Punters looking to linger over a late-night foie gras salad to the sound of electronic lounge tunes will find themselves at home in one of the city’s newer gastro pubs.
Oskar Bistro (no relation to a similarly named Street 104 hostess bar or the now defunct Street 51 venue), which opened its first outlet in Bangkok four years ago, arrived in Phnom Penh earlier this summer promising creative adaptations of Mediterranean cuisine in an atmosphere as much inspired by chic drinking holes as by traditional sit down restaurants.
“We’re 50-50 bar and restaurant,” said restaurant partner Patrick Ferenczi.
Despite its location at the northern edge of the riverside strip, not far from a few of the capital’s less savoury nightspots, Oskar brings an injection of affordable class to a late-night scene hungry for something more than hotdogs served out of a modified tuk-tuk.
In true French style, the kitchen stays open until 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
“We feel it’s hard to find a place for dinner, especially when we want a late dinner,” said Ferenczi.
“French people often have an aperitif at eight or nine, and then at 9:30 ask where to go to dinner. And we found we didn’t have a lot of choice in Phnom Penh.”
The interior decor is stylish but unimposing, with recycled materials used throughout. The metal side of a truck above the DJ booth has a lightning bolt carved into it, while the remains of a wooden door serve as a partition in the front.
Mixed media works adorn the wall, including a mash-up of a poster of Alfred Hitchcock featuring Angry Birds and a half-painted, half-photographed montage of a Phnom Penh street scene.
The food tries to be original – not an easy feat in the capital’s increasingly crowded restaurant scene – and succeeds by avoiding the lazy cliches all too common with the usual grab bag of fusion offerings.
While the menu plays with various styles – Australian lamb in tzatziki dip ($6.20) and chicken fillet with yellow curry ($4.90) – Oskar’s firm roots in Mediterranean cooking don’t quite qualify the joint as fusion.
It is, however, generously diverse with its influences.
Dishes such as salmon teriyaki with garlic rice ($7.10), saffron risotto loaded with regional shellfish and chorizo ($9.80), and the old fashioned braised lamb shank ($18) will satisfy the traditional and experimental customer alike.
The house salad ($7.40) drives home Oskar’s style with its familiar ingredients creatively blended – seared foie gras and cheese sandwiches come served beside a healthy dose of greens and duck.
Several options come served in a traditional cocotte casserole dish, but combine foreign influences with the classic French serving style – prawn bisque ($6.10), char-grilled chicken ($6.30) and seafood tom yam ($6.50).
Sharing, stressed Ferenczi, was highly encouraged.
“Most of the time it is easy to share – just have a drink and small bite,” he said.
The extensive cocktail list features five signature drinks, includes the Diplomat’s Old Fashioned ($5.20) served with Zacapa rum, angostura, orange peel and a large ball of ice.
The Cherry Blossom Sour ($4.20), with its gin, Amarena wine, lychee, lemon and egg white was also a hit, said Ferenczi, particularly on Wednesday’s ladies’ night when all drinks are buy one, get one free for women.
It won’t come as a shock that Oskar, with six French owners, has one of the more extensive wine lists in town.
There are 55 bottles to choose from, most of them from France, although a few Australian and South African tipples are also available. Ferenczi said the wine was meant to be affordable for all wallets.
“We have everything from cheap to not too expensive,” he said.
While numerous new fusion eateries enter the market every year without shaking up the formula, Oskar navigates that obstacle with a breath of originality.
Its selective, thoughtful combinations of East and West involve something more than simply dipping everything in tempura batter, and provide a much-needed injection of refinement onto Phnom Penh’s late-night dining scene.
Oskar Bistro, #159 Sisowath Quay .