Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A reservations-only taste of home



A reservations-only taste of home

For now, Amine Mdidech runs his reservations-only restaurant on his own.
For now, Amine Mdidech runs his reservations-only restaurant on his own. Scott Howes

A reservations-only taste of home

At the top of a narrow, Mediterranean-blue staircase, behind an unmarked wooden door, French-Moroccan chef Amine Mdidech serves dinner to just four tables each night.

Open for two months, Casablanca is currently operating with reservations only. It’s less for the air of exclusivity than as a matter of practicality: Mdidech serves as the restaurant’s host, chef and waiter all at once.

He arrives an hour or two before his diners, to begin preparing the night’s meal. There are always two rotating entrees on offer, often slow cooked with market-fresh ingredients. The chef needs time.

In fact, Mdidech opened Casablanca partially with an aim to slow things down. He says he wants his restaurant to feel like a home. And he greets his guests that way: the chef has an air of formality, but his friendly banter reveals a comfort with strangers integral to his one-man show.

“I wanted something completely different in Phnom Penh,” he explains. “I always felt like [at restaurants in the city] it was just, ‘Give me my money and go away’. I would like a special relationship with my guests.”

Mdidech grew up in Fez – a city famed for its labyrinthine streets and alleyways – and despite taking the larger city’s name, his restaurant seems to retain some of its old-world charm. It occupies a remodelled French-style apartment with a vaulted ceiling and a breezy, wraparound balcony. A dimly lit roof beckons – for the dry season.

Casablanca’s duck tagine.
Casablanca’s duck tagine. Scott Howes

The chef says that, as with the other things, he embarked on the two-year construction project by himself. He had been immediately taken with the space. “The tile reminds me of the tiles of my childhood,” he says.

At the age of 5, Mdidech started learning to cook at home. “My first meal was an omelette,” he laughs.

He later moved in with his grandmother, who he says was a “really famous cook” in Fez. There, he picked up her habits – and some of her recipes. “Today, what I propose in Casablanca, is what I learned from her,” he says.

On the menu one night this week were braised beef ribs slow-cooked with Moroccan spices (his grandmother’s recipe) and cauliflower; and duck tagine, served with pumpkin paste, carrots, raisins and grapes. (The chef notes that he can tweak the menu for vegetarians or allergies.) The meat was remarkably tender and the Moroccan flavour a welcome addition to the Phnom Penh palate.

Before the main dishes arrived, Post Weekend was served seven different starters – black olives, potato salad flavoured with cumin and lemon, and a summer salad with grilled pepper and tomato. And dessert followed: fruit salad accompanied with a seemingly bottomless cup of Moroccan mint tea. The entire experience – excluding wine and cocktails – comes in at $15 per head.

After leaving Fez, Mdidech studied in France and worked in restaurants in Paris. The influence is apparent in his restaurant’s quite comfortable take on fine dining. “The Moroccan food that I make, it also includes my French experience,” he says.

It’s unclear how the reservations-only model will fare – it’s pretty untested in Phnom Penh – but while Mdidech’s line is open, it’s worth the call.

Casablanca is located at #170 Street 278 (near the corner with Street 63) on the first floor. To reserve a table, call 096 672 3660.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10