Writer Ellie Dyer and photographer Conor Wall visit Phnom Penh’s new crêpery to try out the classic French snack.
Be it the Australian pikelet, the Russian blini or the Vietnamese bánh xèo, cultures across the world have embraced the joys of frying, flipping and tossing batter. Whether thick or thin, crispy or soft, the humble pancake is an entity that many associate with a taste of home.
Different versions of the dish, which is thought to date back to ancient Greece, abound in Phnom Penh’s culinary melting pot, but one new eatery has upped the stakes by specialising in the world-renowned French version — the thin and crispy crêpe.
Suitably named Crêpe Mania, it is bright and airy café-style restaurant, full of simple furniture, potent coffee and clean lines. Despite the laid-back look, a quick glance at the menu illustrates that it takes its crêpes very seriously. Twelve salty options — ranging from blue cheese to an intriguing green curry version — are offered along with sweet varieties. We kicked off our lunch with the Greek ($5.25), containing feta, spinach, olives and tomato, and the Four Seasons, stuffed with creamy chicken, onions, tomato, coriander and mushrooms ($6).
The first thing to note is that the salty varieties are in fact large buckwheat crêpes, which are dappled brown in colour and distinctly savoury. Served folded into large squares that cover a sizeable plate, I was pleased to see that they benefited from a good ratio of filling to crêpe.
The generous portions made me feel more comfortable with the relatively high price point — the advertised prices do not include a 10 percent service charge, though this is clearly pointed out on the menu — and the crêpes had an authentic feel, especially when washed down with a bowl of traditional sweet cider from the French region of Brittany ($1.90 per serving).
A stand-out factor was the salty feta inside the Greek, which was satisfyingly crumbly and mixed well with the equally salty olives and savoury wrapping. The Four Seasons was noticeably richer and came loaded with cheese, chunks of chicken and cream. Though the coriander was lost in the mix, the balance of textures was excellent and made for a filling yet indulgent lunch. Given that buckwheat pancakes are a rarity in Cambodia, it’s worth splashing out to experience them.
Less successful were the plancha mania ($3.75 for two). The non-crêpe offering consisted of two slices of toasted bread, spread with cream cheese topped with chunks of avocado and tomato mixed with mint. Sadly, the generous serving of avocado was overpowered by a thick layer of distinctive cheese. Its sheer strength overshadowed the delicate mix of flavours surrounding it.
To finish, we had the recommended sweet crêpe with speculoos — a type of European spiced biscuit — and caramel ($4.50). The gentle crunch of cinnamon crumbs laced with a light sauce gave it the distinctive taste of Christmas. I could imagine scoffing one besides a warm fire as snow falls outside. A scoop of ice cream would have made it extra indulgent, but both sweet and savoury fans can find plenty to satisfy them at the restaurant… provided they like crêpes.