Writer Amanda Saxton and photographer Charles Fox meet the man behind the innovative The Common Tiger restaurant.

Chef Timothy Bruyns has a dynamic character that is mirrored in his restaurant. Having skipped from South Africa’s luxury Singita Safari park to the Seychelles’ North Island and Cambodia’s own Song Saa resort, the 32-year-old has landed in Phnom Penh to establish The Common Tiger together with his songstress partner Christina Thomas.

The eatery features an often changing menu inspired by an eclectic combination of factors, from Daft Punk’s latest album (which Bruyns claims is perfect music for musing on food) to discoveries from local markets. Quotes from Hunter S. Thompson and other writers that Bruyns feels akin to serve as a written prelude to each menu.

“Nothing here is static, but the focus is always on flavour, and everything else is a by-product of that,” says the South African chef, who juxtaposes Western cultural references with Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine.

The chef believes that food is one of the most basic elements that satisfies people on an emotional level, and puts such beliefs into practice. “Our food has to stimulate every sense, from sight to sound to smell, but the taste has to be the thing that makes people happy,” he says.

The compact menu emphasises playful culinary compositions together with local ingredients. Dishes at the time of AsiaLIFE’s visit included wild mushroom panna cotta with poached chicken boudin ($8), and seared beef carpaccio with banana heart ($13). But even a seemingly simple meal may contain elements subjected to days of smoking, months of curing, or that have been cooked sous-vide. Other dishes have been deconstructed into separate components.

Along with complex dishes, The Common Tiger also offers a section of “simpler stuff”, including scrambled eggs with home-cured bacon ($6.50) that Bruyns promises is the creamiest in Phnom Penh. Even bread and jam is taken to another level, with tomato-vanilla jam that resounds around the mouth with a smoky spiced tang spread on freshly-baked focaccia ($4). The chocolate brownie ($4.50) has a satisfying initial crunch before melting into gooey goodness upon the tongue.

Despite his modern culinary techniques and a staunch commitment to quality, Bruyns shies away from labels such as fine dining and molecular gastronomy. Instead he describes an experience at The Common Tiger as: “Simply good food with attention to detail in an environment that’s comfortable, that’s relaxed”.

The attention to detail extends to the restaurant’s beautiful furniture. Tailor-made by a local craftsman, the pieces are a hybrid of antiques seen in markets and modern furniture admired on the Internet. Bruyns’ brother designed the interior with exposed bricks and high ceilings. Such structural aspects provide a sophisticated environment that, like Bruyns himself, remains free from pretentions.

20 Street 294, Phnom Penh
Tel: 023 212 917
Open daily from 12pm to 3pm and from 7pm to 9.30pm