Spanish and Mediterranean sharing dishes paired with global wines make for cosy dining at cool Quitapenas. Words by Joanna Mayhew. Photography by Charles Fox.

Classic Spanish and Mediterranean eatery Quitapenas focuses on a few dishes done well, offering just 15 warm plates nightly, each designed for sharing. The offerings star seafood and vegetables, and, in true Spanish fashion, are cooked entirely with virgin olive oil. “For me, the main course is a bit boring,” says chef and co-owner, Joaquin Campos. “It’s better if you go to sleep saying I tasted four dishes.”

Opened two years ago, the restaurant is named after a “sweet and horrible” wine from Campos’s hometown in southern Spain. Literally meaning “sorrows remover”, the name is a shout-out to his traditional roots. But his path has been anything but traditional. Starting as a dishwasher, the chef worked his way up in the kitchen during 20 years. Today, he cooks to pursue his true passion – writing books.

“Still, I love cooking,” Campos is quick to say, and this love shines through in his carefully crafted and time-intensive dishes.

The French goat cheese balls ($6) should top any diner’s list. The cheese is fried with flour, egg, salt and pepper, and caramelised onions are pan fried with sugar before topping the delicate rounds. Served alongside balsamic reduction, the offering’s contrast of salty and sweet makes it a standout.

Adapted from a traditional Spanish anchovy dish, the wild sea bass ($8), cured for two days in white wine vinegar and wine, is served bite-size with homemade crisps. When eaten together, each bite feels like an amuse-bouche of fish and chips. But far from the grease-laden, newspaper-wrapped English offering, the innovation is light and pleasantly sharp.

Oxtail croquettes ($7) are another melt-in-your mouth delicacy. Though entirely meat inside, the offering tastes like a full homemade roast dinner. Campos’s trick is to slowly cook the oxtail with red wine, onions, leeks, carrots, rosemary and thyme for seven hours, before stuffing the croquettes. The sizeable yellow snapper ($9), slightly grilled before being cooked, is served with homemade raspberry aioli, using mayonnaise with olive oil, raspberry, egg and garlic, and topped with beetroot microgreens.

The meal is rounded out by another slow-cooked delicacy – torrijas, or French toast, soaked for two days with milk, cinnamon sticks and lemon peels, and served with Bailey’s ice cream ($5).

Stepping into Quitapenas feels like entering a hip, artsy friend’s home. The elegant white building has arches throughout, offering cosy nooks, with wall sections painted with lime green and rusty red. Comfy wooden tables are adorned with colourful cushions, placemats and oversized water and wine glasses, and the upstairs lounge boasts a record player, mismatched couches and random art – just hodgepodge enough to be cool, and classy enough to capture Spanish chic.

Under a brick archway, the small kitchen is open and accessible, near an apt sign proclaiming, “Sorry to tell you, but we are the best.”

14B Street 264, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 088 442 9320.
Open daily from 5pm to 11pm, and weekends 11am to 2pm.