Writer Ellie Dyer and suitably named photographer Charles Fox go classy and chic at Fox Wine Bistro.
Drive through Phnom Penh nowadays, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Brown coffee empire is taking over. From modest beginnings, the Cambodian company now boasts six stores and a fiercely loyal following. But with expansion comes ambition, and nowhere is this more evident than the Brown team’s distinctly more grown-up venue: Fox Wine Bistro.
Located conveniently close to a new Brown coffee shop, Fox speaks modernity and class thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, bare bricks, leather seating and brushed concrete walls. The rotund building has been split into three wings to create distinct dining areas, with a spacious, rectangular bar proving a central link that draws the venue together.
On a recent weekday lunchtime, the industrial-inspired venue was quiet, with a few couples and groups of businessmen dotted around the spacious, super-chilled bistro, attended to by chic waiting staff.
We chose to opt for the lunch menu featuring light salads, pastas, Asian dishes and brunch items. First up was an impressive tuna sashimi salad with white sesame dressing and chilli lime vinaigrette ($5.50).
Generous hunks of tuna were layered with herb-crusted wonton squares, and surrounded by fresh leaves and a generous portion of tangy sesame sauce. It was a textural delight, with the soft fish contrasting well with the crisp squares. The dressing’s horseradish kick added a dose of bite to the generous Asian-inspired dish.
A goat cheese salad ($5.50) also demonstrated excellent flavour balance. Crumbly, salty cheese and sweet strawberries benefited from a splash of balsamic reduction, though perhaps the salad could have done with a touch less oil and a handful more of beetroot.
The meal had a wobble with the eggs benedict ($5). We chose to have it with spinach, but bacon, peppered ham, asparagus and salmon are also options. The elements for a great dish were all there — tangy sourdough bread, perfectly-poached eggs with a delicious runny centre and a generous dousing of buttercup-yellow sauce — but it didn’t quite come together. The addition of a large dose of garlic to the spinach overpowered any lemon in a slightly bitter hollandaise, removing a delightful creamy tang that is, in my opinion, an eggs benedict’s signature flair.
Our dessert choice, a slice of Fox’s signature salted caramel and chocolate cake ($4), looked delicious thanks to its delicate layers and scoop of rich ice cream on the side, but needed more salt and less sugar to raise it to top restaurant standard. It was good, but could have been better.
But what Fox undoubtedly does well is the little things. The free bucket of crisps to snack on was a nice touch. A freshly squeezed orange juice was tangy and fresh, and the chilled-out music fitted perfectly with the French bistro vibe. Some of its Western dishes may be a tad hit and miss, but Fox’s welcoming environment is spot on — and that has always been the magic touch of Brown’s impressive and creative team.