new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Really Really French Food at The Wine Restaurant - in Phnom Penh

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Really Really French Food at The Wine Restaurant - in Phnom Penh

The Wine Restaurant
Street 19 (Right off Street 240)
Telephone: 023 223 527
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The obviously named Wine Restaurant is a popular oasis for French expats, who enjoy the large wine selection, highly French-ified menu, and nice, open dining area. Most Phnom Penh residents hit up the Wine Restaurant for its high value $10 three course lunches, which I can verify are very nice: goat cheese toasts with salad, boeuf bourguignon, and strawberry sorbet, all nicely prepared and at a rock-bottom sum.

A very pleasant amuse bouche of puff pastry filled with shrimp in cream sauce.

Things get a lot more expensive at night, which is when my visiting parents charitably took Phill and I to the restaurant. Everything is both ala-carte and exceptionally French, although Kampot pepper sneaks into the menu. There's an emphasis on steaks, cream sauces, fresh seafood, foie gras, and cheese - and, obviously, the wine accompaniments to such delicacies. Good news is we were feeling hungry.

My father and I shared an appetizer of seared foie gras with fruit compote, over a salad. Foie gras is an elemental, slightly perverse dish in its all-encompassing richness - you love it, you hate it, you think it's cruel, whatever. I love it, at least in somewhat reasonable quantities, and this was very nice with the slight sweetness of the jammy fruit. It was served with somewhat unpleasantly bitter greens with balsamic, which actually made a nice counterpoint if eaten in tandem with foie and jam. This stuff ain't good for you, but it's certainly warranted every once a while. Well, except for you PETA types. Sorry.

I selected the seared scallops with mushroom sauce. They were presented very attractively, in a circle around a subtle balsamic reduction and a bit butter lettuce with mustardy dressing: the creamy mushroom sauce was served in a small cravet on the side, which I thought was rather clever. A scallop is easily overwhelmed, and allowing the diner to select how much sauce they'd like is a good idea. The sauce itself was a nice, vaguely boozy cream sauce and very nice: it would also suit a steak.

My father, ever the meat lover, ordered a simple rare strip steak with a side of frites - a classic French dish - with a side of red wine sauce. My dad, who knows his way around a steak, reported that it was good, and the red wine sauce was also a serviceable effort. Worthy of particular note are the fries, which are crisp, thin, nicely salted and generally good. Pretty much a requirement in a French restaurant that's actually trying.

Suspicious of Cambodian beef (although I believe they import everything here, as do most expensive restaurants in Phnom Penh - Cambodian beef is stringy), Phill and my mother both ordered the seared duck. This was a seared breast of duck served with a Kampot pepper sauce, some salad, and the aforementioned Good French Fries. Accolades all around: nicely cooked and high quality meat. Duck isn't ultra common in Cambodia, but the good stuff is easy to get: duck herders sell their plucked, fresh off the farm wares on the road to Siem Reap, while duck herders move their charges about in many areas of the countryside.

We finished with fresh passion fruit sorbet with a small wafer cookie in it, perhaps the ideal dessert in Cambodia's climate. Some other French desserts are on offer. I can't remember what they are. Sorry.

The Wine Restaurant is a fine choice for a high-end Gallic meal - with a formidable wine selection - in Phnom Penh. Especially relevant if you have finally tired of fish amok, loc lac, and fried rice, and would really like to eat something incorporating a cream sauce. The dining room is respectfully hushed, while service is on-point and well trained.

All the actual French people seem to filter into the restaurant from 8:30 onwards, so you may have the place to yourself if you come early. An added plus for those with kids: there's an outdoor play area with a totally bitchin' dragon-themed play car. It's been hard to resist the urge to jump into it many times myself. Mostly when drunk.

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