Serving paella and sangria by the bucket load, La Plaza is bringing a taste of Spain to Phnom Penh. Ellie Dyer tests out Cambodia’s newest tapas bar, with photography by Conor Wall.
As soon as the owner of new tapas restaurant La Plaza pulls out the porron, it’s clear that this eatery is Spanish to the core.
Shaped like a glass kettle with a long spout, containing a generous helping of beer shandy, the porron is used by customers to squirt liquid into their mouths at arms’ length. Popular amongst elderly Spaniards, it’s an unusual, albeit messy, way to enjoy a drink.
The method is one that complements the convivial atmosphere of Phnom Penh’s newest tapas house, La Plaza. Located in a small shop house on Street 278 — an increasingly popular enclave for restaurateurs — the eatery’s unfussy white walls and dark wood fittings hint at what is to come.
The kitchen has prioritised clean, simple flavours by letting good ingredients speak for themselves. The tapas ranges in price from around $2 to $6 and come served on white plates with minimal decoration.
A good dose of olive oil brings out the natural smokiness of verduras a la plancha ($4), or grilled vegetables. Classic Spanish patatas bravas ($3) are well-cooked, with a golden exterior, and lie in a clean yet understated spiced sauce.
A plate of shrimp is grilled with salt to maximise fresh flavours ($4), with no risk of the star of the ingredient being overpowered. Slices of tortilla de patata ($2) are satisfying thick with potatoes dominating the dense egg cake.
Cooking in such straightforward style is, however, unforgiving. Edging towards overdone, calamares ($5.50) lack the melt in the mouth texture of squid at its best and are accompanied with a single lime. When dealing with so few ingredients, even the smallest deviation from perfection is unmasked.
But generous quantities of sangria ($9 a jug) will more than make up for any glitches. Rich, fruity and packing serious punch, the jugs of deep red wine are proving a sure-fire draw in sangria-starved Phnom Penh.
Three months after opening, the small restaurant — and its four varieties of paella including a version with frog’s legs — is proving popular amongst the expat community, with tables often packed out.
No wonder. La Plaza specialises in honest food in a welcoming environment. As tapas is all about sharing, mix in a group of friends and a hefty dose of sangria to create an excellent recipe for a night out.