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Fresh fish without the fineries

Small fish joints like The Fishmonger often incline towards a Spartan aesthetic
Small fish joints like The Fishmonger often incline towards a Spartan aesthetic. Scott Howes

Fresh fish without the fineries

This simple eatery sends some of its catch to the city’s high-end establishments. If you want value, do yourself a favour and ditch the middle man

There’s something satisfying about simple food done well, and The Fishmonger gets it. The small restaurant, which opened on Street 29 at the end of last month, matches the quality of the fare served in Phnom Penh’s high-end seafood eateries, but offers it up in a no frills setting and at half the price.

Small fish joints often incline towards a Spartan aesthetic. Perhaps it’s a subtle form of subliminal messaging, suggesting to diners scarred by dodgy seafood experiences that the kitchen is as scrubbed and regimented as the rest of the interior.

Whatever the reason, The Fishmonger conforms to the minimalist trend. Tables are bright white, the hard floor is painted a well-washed blue and the kitchen is sectioned off by a wall of shining chrome racks that look like they should be filled with still flapping fish, but aren’t. A few stock image shots of boats on beaches and a string of fairy lights soften the effect slightly, but if you’re planning a leisurely meal you’re best off opting for the table just outside.

The unfussy design means that first impressions suggest The Fishmonger as a smart variant of the traditional fish and chip joint. And if you’re pining for the nostalgic tang of salty seaside takeaways you’ll be able to cobble together a satisfying approximation: there is beer batter, there are chip butties, there are even mushy peas.

Deep-fried swordfish steak
Deep-fried swordfish steak. Scott Howes

But battering might not be the best option for the fine three fish on The Fishmonger’s short menu. Swordfish, barracuda and tuna are meaty, flavoursome fish delivered on ice from Sihanoukville three times a week, and they deserve a more dignified conclusion than to be blasted by the “covers all sins” sizzle of the deep fryer. Pan frying and steaming are also available as cooking methods for each catch.

We opted for the barracuda to be pan fried on our waiter’s recommendation. Delicately seasoned, the soft white meat was excellent. I learnt too late that eating barracuda isn’t a particularly popular pursuit, due to the associated risk of getting something called ciguatera poisoning: a toxin present in predatory reef fish that can’t be killed through cooking or by observing good food hygiene practices. The chances are relatively low, but if culinary Russian Roulette isn’t your thing, you might want to think twice, or at least give it a Google for yourself first.

In the interest of a well-rounded review we opted to have the swordfish battered. Deep frying fish without overcooking it ranks only slightly below deep frying ice cream on the difficulty scale, but the kitchen obviously had their timing well thought out. The coating was a light and crispy gold, but the steak’s centre remained a satisfyingly fleshy pink.

The three mains cost between $4 and $6, with large chips adding $2 to the bill. The other side dishes offer similarly straightforward seaside fare, including scallops, prawns, fish bites and calamari.

Pan-fried barracuda with chips
Pan-fried barracuda with chips. Scott Howes

Seeking some respite from the sea, we ordered the $6 avocado salad. Wires got crossed and it was a squid salad that arrived on the table, but the mistake wasn’t a great hardship – the delicate vegetables, scattered generously with intricately carved bite size squid, demonstrated that the kitchen has no problem producing more sophisticated fare.

The Fishmonger’s short and simple approach to the menu is an asset for the food, but the application of the same philosophy to the drinks means there’s a lack of options for diners looking to make the most of the wine pairing potential of fish dishes. The only white wine available by the glass is an unwooded chardonnay for $4. It’s an inoffensive, crisp option for fish but the meaty steaks on the menu could support something more full bodied.

But if fine wine was what you were looking for, The Fishmonger was never going to be the best bet. If you opt for a smarter seafood restaurant instead, rest assured that the chances that you’ll still end up sampling their catch are fairly high – they act as a wholesaler to several high end eateries around the city.

For diners happy to skip the frills of upmarket eating, I suggest you cut out the middle man and give The Fishmonger a shot. You’ll save yourself a healthy chunk of money in the process.
#10Eo Street 29.

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