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On The Town

On The Town

O n Sunday, we chugged upriver on the Ville de Paris, a boat decked out with

flowers and bunting, for hire near the Kirirom restaurant. Four leisurely

kilometers later, it moored at the Kompong Cham restaurant, overlooking the

Mekong.

Our party wobbled across a plank and up stairs to this modern,

white-tiled establishment with glorious views and cool breezes. The charming

owner, Chiev Huon, 63, a retired primary school headmaster, took us around the

back to see his menagerie. In one cage, two smokey grey cobras slithered over

one another. In the next, several tortoises extended their wrinkled heads. But

we were captivated by two furry pangolin wrapped in fond embrace. The pangolin

is an anteater, with a sticky tongue, long body and prehensile tail.

So

it was with alarm we learned we were to select some of these for lunch. Being

conservative and conservationally-minded, we demurred and asked instead for a

selection of fish and chicken. The first dish was succulent, king-sized prawns

sauteed in a garlic and lemon caramelised sauce, with pepper and sugar. It was

followed by fried elephant fish, moist and white beneath grey skin, and covered

with garlic, spring onion, red pepper, parsley, lemon, oyster sauce and other

secret seasonings which abound in Cambodian kitchens. The sauteed chicken was

accompanied by stir-fry mushrooms and tomatoes, smothered in excessive but tasty

soy sauce. An omelette was brought on, but it had been cooked in too much oil.

For dessert we ate chunks of fresh pineapple with lime squeezed over them. The

sharp taste was perfect after the rather rich food. Dishes cost up to 10,000

riel. Items from the menagerie are a negotiable price, but we secretly hope they

are beyond most people's purses.

The Kompong Cham is on Route 6a, one of

the many restaurants after the Japanese Bridge which can also be reached by

road. But sailing there is half the fun, with the journey back to look forward

to in the late afternoon with relaxation the theme.

Weekday lunches, on

the other hand, are often rushed affairs with work associates. Two French

restaurants, Le Cordon Bleu and La Paillote, serve fixed-price set menus, a

popular idea all over France. Both advertise their daily fare a week in advance.

Thus, agonies of indecision about what to choose or how to divide the bill are

eliminated, and you can get on with that business deal or tete-a-tete.

Le

Cordon Bleu on Sihanouk Blvd offers a $5 menu. The cool, white, brasserie-style

La Paillote, facing the Central Market, charges $7, including Kir Royale or a

non alocholic cocktail. At Cordon Bleu we started with refreshing tomato salad,

with aromatic French dressing. Most days the main course is meat. Their

speciality is steak tartare, raw minced beef, with onion and raw egg. Manager

Jose Lessert suggested spaghetti as an alternative to meat, not very French, but

it had a fragrant pesto sauce, full of fresh basil, the king of herbs. Our

colleagues ate chicken cassoulet. The best part of the meal was creme caramel,

light, soft and smooth, tasting of vanilla and egg, with a sweet but not rich

caramel sauce.

La Paillote is more elegant with waiters in black bow

ties. Hot French bread and iced water are replenished throughout the meal. At

Cordon Bleu, as in our last visit, we could not get a glass of ordinary water,

but had to buy an expensive, small bottle imported from France. We believe that

iced water should be served as a matter of course in restaurants, as an antidote

to hot climates and heated discussions.

At La Paillote we enjoyed salade

maison, tender green beans, tomatoes, cucumber, grated carrot, and small pale

asparagus, arranged in neat sections and dressed in delicious vinaigrette sauce.

A la carte, there is French onion soup with toast with melted cheese. The main

course was spaghetti with bolognaise. We chose zucchini and eggplant stew ($3),

appetising and flavoursome with rosemary and thyme, topped with zesty, provencal

tomato sauce full of chunks of black olives. Dessert was chocolate icecream,

with a perfect velvety-creamy texture, and rich chocolatey taste.

Service here is attentive. In fact, waiters stand watch over you like

invigilators at an exam. If you cheat by talking to your friends and eating your

meal too slowly, they whisk the plates away with the food still on them as

punishment. But since pre-Untac days the well-ordered atmosphere here has made

it, deservedly, a favourite business rendezvous.

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