Siem Reap’s Italian eatery uncovers a bold new look in Phnom Penh, but its tasty roots remain. Writer Joanna Mayhew and photographer Lucas Veuve sample the fresh fare at Il Forno.
At first glance, the new Phnom Penh version of Il Forno holds little resemblance to its Siem Reap counterpart. In Temple Town, the cosy restaurant is tucked in an alleyway, replete with exposed brick arches and cramped tables, giving it an authentic Trattoria feel. The capital-based outlet, which had its grand opening in October, could well be its antithesis. The well-lit, spacious restaurant boasts two floors, ample cushioned seating and a large bar area – all providing a polished and trendy, but predominantly business, vibe.
What it may lack in charm though, the eatery makes up for in its dishes – reflecting the authentic Italian menu that has tourists flocking to its original location, and boasting everything from light paninis and salads to sophisticated beef filets and abundant home-made pastas.
First up, to whet our taste buds was the brushetta ($4), with each toast slice topped with a different, generously spread topping, including traditional tomato with garlic, onion and basil, slightly over-salty garlic, buttery and moreish pesto, and spicy aubergine mousse.
Then came a special of the day, casoncelli bergamaschi, or pork and amaretto ravioli with butter and bacon sauce ($12.50), a culinary tradition hailing from north-central Italy. The smoky, stuffed pasta tasted like elevated Chinese dumplings, with fried basil and nicely crisped bacon, yet the uniform plate was on the small side for its price.
Next was the centrepiece of the meal, aptly originating from the still-authentic heart of the restaurant – the white, rounded wood-fired oven. The thin-based, fresh ricca pizza ($10.50 for medium) was a highlight, topped with delicate, homemade tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, parma ham and wide slices of parmesan, all garnished with a healthy portion of roquette. The light offering’s smart combination of flavours balances nicely, allowing the three main ingredients to speak for themselves.
For dessert, we indulged in the “chocolate salami” ($4). Modelled after salami, the dish creatively mimics the meat’s shape and speckling by combining chocolate, almond and biscuit, presented in slices. The crumbly but cohesive innovation is topped with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce, and is the perfect accompaniment to an after-meal espresso.
The restaurant and winery’s large, enclosed space is furnished in blacks and greys, with a large skylight, recessed lights, leather chairs and black tables topped with side-on silverware and white napkins. An outdoor courtyard is embellished with a pebbled-backed waterfall and statue fountain, and the upstairs bar area provides a cool lounge perfect for after-work Italian-style cocktails.
First impressions aside, Il Forno stays true to its core offerings, and the eatery’s modern new face promises to be a hit in the increasingly well-heeled capital.