Those hungry for a meal in the wee hours need look no further than Street 63, home to several restaurants where the burners are fuelled by the midnight oil
Getting a late-night bite in Phnom Penh can sometimes be problematic. The chef that burns the midnight oil is a rare breed in the capital – especially mid-week. However, on a short stretch of Street 63, a cluster of Chinese restaurants keep their oily woks over flame well into the wee hours.
The most recent eatery to arrive on the stretch is Tsui Wah, which opened in April at the intersection of Streets 63 and 278, and that’s where we started our late-night eatery crawl one evening this week.
The first entry into the local market from a Hong Kong-based chain, the restaurant keeps cooking until 3am.
With its drab modern decor, white walls, brown tiled floors and glossy blown-up photos of roast-suckling pig and grilled duck, the interior isn’t winning any awards. Nor is its choice of soundtrack – it doesn’t have one.
However, the food is as authentic as the crimson, Confucian shrine in the corner, which is complete with an offering of 10 shots of rice wine.
The menu is stacked with Cantonese classics such as fried red fish with sweet and sour sauce ($15), steamed minced pork with salty fish ($7.50), broad rice noodle soup with fish balls ($4.80) and, of course, an assortment of duck and other roasted meats. Some of the menu, said general manager Kevin Lee, they had to adapt to Khmer tastes, such as the eggplant with pork, which they made spicier than usual.
“It is busiest in the nighttime here,” said Lee. “Our midnight menu goes until three o’clock in the morning.” Offered from 10pm-3am, the “Mid-Night Special Set Menu” offers up some more adventurous platters, like the shrimp and frog congee (small $18, large $28) and fried duck-tongues with salt and chilli ($8).
Lee said that they planned to setup a Khmer-style BBQ on the street outside during their late-night hours.
Heading south down 63 the next alternative is Geylang Lor 9, an award-winning Singaporean chain named after its street address in the city-state and which focuses on Chinese-influenced dishes. It also stays open until 3am.
The restaurant’s logo may be that of the iconic Merlion, the half-fish, half-lion mascot of Singapore, but the real mascot is the frog.
Served in a blackened clay-pot, a hefty amount of glossy, white amphibian meat drenched in your choice of ginger and spring onion or dry chilli sauce, is the star selection there, both options at $7 for a medium and $10 for large. Plain porridge is served in a clay pot on the side for $1 and mixing of the two is encouraged.
Few drinks pair as well with frogs as beer, and Geylang Lor 9 has a choice of eight, served in the Southeast Asian way, in a tumbler of ice.
For the big-spenders (this is a Singaporean restaurant after all), a modest selection of top-shelf whiskey is also available by the bottle, including Glenffidich 18-year ($85) and Johnnie Walker Gold XR ($175).
Lastly, the dessert menu is not to be ignored, with such enticing options as black sesame dumplings in ginger soup, durian with glutinous rice and sago and black bean in coconut cream, all for $2.30.
Ironically, while named after a Paris boulevard, the Champs Elysees Hotel – our last stop of the night – might be the most genuinely Chinese place along the strip, complete with a KTV, massage spa and faux roman decor on the way to the bathroom.
Such premises are ubiquitous in China. Catering mainly for those hungry after a session of karaoke, the hotel’s dining is outdoors under a marquee near the street, with ultra-attentive waiters who will replace your plate after every bite. Aquariums of ill-fated fish, shrimp and other sea critters line the wall near the kitchen.
The menu is extensive, intimidatingly so. For those needing guidance, waiters such as the sharply dressed Xiao Yang are on hand to make personal recommendations.
According to Yang, the yellow noodle with duck and dumpling soup ($3.20) and shrimp shumai ($1.20) are winners – and he was right.
“Please complain if it is unsatisfactory,” he announced earnestly in accented Mandarin. No complaints were needed.
The condiments selection, presented on a tray, was the most impressive of the Street 63 late-night locales, featuring vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, two bottles of hot sauce and four jars of pickled veggies.
The atmosphere was casual and we saw no attempts at a common motif, unless you choose to count the Looney Tunes themed mugs set on the tables and used as chopstick holders.
Here we didn’t have to worry about finishing our food before they closed. The place runs 24 hours and the night was young.
Tsui Wah Restaurant is located at #157, Street 63; Geylang Lor 9 at #187c, Street 63; and Champs Elyseses Restaurant at #185 Street 63.