At Garaku, high-class Japanese cuisine is executed with simplicity. Writing by Joanna Mayhew; photography by Lucas Veuve.

Garuku is the newest arrival to the capital’s growing hub of Japanese restaurants south of Mao Tse Tung on Street 63. Opened in May, the fine dining establishment offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling road, as the majority of seating is in an open but covered courtyard with a large water lily-filled pond.

Appropriately for the cuisine, seafood stars in the extensive menu of hot pots, sushi and tempura. Headed by the restaurant’s Japanese owner and chef, along with two Japanese sous-chefs, the kitchen also offers grilled meats, kaiseki or multi-course dinners, lunch specials and desserts. As the name translates to “dining with elegance”, the eatery hopes to attract high-end customers, and boasts diners to date such as the Minister of Information and the Japanese ambassador’s wife.

While decidedly less well heeled ourselves, we opted for a mix of traditional dishes and house specialities. Starting out, the wasabi octopus appetiser ($4) came as thick dices of fuchsia-edged octopus topped with wasabi jelly. Though the portion of sauce was moderate, it is not to be underestimated. The wasabi packs a serious punch, clearing sinuses – and your palate – ahead of the other courses. The large, golden browned cream croquettes ($8.5) were on the milder end of the spectrum. Served with roasted squash, peppers and tomatoes, the crab-stock filled dollops were nicely crisped outside and elevated by the sharp urchin sauce.

The salmon avocado rolls ($8) were intricately wound, packed with crab stock, cucumber and lettuce, and topped with salmon, avocado, horseradish, crunchy roe and thick mayonnaise. While too big to eat delicately, the salty salmon was nicely balanced by the large portion of rice and sweet mayo.

The cha soba, or green tea buckwheat noodles ($5), were served cold with dashi sauce for dipping. The thin noodles were tasty yet plain, but the dish was the perfect embodiment of picturesque Japanese presentation – with the green noodles piled neatly atop a bamboo lattice plate, and accompanied by a restrained dollop of wasabi, spring onions and crispy seaweed.

But the standout dish was the Carpaccio ($12), with three types of vibrantly coloured fish cut simply and expertly, and plated on grilled vegetables. The sea bream was light and buttery; the generous portion of salmon was nicely offset by the smoky eggplant; and the deep pink melt-in-your-mouth tuna was given added flavour by a sprinkling of pepper and lemon.

Garaku’s low building is smartly decorated, with green table runners against red accent walls, cushioned wooden chairs, a wood-topped brick bar, and statement Japanese symbol art – though the continuous piano music makes it feel like a hotel.The venue also offers private air-conditioned rooms, and makes use of the pond’s centre stage by providing live traditional Cambodian dance performances from 7pm to 9pm, Monday to Saturday.

283 Street 63, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 023 210 428.
Open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 2.30pm and 5.30pm to 10pm. Open Sundays 5.30pm to 10pm.