In these socially-distanced days you might expect that an update on any bar and restaurant scene would involve a depressing catalog of closures. Happily for business owners, staff, and patrons alike that’s not the case in Phnom Penh. There’s no denying many establishments have taken a hit, either directly or indirectly, from the loss of tourist income. A surprising number, however, from local street cafes to venues catering more towards foreigners, are hanging in there, some even flourishing.
Opening as it did in early 2020, Itacate barely had a chance to establish itself before the pandemic, but is making up for it now. What this colourful, mural-decorated Mexican eatery has over its hugely popular BKK1 sister restaurant, Mexicano, is its size. Where the latter is more snug cantina than full-size restaurant, Itacate boasts ample indoor seating that incorporates comfy, couched booths (ideal for social distancing) and long tables that lend themselves well to group get-togethers, plus a sizable, leafy forecourt.
The tried and well-trusted Mexicano menu is duplicated deliciously at Itacate. Meanwhile, the cocktail list has grown and wine by the glass is now available. Portions are generous and the guacamole and frozen margaritas are (to my mind) matchless — at least outside of North America! Watch out for two for one cocktail nights on Thursdays and occasional live music.
Luna, the veteran Italian restaurant and pizzeria has reinvented itself in new, smaller premises (previously home to Feelgood Coffee Roasters, which in turn has moved to a concession in next door Botanico) across the road from its original site on Street 29. The new look is more fresh and informal, fusing natural wood and bamboo, open brickwork, and orange upholstery that reflects the bold new branding.
A covered front courtyard has additional seating. The menu is slightly reworked — courtesy of the restaurant’s original Italian chef, apparently now back at the helm in the kitchen — but retains a wide selection of pizzas (all available in calzone form) alongside a good range of salads, meat and fish dishes. The desserts are dreamy and the service team as friendly as ever. Long may this new moon shine on!
Any eatery that matches quality food, great value for money, and good service deserves to thrive, whatever the economic climate. Nesat Seafood House, tucked away on a Toul Tum Poung side street close to the market, is one such establishment — with added idiosyncratic style. The owners have created a tropical garden of delights in this bijou shophouse restaurant, where the imaginative design includes a wooden boat repurposed as table/seating.
The main menu is simple: select a fresh-from-Kampot seafood option plus choice of sauce or seasoning. The seafood sharing platters are impressive and a number of soups, noodle, rice and pasta dishes provide tasty alternatives. It’s a menu designed for seafood lovers but the staff will make sure vegetarian friends don’t go hungry. Drinks include beer, cocktails and healthy juices. Nesat is as popular as it is small so it’s a good idea to book in advance.
There’s a new spot to chill on Street 308: Brass Monkey. Cold drinks, cool surroundings (enough with the freezing puns…) and a great location for people-watching are what this friendly bar with a local feel is all about. After a brief stint round the corner on Bassac Lane, the owners have taken over a prime spot that was previously home to Elbow Room and remodelled it in a way that’s more comfortable, welcoming, and….monkey-inspired. The drinks menu includes craft beers and cocktail jugs; there’s even a copper contraption distilling the bar’s own gin on the mezzanine. Check the Facebook site for regular BBQs and drinks promotions.
Folks, we owe it to the restaurants and bars we love to help them through these COVID-challenged times — what better excuse do we need to eat, drink and be merry?
Open Tuesday to Sunday 12 noon to 2.30 p.m., 6 p.m to 10 p.m.
6B Street 302, BKK1, Phnom Penh
Tel: + 855 (0)96 943 9639
Open Monday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday 12 noon to 2.30 p.m., 6 p.m to 10 p.m.
29 Street 288, BKK1, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0) 861 2353
Open Daily 11 a.m to 11 p.m.
11b Street 29, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)23 220 895
Nesat Seafood House
Open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.
72 Street 446, Toul Tum Poung, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)77 683 003
Open Monday to Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight
M35 Street 308, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)81 342 847
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