(Clockwise from top left) Sesame Fatty Noodles; Thor Buns; Choco Sesame Balls. Photograph supplied
“Have you tried the new noodle joint…it’s at Russian Market,” a friend suggested over g-chat.
My reply was less than enthused - although I have developed a healthy appreciation of Nom banh chok – the soupy, fish curry based Khmer noodles-, the thought of a steamy market stall meal was less than appealing on this scorching hot day.
“No, no, but they’re cold noodles,” she replied, explaining that the noodles were a Japanese dish, served salad-style.
Intrigued, two colleagues and I set off for Tuol Tompoung. Tucked away down the sleepy Street 460, the restaurant, which opened in December, oozes understated chic and could fit in London’s hipster hamlet Shoreditch or Melbourne’s café-lined Smith Street.
The effervescent Keiko Fujita-Hix, from Tokyo, who owns Sesame Noodle Bar with her husband, hopes the area will become a new, bohemian hot spot – the pair have lived in the area since they relocated to Cambodia in September 2011 and say they were frustrated by the lack of dining and drinking options close to home.
Tokyo kitsch is apparent in the design - ruby Japanese Noren curtains are draped over doorways and quirky Hello Kitty-esque toys scattered over a spacious timber counter surrounding the restaurant’s open kitchen, perfect for a lazy Saturday lunch with a book or the paper.
Exposed light globes in a variety of shapes and sizes seem to drip from the ceiling, vintage prints cover the walls and the White Stripes and New Order serenade us from the speakers.
It’s styled as an Isakaya [a casual after-work Japanese dining and drinking den], where customers come alone and chat to staff, according to Keiko.
Hiyashi chuka literally translates to “chilled Chinese,” a Japanese adaptation of Chinese noodles to serve in the balmy summers.
The menu is small and centres around two main bowls of Hiyashi chuka- Sesame House Noodles ($3.75) or Sesame Fatty Noodles ($4.50) – with a selection of sides and deserts.
We go for one of each – two kaleidoscopic bowls of thick, cold Ramen noodles, layered with Chinese cabbage, lettuce, tomato, eggs and chives. The house variety is served with marinated, juicy minced pork while the “fatty” comes with morsels of succulent, marinated pork belly.
The dressing is a creamy, tahini-based sauce with sesame oil and sake giving it an extra kick.
Despite the generous layer of fat strung across the pork belly, both dishes feel clean and light. Adding a bit more texture could improve it - toasted sesame seeds would do the trick.
The highlight is the swoon-worthy “Thor Buns”($2.25). A soft, steamed, taco-shaped bun is filled with slices of sticky, caramelised pork and slivers of cucumber and pickles.
We opt for a number of other sides – the tofu and kimchi ($2) is fresh and the pickled carrots are a nice touch, but sadly the vegetarian gyoza ($2) are lacklustre – the cabbage, onion and ginger lack seasoning and taste bitter. Perhaps we should have gone for more pork.
Desserts are also a sinfully-delicious winner. The Sesame Balls ($2) – pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves rolled in mochi and sesame seeds, fried golden-brown and submerged in a pool of thick caramel and palm sugar sauce – slightly outdo the Choco Sesame Bombs ($3.50).
The pair plan to open for dinner in the near future, with caramelised tofu burgers, marinated chicken, and additional veggie dishes considered as menu additions, along with cocktails.
Sesame Noodle # 9, Street 460, Tuol Tompoung, open Tuesday-Sunday 11.30am-2pm.