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Plastic trees and pungent prahok

A waterfall washes down the outside of Forest’s huge wall of glass
A waterfall washes down the outside of Forest’s huge wall of glass. Charlotte Pert

Plastic trees and pungent prahok

The foliage might be fake, but the flavours are as authentic as you could hope for at Phnom Penh’s newest upmarket Khmer restaurant, Forest

Industrial chic meets faux organic at Forest, a new restaurant near the National Assembly that had its soft opening late last month. Continuing a recent trend in the Phnom Penh dining scene, the fare is traditional Khmer but presented with style in an upmarket setting.

The restaurant is the first from the Naki Group, a property management, investment and consultant group. Veasna Meas, a partner in the company who originally hails from Seattle, said the idea came out of their need for a comfortable place with quality Khmer food to take clients. “We were constantly looking for a place to have these meetings, but it was hard to find a good spot,” he said.

Spicy papaya salad elegantly plated.
Spicy papaya salad elegantly plated. Charlotte Pert

But why the rainforest theme? “We want this place to be an environment where people can relax and escape the city,” said Meas. “We have the calming waterfalls, the trees, the plants.”

In other words, an oasis.

Giant windows – an artificial waterfall cascading down the outside – encase the two-storey establishment like a greenhouse while a verdant canopy of greenery – closer inspection reveals it to be plastic – hangs from the ceiling. It’s all very slick, though you’re reminded it’s still Cambodia when the fountains stop during power outages.

The menu is light on flourishes and heavy on tradition. Don’t be fooled by the Western pop music playing or the gold Anubis statues in the bathroom: the eats are Cambodian to the core. “This food reminds people of their childhood,” said Meas.

Dishes – served by a hoard of black-clad waiters who stand at your beck and call – include pungent roast prahok ($9), colourful mango salad with dried fish ($7), peanutty papaya salad with blue crab ($9) and spicy chicken with lime ($7.50).

Forest serves up gourmet roasted prahok.
Forest serves up gourmet roasted prahok. Charlotte Pert

Along with an extensive dinner and lunch menu, is a set of seven complimentary desserts on rotation, including warm sweet corn pudding and tha bai, a sweet fermented black rice dish. The drinks list – with on-theme cocktails like jungle orange ($5), forest flamingo ($5) and waterfall ($5) – offers an impressive variety of libations to wash down all that prahok.

A stage and a DJ booth covered in hundreds of vintage Cambodian cassette tapes lie idle during the day but get a workout during nightly performances.

Meas said that one final touch has yet to be added to the restaurant: live birds were being purchased to fly freely through the fake forest.

To go with the plastic trees, perhaps mechanical parrots would be fitting.

Forest is located at #1 National Assembly Street (behind the Russian Embassy). Tel: 023 648 888.

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