new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Comme Maison: Francophile Food in Phnom Penh

Monday, February 07, 2011

Comme Maison: Francophile Food in Phnom Penh

Comme a La Maison
#: 023 360 801
#13, Street 57
Open everyday, from 6.00 to 22.30.

Phnom Penh, as you're probably aware, is a relatively Frenchified city. It was called the Paris of the East prior to the wars, known for its long avenues, European-inflected architecture, and wealth of green spaces. That's all faded now, covered in a veneer of grime, vaguely scented of trash, but you can see it sometimes, in snatches, if you look up at an apartment building.

This French background is also reflected in the city's food. Few Khmers are left who speak any French, but plenty of French people visit here and work here, and Phnom Penh hosts a profusion of French restaurants. Comme Maison is among them, and a very worthy contender in a field that occasionally delves into European-inflected horror. It's located in a small and very private garden dining-space on Street 57, near the expat ghetto of Street 278. (Ye shall know it by overpriced NGO boutiques with exotic-patterned wrap-dresses and lots of garden-cafes with menus focusing on mashed potato and alcohol).

You can sit in Comme a la Maison and quite handily forget you are in Phnom Penh, away from the constant sound of motorbikes, back-firing tuk-tuks, and people shouting at one another on the street.. The menu is fairly simple French cafe food, with a very light hand compared to most Francophone restaurants abroad. There are steaks, pizzas of various sorts, quiche, composed and high-quality salads, ratatouille, an extensive dessert list (the chef was an ex-pastry chef), and a lot of wine on offer. There is also an excellent fruit salad. Sounds mundane, can be difficult to correctly execute.

There are usually a number of specials, many of them involving kidneys and other "variety" meats suitable for the hardcore. There is merguez sausage on the menu and exceptionally pricey lamb chops, which I have eyed hungrily but have not quite pulled the trigger on yet. A shame that lamb is difficult to find here.

I shall commend them for a steak both good and economical. You can order it with a couple of side dishes - the first is free, the second costs a $1.50. The mashed potatoes are excellent, and so is the ratatouille. The steak was rare and slightly bloody, just the way I like it, and was offset beautifully with a bit of mustard and a glass of good red wine. The bearnaise sauce was excellent. You can also get a shallot compote, a pepper sauce, and a number of other things. This is an establishment where getting sloshed on red wine with friends is both perfectly acceptable and perfectly normal.

I have also tried a very nice baked seafood casserole here. My friends also swear by the chocolate mousse—my utter lack of a sweet tooth hinders me a bit here but I'll go off hearsay. The bread here, if you're one of those bread basket freaks, is pretty good. If you are one of Those People who demands oil and vinegar with bread, this is possible but will involve the high level interrogation of an innocent waitperson.

Prices are expensive by Phnom Penh standards, but not insane—the quality of the food is high, and the dining room is lovely. I have been told it is a grade A date place, if you were wondering about that sort of thing. It is 100% guaranteed that no street urchins clutching books will bother you while making a move.

DELIVERY FOR THE OFFICE-ENSLAVED: They deliver. It's a bit pricey, but it's the same stuff as at the restaurant, and makes a nice luxurious splash-out during a long day.

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