulas.
It had the feel of a teddy bear’s picnic.
My partner’s evil mood lifted immediately. “Put it in your purse,” he urged, half-seriously.
The sourdough was thinly-sliced and had the trademark slightly-rubbery-but-delicious crumb with a crunchy crust. The fluffy, salty creaminess of the butter made it easily the best I’ve tasted in the city.
The two jams were excellent: a rich red onion and sweet tomato glaze.
My first course was the asparagus panacotta ($8). Served with mozzarella, the creamy almost cheesy flavour intrigued. Edamame beans offered a welcome crunch but the dish still felt a bit floppy.
The pork filet ($12) endeared itself to me more easily. Two juicy slabs were drenched in mustard sauce and complemented by a buttery, sweet potato puree. Roasted baby aubergine lent a slightly bitter counterbalance to the sweet sauce.
By this point my partner was distinctly jovial. The Shiraz arrived in joyfully large glasses.
Next up was poached prawn, with a confit of garlic and tom kha ($6.50). The soup was thick and coconut-rich, the Thai tom kha complemented by lime and fish sauce.
The pan-fried sea bass with banana heart ($13) smelled pungent. The first bite revealed crispy fish which fell apart in the mouth beautifully and a moreish peanut dressing.
We finished with a dish described in the menu as simply ‘coconut, peanut and papaya’. It was a velvety coconut and lime mousse adorned with peanut butter shavings. This is clever stuff. They use a very light white powder called tapioca maltodextrin, which dehydrates fat and oil and then rehydrates itself when in your mouth, releasing the fat again with a flavour-packed punch.
By the time I’d wearily spooned my last, two and a half hours had disappeared. This isn’t a quick bite. This is food to be savoured, digested, and thoroughly degusted.
The Common Tiger, #20 Street 294
12pm – 3pm, 7pm – 9.30pm.