Moving to the tropics did nothing to kill my appetite for tea – the strong, milky kind, served with square sugar cubes on the side and a fat slice of sponge cake. If anything, the heat only engorged my greed. bic
I’m not alone.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, 16 women sheltered from the rain at one of the city’s classier restaurants, draining cups of Earl Grey and glasses of sparkling wine. It could have been South Kensington.
We were guinea pigs in tea dresses, testing out a new venture from the brothers behind BKK speakeasy-style waterhole bar.sito: high tea at their sister restaurant, Public House.
Like the adjacent bar, whose well-mixed cocktails are as legendary as they are potent, Public House has quickly become a byword for simple, affordable style.
The design mirrors sito, with a narrow, sleek set up intended for intimacy. The staff are chatty and the menu classic.
High tea, nonetheless, is an unusual direction for a gastropub.
Owner George Norbert-Munns attributes the idea his mother, who made the initial suggestion after taking some friends out for tea while in London.
Luckily for him, mothers are always right. There are many tea options in Phnom Penh but Public House’s simple, classic menu is spot on. There are no desperate green tea sponges here.
Four options are offered: from simple tea for two at $9 to tea for two with a bottle of Pol Roger Brut Réserve Champagne for $50 per person, with cheaper bottles at $30 and $14.
All come with a selection of scones, finger sandwiches and what the menu endearingly calls ‘naughty treats’, courtesy of La Patisserie.
Nine variations of tea are offered: from English Breakfast to Rooibos Chai and Japanese Sencha, all from American fine tea specialists Harney & Sons. No Yorkshire Gold blend, but an adequate replacement.
We had one of the more moderate but still tasty sparkling wines, Angus Brut. The pepper ham sandwiches were moreish, while the cucumber kind were light and smothered with butter.
As for the cheeky treats, there were feathery éclairs stuffed with rich chocolate cream and lemon tarts brimming with soft, tangy curd packed into crisp pastry.
But at the heart of every high tea is a good scone. These were charmingly home-made and buttery. The cream was sweet and thick.
I needn’t have feared that common misstep: an experimental jam, like the sickly pineapple or, worse, tamarind, variation. This was the good old-fashioned, tart, strawberry kind, fruity but not saccharine.
As the storm died down, and I stepped outside, I thought of London’s rain-washed streets and the tea shops that beg to be ducked into, and felt content with the alternative.
Public House. Tea served Monday to Friday, 3pm to 5:30pm. Book one day in advance.