Popular Middle-Eastern diner Hummus House recently opened a new joint in Bassac Lane. Writer Adolfo Perez-Gascon and photographer Lucas Veuve sample the menu.

Bassac Lane is, for many, the de facto area for sipping on afterwork drinks in style. However, with an expanding food offer, Phnom Penh’s hippest alley is also becoming a solid dinner destination in its own right.

A new restaurant is bent on taking the lane’s culinary reputation up a notch, fanning passer-by’s appetites with sensuous Mediterranean flavours and the tantalising aromas of cardamom, nutmeg and the whole gamut of Middle-Eastern spices.

The latest iteration of a popular riverside restaurant, the new Hummus House provides Bassac Lane’s bon vivants with handy access to the fantastic shawarmas that made the original a hit in Phnom Penh’s buoyant restaurant scene.

The menu has been reduced somewhat but, don’t worry, from the richly spiced kafka to the luscious feast of fresh ingredients that is their tabbouleh, all the fan favourites are back, including a considerable array of vegetarian options.

The hummus gorgeously presented – adorned with diced tomato and an olive inside a generous helping of olive oil and sprinkles of parsley – this chickpea purée is smooth, creamy and savory.

Mohamad Abbouchi, aka Michael, is the owner. He says the secret to his hummus lies in a centuries-old family recipe, although he is wary of going into detail. He does acknowledge, however, that he uses extra-virgin olive oil imported from his home country, Lebanon.

Pinch off a piece of saj – a type of unleavened bread akin to pita –, and you’ve got yourself the perfect utensil to scoop out the hummus. The flatbread is supple, slender, crispy and fresh; very fresh. It was prepared in front of us at the wooden bread-making station guarding the entrance.

The graceful tossing and spinning of bread dough definitely adds to the atmosphere of the venue, as do the spicy depictions of belly dancers that cover the walls.

The shish taouk – a traditional Middle-Eastern dish similar to shish kebab – is served Lebanese style, wrapped in a flatbread. The marinated chicken breast – tender and juicy – together with the onion, pickles and coleslaw makes for a balanced combination of flavours and textures that hits the right note.

The wrap is topped by a dollop of toum, a garlic sauce popular in the countries of the Levant reminiscent of Mediterranean aioli. Abbouchi proudly tells us this sauce has become one of his most demanded creations.

The cheesy falafel is his take on the popular chickpea dish. Each patty is stuffed with a different type of cheese – mozzarella, feta or cheddar – creating an unexpected but pleasing contrast of textures and flavours. The result is sure to impress newcomers to the cuisine, but connoisseurs and puritans might choose to stick to the original.

As soon as hunger strikes in the midst of your nocturnal outings and the smell of shawarma and baharata reaches your nostrils, it’s game over – you won’t be able to resist the temptation.

Bassac Lane, off Street 308, Phnom Penh.
Tel. 092 483 759.
Open daily, from 2pm to 11pm or later.