When you walk into Bongkoch, the first thing you see is the wait staff paying their respects as they welcome you and escort you to your table. It’s neatly laid with fresh-cut flowers.
Banyong Paisaltanakij, the manager of Bongkoch, says he’s opened “the first” traditional northern Thai restaurant in the city. The other Thai eateries in town, he says, don’t have quite the same authentic flavour.
Open since early July, Bongkoch is designed to look like a wooden temple – and Banyong intends to treat it that way. The restaurant draws its name and its logo from a pink Thai lotus flower used in Buddhist prayer.
“It’s the most respected,” Banyong says.He hopes that prestige might differentiate Bongkoch from the pack.
“Cambodian, Thai, [and] Western people are craving Thai food, even though there are many places that are already established,” he says.
The idea to open a restaurant in the capital came to Banyong while working at a food court in a mall in Bangkok. He got together with two friends, one of whom ran a small papaya salad, meatball and chicken shop, and they agreed to pack up, move to Phnom Penh and open a traditional northern Thai cuisine eatery.
For Banyong, part of the appeal was Phnom Penh’s vibrant restaurant scene.
“I came to visit Cambodia many times, and I decided to start [it] because a restaurant business is a very good [business] to run now in Phnom Penh,” he says.
And what he brought with him was Thai authenticity. Banyong says every item on the menu is made from Thai ingredients and by a team of nine Thai chefs in the kitchen. Anything less would fail to guarantee that traditional taste, he adds.
When the food hits the table it’s served in a Thai serving platter called a khantoke. It includes sung tam (fried chicken with papaya salad), which is not too sweet, too sour or too salty; boiled vegetables with fried pork with tomato; and a northern-style spicy sweet-and-sour flavouring.
Also on deck is a hot tom yum soup and dry pork skin with sticky rice.In all, the khantoke food-set ($9.00) contains six different dishes. Even the vessel itself is authentic – made from northern Thai wood, according to Banyong. Many restaurants in that part of Thailand serve food on a khantoke, he says, as doing so is part of the aesthetic pleasure of eating the dish.
Of course, Bongkoch serves the classics too.
“A plate of pad Thai ($3.80) is special in my place and everyone knows this dish well,” he says. “It’s a traditional pad Thai recipe: a stir-fried rice noodle dish with chicken, pork, beef, tofu or a combination.”
Next are the desserts ($2.50): luk choop is a fruit-shaped Thai sweet made from yellow bean and covered by jelly. Thong yip, shaped like a golden flower, is made from egg yolk, coconut and flour, then slow-cooked in syrup for five hours.
At Bongkoch, the food is matched by the packaging: relaxing music, a well-designed interior and wait staff dressed in neat brown uniforms to ensure diners can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“Even with restaurant businesses [in Phnom Penh] sprouting like mushrooms, we promise to keep our quality of food and friendly service, and we welcome everyone as a customer,” Banyong says.
Bongkoch Thai is located at #28 Street 302, and is open 6:30am to 11pm, every day. Tel: 023 666 6918