Taste and value: A great spot for cheap, healthy Cambodian cuisine

Eleven One Kitchen’s spicy, minty pork larb
Eleven One Kitchen’s spicy, minty pork larb Charlotte Pert

Taste and value: A great spot for cheap, healthy Cambodian cuisine

With a broad menu of delicious Khmer dishes that won’t bust the budget, this unpretentious eatery has become a favourite of the Tuol Tompong crowd

Eleven One Kitchen is an unpretentious new little eatery offering good quality, affordable Cambodian food in a clean, comfortable setting.

The restaurant, which opened in a converted shophouse a few blocks south of Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tompoung) earlier this year, recently became a favourite lunch spot of some friends of mine who work nearby, and they demanded I check the place out. They couldn’t get enough of its stir-fried beef and broccoli. Not only that, they added, it was air-conditioned and had free Wi-FI.

The story goes that after more than 11 years working in Western restaurants, the Cambodian owner, Srun Soklim, decided to open a small, hygienic restaurant of her own, one that boasts a number of kitchen staff who were trained at Friends International’s popular restaurants Friends and Romdeng.

“The concept was to open a restaurant that cares the most about the client’s health and environment,” Soklim said.

The lemongrass chicken tastes great but is a little light on actual chicken
The lemongrass chicken tastes great but is a little light on actual chicken Charlotte Pert

Simply fitted out with wooden furniture and decorated with potted plants and framed photos of food on the walls, the place is cool and meticulously clean. There’s even a notice on the wall inviting patrons to head out back to see the kitchen for themselves. I had a quick peek and I didn’t see any cockroaches or rats. Thumbs up.

When I joined my friends for lunch recently, the menu (which is MSG-free) had plenty to offer but nothing that was likely to bust the budget. The dishes, which started from $2 but tended to be in the $3-$4 range, included a lot of different stir fries and soups but there was also fried and steamed fish, amok, lok lak, a couple of chicken and beef salads and more.

The menu seems to change pretty regularly, because the beef and broccoli ($3) was no longer listed. All three of my friends ordered it anyway, which didn’t faze the chefs. I had a few bites but couldn’t work out the big appeal. The vegetables were well done – cooked but still crunchy – and beef not too chewy but it was a little bland. My friends said the sauce wasn’t as flavoursome as before, so maybe the kitchen lacks consistency.

I ordered the most expensive item on the menu: deep fried chicken wings stuffed with seasoned minced pork, pinned shut with a couple of toothpicks then deep-fried and served with lemon pepper sauce ($6.50). You only get three, but they’re more substantial than you would expect and damn tasty; nicely crispy yet still moist inside.

The fruit shakes ($1.50) deserve a special mention. Varieties include avocado, coconut, banana and cashew, and soursop and papaya and all are super thick and delicious. As one friend said, they’re more like a dessert than a drink.

I came back again a few days later to sample a couple more dishes and I can recommend the pork larb with iceberg lettuce ($3.25). You get a big pile of minced pork and mint leaves and the salty-sweet-sour-spicy flavours are balanced nicely.

The stir-fried lemongrass chicken ($3) on the other hand was a disappointment. Composed of bony chicken, chunky lemongrass stalks and big slices of chilli, it was delicious – but there just wasn’t much that was actually edible for my Western palate.

Aside from a couple of minor complaints, Eleven One Kitchen is a pleasant and affordable place to eat and should continue to attract workers and residents from the surrounding area.

While it can’t compete with Phnom Penh’s more expensive restaurants with similar Cambodia-focused menus like Romdeng – which was obviously a big influence – the prices are much cheaper.

I’d be surprised if it doesn’t soon become popular with the backpacker crowd.

Eleven One Kitchen is located at #E02 Street 466 and is open every day from 7am until 9pm. To order delivery - including $2.50 “lunchboxes” - call 086 619 111.

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