Plenty of novelty in the decor at new Street 51 eatery, but the food sticks to Khmer classics
In the 2000 action movie Shanghai Noon, Jackie Chan plays a Chinese imperial guard who finds himself in 1881 Nevada teaming up with a train robber to save a kidnapped concubine. Part Western and part kung fu flick, the film takes on a East-meets-West theme not unlike Phnom Penh’s newest rootin’ tootin’ eatery.
Cowboy Check-In restaurant, on Street 51, combines the aesthetics of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western with the fare of a Cambodian beer garden. It’s a place as enjoyable as it is perplexing.
“We’ve seen this cowboy concept in many countries, and we thought, in Cambodia we don’t have this,” said manager Prum Den, adding she had visited similar Old West-style restaurants in the US, Thailand and Singapore.
The restaurant is decked out in over-the-top John Wayne-chic, from the swinging front entrance doors that resemble a Wild West saloon’s to the fake Winchester rifles that hang on the walls, along with cow skulls, Native American rugs and dreamcatchers.
On the stage, next to a couple of acoustic guitars used by the Filipino and Cambodian cover bands that play nightly, are cutouts of the Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick Tonto. Of course, the staff all wear cowboy hats and plaid shirts too.
Despite all the Americana, the menu is purely Cambodian. Well-done pepper beef steaks ($7.50), sweet and sour fish ($8), and stir-fried egg noodle ($4) are the staples here. You can get diced, stir-fried cow tongue, seasoned with lemon grass ($5.50), but the most American dish available is the steak, which comes rather succulent by Cambodian standards.
The classic Old West dishes, like chili con carne or buffalo steaks, are absent. But Den said their new American-style dishes, such as ribeye steak and hamburgers, would be available by the end of the month.
A bit of a bordello theme lurks in the drink menu – order a “cowboy lap dance” of fresh passion fruit juice with white wine ($4), or the two-litre pitcher known as the “passion horny” ($22). No nudity involved, but they provide a sweet tipple that packs more wine than juice. Beer towers, of course, are also available.
Cowboy Check-In is worth it for the sheer novelty value. While it’s a wait-and-see on how well they tackle the Old West classics, the Khmer menu is cheap and tasty.
Think of it is as a beer garden with a surreal twist; come for the amusing décor, stay for the juicy beef steak, tell your friends you had a cowboy lap dance.
Cowboy Check-In is located north of the corner of Streets 51 and 242. Opening hours are 11am until 3pm and 5pm until midnight.