new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Malis Restaurant, Phnom Penh: Just Plain Awesome

Monday, March 14, 2011

Malis Restaurant, Phnom Penh: Just Plain Awesome

#136, Norodom Boulevard
+855 023 221 022

Phnom Penh

Did you know that even Cambodia has/is plagued with celebrity chefs? It's true!

Luu Meng runs Malis, widely touted as Phnom Penh's best restaurant, alongside a number of other upscale eateries. I'd been hoping to try Malis's upscale take on Khmer cooking for a while, and with my mother in town, the time seemed ripe. (There may also have been budgetary concerns. This is one of the primary problems with being 22 years old and running a food blog).

Malis is an exceptionally attractive restaurant, with a Southeast Asian, vaguely Angkorean design theme focused around water and pools with large and satisfied looking koi. It is deeply relaxing, especially when you consider the tuk-tuk and moto hell of Norodom directly outside. The menu is Khmer food, aggressively updated to a more international standard - and the extensive and photo heavy layout of the thing ensures you won't get something unidentifiable on your plate. All the Khmer classics - samlor, banana flower salads, prohok ktis, and amok - are here, along with harder to find stuff like scallops and lamb shank. Prices are high by Cambodian standards and quite reasonable by those of the West.

Service, as you might expect, highly competent and friendly. I enjoyed watching the action in the clean and very busy semi-open kitchen. It's also a place for the Khmer elite to hold dinners and shindigs and one-on-one meetings of various purposes, as was evident by the other customers there at lunch-time. It's fun to imagine they're mafioso, though they're probably just discussing stock futures and plastics.

This is a Cambodian-style salad prepared with local scallops - which may sound like a dodgy proposition, until you taste them. These tiny little beauties have a great flavor, and the salad was absolutely superb, with frizzled shallots and peanuts on otp and a delicious herb-and-lime dressing, with extra served on the side for dipping (and you will want to). This delight probably ranks as the tastiest thing I have eaten in Cambodia. And it cost $12. Oh, the third world!

We decided to sample the boneless tumeric roasted chicken, which was served on a bed of Asian vegetables. I generally consider boneless chicken to be an agent of Satan, but this proved to be the exception to the rule, being dark-meat chicken thigh instead of breast. A very pleasing, slightly sweet depth of flavor with a subtle soy based sauce on top: The vegetables beneath soaked up the chicken juices. It's fatty chicken, but in all honesty, that isn't a bad thing, is it?

Especially good when eaten with some of Malis' home made Cambodian style pickles. Order extra.

Insofar as I am able to determine, Cambodia runs off fried rice: Motodops eat it, students eat it, businessmen eat it, you eat it. Malis serves a tasty fried rice - admittedly, there's only so much gilding of that lily possible - with a freakishly huge and tasty grilled prawn, which lends an entire new element to the thing. Note Malis' creative serving wear. We wanted to take a lot of this stuff home with us.

I am seriously considering devoting a Tumblr blog to Photos of Shrimp Heads since 1. I eat them. A lot, and 2. They are delicious, what with all the fatty bits inside of them, and you should really man up and eat them as well, and 3. I believe they photograph beautifully. I do not know where Malis sources their seafood from, but they are doing a bang-up job in a country with fabulous and woefully under-appreciated fresh seafood products.

This is Malis's signature mousse, prepared with cream, citrus, vanilla, and a little honey. This was really superb and a great, light tropical dessert. They've also got a well-recommended pineapple mousse, as well as some other distinctly Khmer dishes. They were kind enough to send out two separate portions when my mother and I said that we'd be demure and share one: This we did not regret.

Malis is an unequivocally superb restaurant. All the pieces fit: decor, service, and most importantly, sophisticated and delicious food. Malis would absolutely rank as my first choice for high-end dining in Phnom Penh, and it's a must-visit for foodies who find themselves in Phnom Penh's capital. I eagerly anticipate returning again. Preferably on a (modest) expense account.

I would, finally, like to point out that that is Jackie-fricking-Chan on the wall. You can tell that this is a quality establishment.


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Dee said...

Gorgeous restaurant! I love the pool/garden style. It reminds me very much of Anton Posniak's "The Backyard" in California. If you are ever in the Southern California area you should visit it ( Thanks for the post and the beautiful photos!