Samovar is Phnom Penh’s second – and I’d argue best – Russian restaurant. Russian isn’t exactly a renowned world cuisine so this might not sound like much of an endorsement but the dishes at Samovar are delicious and easy on the budget.
One weekday night recently I gathered a group of nine friends – including a Russian – for a big, Russian-style dinner get-together there. It started, naturally enough, with a round of vodka shots. People grasped at their throats. Our Russian friend looked smug.
We then ordered from the diverse menu and after a short wait – during which we admired the teak table topped with colourful Russian fabric and one of the Russian teakettles, known as samovars, after which the restaurant was named – the dishes started coming.
The appetisers took almost no time. The vinaigrette ($2.40) left our Russian swooning. “Just like back home,” she said scooping up forkfuls of cubed beets, potatoes, beans carrots and onions with vinaigrette and a little oil. Simple, yet with a slice of rye bread, ($0.20 per slice) another Russian staple, and enough to let you feel adequate with your choice.
Another appetiser highlight was the pickled items ($1.90). A dollop of thinly grated sour cabbage encircled by sliced pickles-balancing on salty and sweet yet crunchy, and pickled cherry tomatoes that pop with a burst of flavour.
Next came the beetroot and cheese salad ($2.40). Creamy and shredded, it was done in a way that made us feel that we should have had been eating it our entire lives.
The filling staples – mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and rice – should be ignored. Invest instead in more appetizers, salads and rye bread and sour cream ($0.20) – you need to accompany every dish with a slice and spoonful.
My borsch moskovski along with the solyanka tsarkara arrived next (both $3.40). Both stews were steamed with fragrances of beets, chicken and beef. I barely took a sip of the broth before my Russian friend dumped a dollop of sour cream on top, leaving it more a pinkish strawberry color. “This is how you eat it,” she said. She was right. The chunks of beef were tender and the grated beetroot a nice touch.
Our party sampled almost every menu item, from the pirozhki ($2.90) – two small calzone-shaped buns filled with chicken and mushroom that were baked fresh and spiced subtly – to the chicken with cheese and cream ($4.90) – a filling and perfectly cooked dish.
The dumplings were the stars of the night. Both the pel’meni ($3.40), with beef and pork mixture inside the light and steamed dough, as well as the vareniki ($2.90), enlarged crescents with either creamy mashed potatoes or Russia’s own cottage cheese, called tvorog, made us feel with each comforting bite that we were huddled up in a wintry cabin in the Ural Mountains escaping the cold snow outside.
We finished the night off with hot drinks of sbiten ($1.90) and kissel ($1.90) – traditional fruit or honey and spiced beverages – and shared bites of syrnkiki ($2.90) five thick doughy pancakes bronzed on both sides. Dipped in jam or sour cream, you can end your night happily.
With tea, borsch and pirozhki my bill came in at around $8. A bargain.
Don’t miss the opportunity to test your taste buds at Samovar. Your wallet and stomach will thank you.
Samovar, #11 Street 108 (Near Night Market), phone: 015 892 525.