Ellie Dyer fights past the gastronomic crowd to experience the chic atmosphere and modern menu at Deco. Photography by Conor Wall.

If you’re passionate about food, chances are that you’ll have heard about Deco. The buzz around the swish new eatery in BKK1 is deafening.

Specialising in modern European cuisine, the elegant art deco restaurant is managed by Rob Ainge, with chef Caspar von Hofmannsthal, best known for Phnom Penh fusion favourite Yumi, heading the culinary team. Although only in its first few months of operation, Deco has already won a loyal following.

A visit on a Monday night found the restaurant full, with every table packed with enthusiastic expats devouring plates of food. For those who neglect to book ahead, the wait for a table within the restaurant’s elegant surrounds isn’t so bad. Hunger can be staved off in the dedicated lounge area thanks to a superb cocktail menu.

Along with traditional drinks that conjure up images of 1920’s high life — including an excellent, bitter Old Fashioned with a peel twist — the bar offers a diverse line in unusual concoctions. The Spring Blossom ($4), a refreshing mix of jasmine syrup and the Asian spirit Shochu, comes served with delicate blooms floating on its surface for a sophisticated touch.

Unlike the vast majority of Phnom Penh eateries, Deco offers a very small but adventurous menu. There is a choice of six mains, with hearty burgers and steaks sitting side by side with lighter fare. The ever divisive English classic, the Scotch egg, even makes an appearance as an entrée.

In another indication of the restaurant’s huge popularity, the poached red snapper with potato rosti ($10) had run out by the time we ordered. Given the small menu size, it was a disappointment, but plumping for the spiced lentil salad ($7) proved a good choice.

Flavoursome lentils are mixed through a generous dressed salad, with a refreshing dollop of yoghurt and a lemon slice adding an extra zing. The accompanying flat bread is excellent, containing the right amount of crunch to add a new layer of texture to the satisfying dish.

The duck breast ($8) is also forward-thinking and mixes two classic combinations – duck and plum, watermelon and mint – in one dish, with a smidgen of cashew nut drawing the two together.

Presentation is first-rate and the meat perfectly cooked, but at times the plum overpowers more delicate flavours and the small serving size may not satisfy every appetite. In hindsight, opting for an additional side ($1.50 each) is a wise choice.

Any lingering uncertainties about the main courses can be quickly forgotten by what is, hands down, one of the best puddings in Phnom Penh. The sticky toffee pudding ($5) comes with lashings of rich, sweet sauce that seeps through a springy sponge. It’s worth a trip to Deco just to taste it.

Overall, the restaurateurs have done an awful lot right. Their wealth of experience can be seen in the high standards of service and an already buzzing atmosphere. The puddings and the drinks are top notch, but diners should plan ahead and perhaps eat early to get the most out of the experience.

Deco, Corner of Street 57 and 352, Tel: 017 577 327.
Open from Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 11pm.