Wat Phnom’s Exchange Restaurant and Bar serves a full-menu of bistro favourites in a relaxing colonial atmosphere. Words by Erin Hale; photography by Enric Català.
Set in 118-year-old former premises of a former Chinese trading house, The Exchange offers plenty of atmosphere.
Owner Tom O’Connor has pared down interior to basic brickwork giving an unpretentious vibe nicely complimented by open French windows on all four sides and slowly turning ceiling fans. It’s the kind of colonial-meets-contemporary feel other restaurants try to recreate, but here it’s authentically vintage Phnom Penh.
O’Connor and his staff brings years of experience in Phnom Penh dining to The Exchange’s diverse menu.
He describes the restaurant’s concept as “modern bistro pub”, encompassing everything from sandwiches and salads to a Sunday roast, and plenty of monthly specials.
Imported from Australia and the US, one of the most popular items is the steak, says O’Connor, which can range from the more affordable Australian rump (350g/ $15.50) to the US T-Bone (500g/ $29.50), with a choice of red wine, peppercorn, mushroom, blue cheese or béarnaise sauce. Another favourite is the grilled King Island tenderloin ($24.50), a thick cut of beef served medium-rare that melts in the mouth on impact. It comes accompanied by a tangy gravy, mashed potatoes and spinach.
Other large plates include the popular oven-roasted salmon fillet with warm potato and fennel salad ($16.50), barbecued baby pork ribs with sautéed greens and potato wedges ($14), or braised lamb shank and country vegetables ($16.50).
If that sounds like too much food, The Exchange also makes excellent sharing boards. The ocean board ($16) comes highly recommended and includes a wide selection of items, such as fresh house-smoked salmon – sourced from Tasmania – topped with roe for an extra salty kick, jumbo prawns with a tangy cocktail sauce, and peppy-encrusted yellow-fin tuna, which is lean but still juicy. The platter also comes with a bonus homemade hummus, which sounds simple but is not to be missed, and plenty of bread.
For those craving more Asian-fusion fare, try one of the bowls, which range from pan-seared local red snapper on mixed greens ($14.50) to wok fried Hokkien noodles with shredded duck and shiitake mushrooms ($10.50). Salads include the flame grilled spiced beef with Asian greens ($9.50) and the vegetarian-friendly Moroccan spiced mixed-bean salad ($6).
The drinks menu offers a large list of martinis and classic cocktails ($4.50 to $7). Phnom Penh’s favourite espresso martini ($5.50) is on the menu and is both light and not too sweet unlike other versions of the popular drink. Wine-drinkers will find several varieties by the glass ($4 to $7) or bottles from France to New Zealand.
Exchange is also a popular locale for events, with the building and outdoor garden able to accommodate several hundred guests.