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Out to Lunch: At the Top Banana

Out to Lunch: At the Top Banana

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Street 278, by Independence Monument, is a popular night spot for expats, with the door-to-door combo of Equinox and Liquid Bar. But if you ever venture to the cramped Equinox rooftop to fill your lungs with either fresh air or cigarette smoke, you’ll find yourself almost eye-to-eye with its backpacker equivalent across the road: Top Banana.

Nina Loacker/Phnom Penh Post
Patrons lounging at Top Banana.

If you’re a dreadlocked backpacker, or wish (for some reason) to seek the company of dreadlocked backpackers, Top Banana is the place to go. A combination of restaurant, guest house and bar, the venue is home to several flat bean bags, a DJ booth, and a screen for movies.

In a nod to its backpacker clientele, weathered flags from around the world are strung up on the roof and walls, alongside scrawled messages from fellow travellers.

Cocktails are available from $2.50, ranging from dirty martinis to more expensive $3.50 berry daiquiri’s. Other drinks on the menu are standard bar fare; beer, shooters, mixers and wine.

The food menu contains western favourites and hangover cures like pizza, pasta, burgers, mashed potatoes and – for the less daring – garden salads. There’s also Khmer food including chicken or fish amok, loc lack and noodle dishes.

We decided to sample both worlds, ordering chicken amok ($3.75) and a cheeseburger with mushroom sauce ($4.25).

The wait for meals is fairly lengthy, between 30 and 40 minutes, though perhaps it just seems longer due to the background noise: backpackers tapping away on laptops and asking loudly for directions to the Killing Fields to the tune of a dance and jazz music relentlessly piped from the speakers. But just as Push Up by Freestylers came to a close, a waiter emerged with our meals.

It’s hard to find a “tick-all-the-boxes” burger patty in Phnom Penh – I’m sure you’ve all tried. Though certainly not the tastiest burger our western palates have encountered, it was one of the better Phnom Penh ones and generous in size. After months of greasy stir fry, noodles and rice, it made a pleasant alternative at an affordable price.

The amok was by the numbers and quite tasty. It doesn’t really compare (or attempt to) with Khmer joints, but is still solid, good-tasting local flavour.

By day, the atmosphere at Top Banana is relaxed and easy-going. So relaxed in fact, that one seasoned traveller had conked out on a couch near us, undisturbed by the background beats or the quiet chatter among other patrons.

But when the sun goes down, Top Banana cranks up the volume as tourists return from their travels and a few expats stroll in for an after-work drink. By night, Top Banana is almost unrecognisable, with live DJs, free shooters and even cheaper cocktails.

But we offer one word of warning for this otherwise carefree, anything-goes hangout – after a few drinks, the steep and narrow stairs can become a challenge to ascend or descend gracefully. Proceed with caution.

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