Around & Out – December 2014

The Foodie

The Chat ‘n’ Chew on st.172 has been an expat recommendation floating around for some time now. The Foodie heads there to see if it gets the Foodie seal of approval.

The place was so packed on arrival, there was a birthday party going on, that we couldn’t get a seat to start with. After a quick beer over the street we returned to grab the one small table that was available. Like many of the places on the street old school rattan furniture is scattered around to be arranged as necessary, today a huge long table ran through the bar.

We were seated just to the side next to a wall covered in photographs of rural Cambodian scenes, available for purchase if you’d like a souvenir of your meal, or your trip. There are two tables by the entrance doors for street side dining they are the choice seats in the house and usually full.

The menu features budget Asian dishes, and mid-range international fare. The most expensive dish being the Beef Wellington which I’ll have to return for as my appetite wasn’t up to it after a large lunchtime BBQ. I opted for the Pad Thai, and my partner the Spaghetti Carbonara. The drinks list has a decent amount of cocktails, a few wine choices by the glass, and reasonably cheap beers. Draught is $1, we ordered one of those and a mixed fruit shake.

The fruit shake was white and nicely aerated with the sweet flavor of mango most pronounced, and a nice background provided by the other fruits. The beer was that same old amber nectar that still manages to taste good every time.

The food arrived just after my second beer, good portions served in large deep pasta plates were a promising start. The Pad Thai featured large chunks of chicken in sauce topping the pasta with a sprinkling of peanuts and some assorted salad items. It was tasty to eat, but not completely authentic with the sweet flavor of the sauce failing to be balanced by the salty fish sauce or sour lime, and a complete lack of spice. The dish was tasty, but I can’t say I’ve ever had the need to add Tabasco to a Thai dish before.

The Carbonara was closer to the traditional dish, but as the menu had stated the sauce was creamy, and a little heavy, which isn’t authentic, but the flavors were good, and that made it one of the better versions of this dish that I’ve tried at this price point. With the price taken into account they get Foodie’s approval, for the budget dishes. Would the environment hold up for a more expensive meal with wine, we’ll have to check that out another day.

On the Town

Slur bar boasts one of the better stage set ups in town, and the Mekong Messengers are one of the smoother bands here, put those together and you can expect a slick show. Kristen is a classically trained singer with a love for good ol’ blues and soul. Her voice warm and rich as she belts out soulful vocals.

Accompanied by a fine selection of Phnom Penh’s resident musicians she gets the crowd dancing with rock, soul and blues classics by artists such as Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Etta James and Aretha Franklin.

Catch up with the Mekong Messengers mid-December at Equinox in Phnom Penh, or up in Siem Reap for a special New Years’s Eve performance.

Around & Out – November 2014

The Foodie

Heading out on the first foodie venture to Phnom Penh’s tastiest eateries the difficult decision was obviously where to start. With the plan being to simply hunt down tasty dishes across the city from shacks, food stalls, bars restaurants, or anywhere else offering up flavor sensations, the options were of course endless. I was in the mood for something Asian, so why not start with something Cambodian. It had been a long time since I’d visited a Khmer beer garden, the ear splitting Karaoke, the obnoxiously drunk nouveau riche, menus with no prices, and the occasional gun shots from disgruntled generals, all being good reasons to avoid them, or anything looking like one.

Restaurant 54 on st.184 had that look from the outside, the food had been recommended, it was time to give the beer garden another go. Parking up was easy enough, pull up to the door and a scruffy young kid will exchange your bike for a key, which presuming you’ve given it to the correct young urchin, will open the lock placed around your bike once it has been valet parked. The beer garden itself is the courtyard surrounding a large villa in an ‘L’ shape with projector screens at both ends with the football on, and space for a band to the left of the entrance door. The tables are all shiny stainless steel, and mostly full. We are led down the back by a waitress in a shiny Guiness top who is connected to a walky talky via an earpiece.

Beers are cheap with regular sized bottles of Angkor and Kingdom at around $1. Heineken and Tiger were there for a little more. The menu has a comprehensive selection of BBQ items, and a variety of ways to cook them which are mostly the same for each item.

Trying to be adventurous we ordered the goat curry, and added some large black ants, seafood fried rice, and beef in a beer can. This was radioed into the kitchen and started to arrive shortly after. First up was the seafood fried rice which had a deep brown color, with rich earthy flavors to match, with a duck egg fried into it, and topped with large chunks of grilled shrimp and butterflied prawns. It wasn’t a large plate, but at 11000r nor was it expensive.

The goat curry, 16000r, arrived next. Made from a ‘kroeung’, Cambodian curry paste, in a rich gravy that complimented well the gamey flavor of the goat which was cut into chunks of skin, and the meat just below in an equal ratio. The ants we added were lost in the already bold flavors, and would be better tried as suggested on the menu. Finally the beef in a beer can, 11000r. A can of ABC had had its top roughly hacked off and the decapitated can was used as the vessel to serve a beef stew that featured small, reasonably tender chunks of beef in a gravy with similar seasoning to the better known dish, Luc Lac. Novelty value, of which there was little, aside completely pointless.

The food overall was well prepared, and quickly served, the service quick and efficient, and the key in my pocket did return my bike at the end of the meal. Restaurant 54 was nothing like those beer gardens of old, and gets the Foodie seal of approval.

On the Town

A monthly look into Phnom Penh’s music scene, and potentially a bit of what’s on info.

The Battle of the Bands night at Sharky Bar was a good way to get acquainted with a number of new bands on the live music circuit. Seven bands in total would battle it out to be Phnom Penh’s finest.

Sexploited got things under way in raucous punk fashion, pulling in the crowd with free t-shirts to the first moshers, and culminating in the anarchic repetition of sex and violence, the chorus and name of their final song.

Dirty Jacks took up the mic next and their lead singer politely informed the crowd that if they didn’t like him they could F right off before launching into a writhing, screaming, new age punk metal set that saw him singing from his back on the floor numerous times, collapsing as the screams rang out.

Sangvar Day followed with a set of metal and hard rock, and then Mad-Fer-It took everyone to Manchester with a set of Oasis covers finishing off with a crowd pleasing version of the classic Cigarettes and Alcohol. Then following an intro of distortion and noise it was on to Splitter. Alternative metal they bill themselves as, their sound is original and intense with thumping drums and dirty bass lines and intense vocals and head-banging. They got my vote.

Adobo Conspiracy rocked up next in school uniform the lead singer looking that part for a second before she exploded into a whir of energy. Nightmare AD closed the night with more powerful death metal, but in the end it was Splitter who won the 4th Annual Battle of the Bands, congrats guys.