Metro restaurant featured in AsiaLIFE’s first issue. Today, it continues to impact Phnom Penh’s dining scene, most recently with the newly opened MARA. Writing by Joanna Mayhew; photography by Charles Fox.
Named after a demon in Buddhism synonymous with temptations, MARA invites its patrons to indulge. With Asian fusion sharing plates, pastas, steaks and creative cocktails, the devious restaurant offers the city’s newest hotspot to dine and party.
The upscale eatery, opened in late February, is the most recent brainchild of Metro owner Paul Tripp, though it remains distinct from the Metropolitan Group, which encompasses restaurants Hassakan and Azura. “It’s in the tradition and spirit of Paul,” says operations manager Jean Luc Baraton.
With Metro’s chef now at the kitchen’s helm, the menu is similar, though this may evolve depending on clientele.
Since 2006, Metro’s own menu has remained relatively unchanged, with 80 percent of original dishes still on offer. This consistency has been one hallmark of the operation.
“There’s not really a dish that stands out above all the others. Each dish has its fanatics,” says Baraton. “People love what we have, so why change?”
Indeed, there is much to love, with meats sourced from the United States to punch-up local favourites like beef with red ants ($8.50) and the perfectly tender steak medallions topped with bacon-wrapped shrimp and rich green pepper sauce ($8.30).
Seafood also takes centre stage in the refreshing shrimp spring rolls ($5.50) and tequila-sauce drizzled black pepper prawns ($7.20). But pick and choose as you may, any selection should include the signature Metro fries ($3.70)—hand-cut and deep fried before being coated with chilli and chicken seasoning and served with a mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce.
Located on up-and-coming Street 214, the modern open-plan restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows, a large rectangular bar backed by rows of high-end liquor, and lounge decor, featuring marble table tops rimmed in wood, dark chandeliers and tan leather-upholstered chairs, offset by a large painting of a woman’s piercing eyes.
The space, which includes a VIP room, caters to large party events and young, well-heeled Khmer customers.
“It’s becoming an upscale neighbourhood, and we’re the first ones to really take advantage of it,” says Baraton, who has a long history of opening restaurants in the United States and Saint Martin, and worked with Tripp as far back as 1983. “We want to create a home away from home to people that share the same lifestyle.”
One distinction of MARA is its upgraded drinks menu, which includes higher-end wines and new cocktails, such as a champagne Bellini with passion fruit.
With daily happy hours running from 5pm to 7pm, at 25 percent off all drinks by the glass, it may be easy to get carried way. But as the restaurant’s menu-front says, guests need not feel guilty about being tempted.
“Mara’s just a sensuous person, telling you to enjoy yourself,” says Baraton. “He’s not really a bad devil.”