Fine dining stripped of the pretention is being served up with success at the revamped Chinese House. Editor Marissa Carruthers samples the new menu. Photography by Charles Fox.
Fusion food is a phrase that is commonly banded around restaurants, and as the new fad, it’s certainly making its way across Phnom Penh with hurricane force.
Having taken a short break to undergo a recent revamp, thanks to new management, refined fusion food is something Chinese House has got off to a tee. Despite being a fresh-faced 24-year-old, executive chef Amy Baard’s expertise in the kitchen deceptively extends well beyond her age. Born and raised in Capetown, she has worked her way across the region, in some of the finest hotel restaurants in Vietnam and Thailand.
Given free range to unleash her creative culinary skills in Chinese House’s kitchen, Baard has called upon the use of ingredients, styles of cooking and mix of flavours picked up during her multi-cultural cooking career, throwing a healthy dash of her playful personality into the mix, to create a mouth-watering menu.
Having scooped the prestigious Iron Chef Thailand award last year while working in the capital’s Sofitel So Hotel, it is only right that her winning pasta dish sits proudly on the menu. The seafood tortellini ($16.50) sees soft puffs of pasta filled with differing textures and tastes, taking in soy garlic roast vegetables on quinoa, with amok curry coconut sauce adding a real richness to the flavour, and the sweet chili packing a mild punch.
The beef tenderloin might weigh in at a pricey $29.75 but, for a treat, is well worth splashing out. With each bite of the well-aged tender meat melting in the mouth, and oozing with flavour, the Tasmanian beef is served with a sweet vanilla mash, pomegranate reduction and garlic soy and greens. “I really wanted to experiment with the vanilla mashed potato,” Baard says of her subtely sweet creation.
While fine dining exists to its full potential upstairs, the ground floor is home to a centre bar serving up craft cocktails and tapas. The sharing platter is one example and is a feast of excellently presented finger food, such as cauliflower croquettes and their crispy outer layer filled with a creamy, flavoursome centre. Then there’s the fresh vegetable spring rolls, and the spinach and fish parcels that have a great balance of both.
The cocktail list is about as impressive as the menu. Designed by house mixologist, Pierre Van der Naam, exquisite combinations present concoctions such as the pungent Explorer’s Punch ($5.75). Made with local ingredients, including Samai rum, jackfruit and pineapple, the drink is innovatively served in a glass bottle with a deep-fried cricket on a skewer added.
With new owners, a new menu and new look – soft light adds warmth to the lofty rooms, white wash walls and distressed wooden floors give a vintage feel, and contemporary art collides with that of the orient – Chinese House’s latest chapter looks set to be a success.