new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Coolabah Hotel and Restaurant: A Hint of Class Amid Backpacking Hordes

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coolabah Hotel and Restaurant: A Hint of Class Amid Backpacking Hordes

Coolabah Hotel and Restaurant
14 Mithona Street
Ochheuteal Beach Road
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
+855 (0)17 678 218

The Coolabah Hotel and Restaurant is an Australian-owned hotel-eatery-bar located along one of Sihanoukville's main backpacker drags, close to the popular party-ground of Serendipity beach. The Coolabah, newly renovated, tastefully decorated, and with a good restaurant, is a delightful breath of fresh air in an area that is sliding, with some speed, into the realm of the sleazy.

My boyfriend and I were unlucky enough to be in Snook during a truly impressive three-day rainstorm, which meant we spent a lot of time inside our very nice $25 dollar hotel room, and a lot of time in the hotel restaurant willing for the rain to please please please stop.

Luckily for us, the Coolabah's restaurant, spread across the main-room and by the small hotel pool, happens to be excellent. We chatted with the affable Australian owners, watched the rain bash against the windows with truly aggressive force, and ate a couple of really good lunches. (I also found a 2004 guide to Ireland's Best Vacation Resorts in the hotel's left-books library. How did this even happen?)

I will submit that the Coolabah's Caesar salad is the best I have had in Cambodia. All the essentials are there: a good dressing with a hint of fresh anchovy, chicken still warm from the grill, shaved real parmesan cheese, big home-made garlic croutons, and big chunks of bacon, as well as some nice hard-boiled egg.

They don't use giant-ass romaine leaves that I have to cut myself at the table, which inevitably leads to my getting Caesar salad splattered across my face. I only wish there was somewhere in Phnom Penh I could get one this good.

The seafood chowder was also excellent, as one would hope when eating by the ocean. Boneless (importantly) chunks of fish, shrimp, scallop and squid in a cooked down and creamy broth with a delightfully pink tinge, served with a little toasted bread. A great dish for a rainy day and something that exploits all the good seafood treats Cambodia has to offer. Another dish I wish was found more often on Cambodian menus.

My boyfriend deemed the fish and chips another best-in-Cambodia candidate: a light cracker crust (Panko?), covering some nice flaky barracuda, with big, beefy, Australian style "chips." Although he disdains tartar sauce, the philistine, I ate his instead and thought it was pretty good.

Breakfast was also a winner: an omelette with mushroom and ham was big and nicely executed, with a slightly but not excessively creamy center, and there was fresh baked brown bread and a selection of jams to go with it. House-made yogurt - not too sweet and all natural - with homemade fruit preserves made for an awesome afternoon snack as well.

This Russian Pacific Fleet ship = why I was in Sihanoukville in the wet season. Read about my Slavic adventure here.

Washed down with a fresh passion fruit soda, the snack almost made me forget that my journalistic business trip was being ever so slightly stymied by the fact that the streets were running with muddy, fetid water and giant snakes were infesting (other people's) homes, or that's what a damp-looking Australian guy hanging out at the pool table told us happened to him.

You gotta love the tropics.

The Coolabah's clean and well-maintained rooms (the bathrooms left me in awe) and the equally clean and well behaved clientele offer a delightful contrast to the patchouli scented and icky hordes of backpackers that emerge from their hovels in Snookie whenever the sun shines. Beware! Beware the dreadlocks! Go to Kampot instead! But if you must, stay at the Coolabah.

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