Cheap, cheerful and laid-back is the recipe for Chat ‘n’ Chew’s appeal. Marissa Carruthers and photographer Rudi Towiro put its popularity to the test.

Since opening its doors 18 months ago, Chat ‘n’ Chew has become a firm favourite on the bustling backpacker strip of Street 172.

Giving off a homely vibe, the ground-floor restaurant showcases snapshots into Cambodian life, with photos and paintings of boxing, paddy fields, cute kids, temples and Water Festival celebrations hanging on the walls. In a salute to patriotism, a Cambodian flag takes pride of place above the bar, with a string of smaller flags below paying tribute to global visitors.

“We welcome everyone from across the world,” says Than Sy Thoun, a popular local figure known as Sony who helps to drive the family-run business with his signature smile. “I’m really happy that we are successful here and hope it continues.”

The extensive menu features everything from hearty breakfasts, soups, spring rolls, pasta and pizza to burgers, curries and rice dishes. Having heard that Chat ‘n’ Chew’s beef wellington ($9.75) is a hit, we opted to give that a go, along with the signature pork ribs ($6.50) and Khmer curry with vegetables and tofu ($3).

Clearly another of Chat ‘n’ Chew’s successful ingredients is healthy portion size. Diners definitely won’t leave hungry. Within 25 minutes, plates piled high with food were being laid in front of us. The ribs alone were a feast, with giant slabs of pork dripping in barbecue sauce delivered alongside a portion of hand-cut crinkle fries and vegetables.

There was plenty of smoky pork on each rib. Succulent meat fell off the bone with each bite, and just the right amount of sticky but not-to-sweet sauce complemented the flavours, rather than overwhelming them. While I like my fries crispy, these were slightly too much, but it was nice to see crinkle-cut chips on my plate.

The beef wellington – great value for money for an often difficult-to-find dish – was no let down, with tender Argentinean meat packed inside a crunchy wrapping of puff pastry. The option of having it served with peppercorn sauce was a winner as the spice worked well with the beef and mushroom mix. A side of potato au gratin delighted with fluffy, creamy potato topped with a crisp layer of cheese.

The Khmer curry was a bright-orange blend of shallots, galangal, dried chilli, lemongrass and turmeric. Mild when it comes to the spice stakes, the curry had a calm kick with a sweet aftertaste and came packed with beans, potato and carrots.

While hearty food tops the menu at Chat ‘n’ Chew, hospitality comes a close second. And as the friendly staff cleared the table, Sony headed over for a quick chat, greeting us like old friends. “I want everyone to feel at home here,” he says.

54 Street 172, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 012 865 191.
Open daily from 7am to late.