Café is less Starbucks and more Wes Anderson

Budapest serves a coconut latte and a homey apple pie.
Budapest serves a coconut latte and a homey apple pie. Daniel Nass

Café is less Starbucks and more Wes Anderson

May Liu, the owner of Budapest Coffee Workshop in Tuol Kork, has never been to Hungary.

But after seeing Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, she decided that the Eastern European capital was the perfect namesake for her homey new café.

“London, Paris … a lot of Cambodians just know about Western Europe,” she says. “But very few people know about Eastern Europe.”

Liu, who hails from southern China, saw a demand in the capital’s coffee scene for a comfortable “family-style” shop with a personal touch.

“We want the customer to just come into the shop and enjoy the coffee and enjoy the environment like their own house,” she says.

To that end, the café abounds with domestic flourishes, from a shelf of well-worn paperbacks – some brought from China, others donated by Liu’s friends – to a menu full of comfort foods.

There’s also the shop’s mascot, a fluffy puppy named Wang Wang, who has attained a minor degree of celebrity on Facebook.

The café’s decor is warm and eclectic: the front counter sports vibrant tiles, while the walls are adorned with knotty tree branches and portraits of classic Hollywood actresses. Liu found most of the decorations in Phnom Penh, but imported a few from China.

Budapest is a definite bright spot in Phnom Penh’s somewhat sterile café landscape. The cozy, convincingly continental environment makes for an ideal spot to enjoy a book, a coffee or something rich and filling from the menu.

May Liu (pictured with fluffy Wang Wang) was inspired by Eastern Europe.
May Liu (pictured with fluffy Wang Wang) was inspired by Eastern Europe. Daniel Nass

The drinks menu delivers the selection and quality one would expect from a so-called “coffee workshop”. The beans are imported from Brazil, and the offerings range from a single espresso ($1.80) to the signature coconut latte ($3.50).

A huge portion of cheesy roasted potatoes ($6) is served up in a casserole dish, while the seafood udon ($6) features squid, mussels and fish balls in a creamy broth. Apple pie ($3.50), more of a tart really, comes topped with almonds and a drizzle of chocolate.

Liu worked a finance job in Phnom Penh for nearly two years before deciding that running a café was more her speed. “I want to share my lifestyle with everyone,” she says.

After finding the real estate market too crowded in the city’s popular BKK and Tuol Tom Poung areas, Liu settled on Tuol Kork, which she sees as a neighbourhood on the rise for upscale living. (By her count, there are seven other coffee shops along the same stretch of Street 337.)

Already, the café is attracting many Korean expats from nearby Camko City, as well as foreigners who teach in the area’s international schools.

Once the flagship location is on its feet, Liu says she intends to expand Budapest Coffee Workshop to other locations throughout Phnom Penh.

“But we have to do this one well first,” she says.

Budapest Coffee Workshop is on Street 337 near the corner with 528. It is open from 7am to 9pm every day.

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