Upbeat music filled the air as a male performer wearing a police uniform asked a guest to twirl and dance to the melody.
The sound of the conga and guitar added to the lively ambience, making diners use their chopsticks and rap to the beat of the drums.
The interactive performance filled the Banana Leaf Restaurant with laughter and crackling energy as people shook away their exhaustion.
The performers are used to putting up such entertainment. They wear various costumes from sporting dresses inspired by the Disney film “Frozen,” or the white double-breasted jackets of chefs to other Southeast Asian traditional garb.
Despite their ever-changing themes and commitment to entertain, Banana Leaf marketing director Yiow Sin Mun says the troupe has not undergone professional training.
“They specialise in singing and dancing. But these people are not professional performers. They’re chefs. We found these good people who happened to like raising the spirits of the customers by putting up a show,” she says.
Beyond their skills in creating delectable Southeast Asian cuisines and fusion dishes, the chefs are also skilled in engaging the crowd through a song or dance.
“I think what sets us apart is the happiness that we exude. We don’t just serve good food, we create a good and vibrant atmosphere,” says Yiow.
Fuelled by its mantra, “Spreading joy,” the Chinese restaurant has managed to bring joy through food and entertainment since its establishment in China in 1995.
In December last year, the restaurant branched out to Cambodia.
“We have two branches in Guangzhou. There are at least four or five restaurants in China, so this one is the fifth or sixth, I think.
“We have had 20 years of mastering the Banana Leaf menu served in China but the founder of the restaurant made it his mission to ask Cambodians about their food preferences so we could suit the dishes to their palate.
“To us, the keyword is ‘fusion’. When we serve fusion food, we emphasise on diversity. Banana Leaf Restaurant’s concept is bridging gaps in generation, gender and race. This is a restaurant for everyone. So when we talk about ‘fusion,’ what we mean is we welcome everyone,” she says.
The restaurant’s signature dishes include seafood and king prawns tom yum soup which sells for $4.50 a serving and $12.90 a pot, grilled chicken with citronella ($17) and curry crab ($32).
The curry crab is said to be cooked by using a premium recipe. The meat comes from the carefully selected high-quality raw crabs from the junction area of the Mekong River basin.
“We also have some seafood, including crabs, harvested from Vietnam and Thailand,” she says.
Other recommended dishes are stir-fried king prawn with pepper sauce ($12.90), steamed fish with lime sauce ($9.90 for the red fish, $12 for yellow tail), steamed squid with lime sauce ($11) and sizzling pork knuckles with fish maw ($12).
“Wherever we open a new branch, we make it a point to support the local farmers of the area. So we try our best to use local ingredients such as pork, chicken, beef and also vegetables. We always use fresh local produce.
“This applies to the rice as well. We use Cambodian jasmine rice. Other than that, we use the Kampot black pepper because we want the locals to feel proud of their ingredients as well,” says Yiow.
The restaurant has various dishes that cater to the whims and preferences of its customers.
Light eaters can opt for vegetable dishes such as Thai stir-fried mixed vegetables ($4.90), stir-fried morning glory with belacan or shrimp paste ($3.9), stir-fried ladyfinger with Sambal sauce ($4.90) and sizzling kai-lan with salty fish ($4.90).
Those with a sweet tooth are also covered with desserts including durian pancake ($4), mango sticky rice ($4.90), black sesame custard ($3.90) and coconut pudding ($2.50).
A group of people can have their fill with the dessert platter ($8.50), which includes an assortment of the selections on the dessert menu.
Srey Nich, a diner at the restaurant, told The Post: “It is my first time coming here and so far I liked the pineapple fried rice, beef fried rice, papaya salad and scallops. I found the taste unique and the food presentation beautiful.
“I think the food is good and the price is reasonable since they serve large portions of food. The service is impeccable as well. On top of that, I liked the ambience and the restaurant’s interior design,” she says.
After its soft opening on December 19, the Banana Leaf Restaurant has seen a mix of local and international customers. At most, the restaurant has served around 200 people in a single day.
Banana Leaf Cambodia is located at the capital’s 1F Chip Mong Noro Mall, Norodom Blvd (corner Street 360 and 370), Boeung Keng Kang I district.
It is open for lunch from 10am until 3pm and dinner from 5pm to 10pm. For more information, visit their Facebook page @BananaleafCambodia or contact 096 310 9090.