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
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.
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.
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
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.