The menu at Sophy’s has been transported halfway across the world and back again. Originally opened as a Cambodian and Thai eatery in Long Beach, California, Sophy’s now has returned to its gastronomic roots. Ellie Dyer tries out the new restaurant in Phnom Penh. Photography by Conor Wall.
A deep-fried pork tendon salad might sound off-the-wall to Western ears, but dig in – this might be one of the best dishes to pass your lips in Cambodia. The mouth-watering offering is a heady mix of sweet and sour conjured up by the chef at the city’s newest restaurant: Sophy’s Thai-Cambodian Cuisine.
First opened in the Cambodian enclave of Long Beach, Sophy’s has come home. The restaurant has set up shop in a ground-floor building near the capital’s main post office. With a good view of the colonial buildings that make up the post office square, comfy outdoor seating, and neat – if not stand-out – décor, the restaurant has a friendly atmosphere that can transition well from a relaxed lunch to a formal dinner.
Diners won’t suffer from a lack of choice. The 12-page menu of Asian food, with pizzas and burgers slung in for good measure, may be dizzying. But persevere, as the kitchen can really surprise.
In our order, it was the aforementioned US$9 salad – an off-menu special – that stood out by harmonising some of the best elements of fragrant Asian cuisine. Zingy pineapple, rich cashew nuts and crispy deep-fried pig tendons – which seem to be a lighter version of British favourite pork scratchings – are cut through by a mix of hot chilli, spring onion and fresh herbs. To top it off, batons of dried and salty squid are added to produce one of the best salads I’d eaten in years.
Other dishes were also successes, with the chef demonstrating again and again a clear understanding of flavour balance.
The beef skewers (US$4.50 for five), described on the menu as the “dream of Phnom Penh”, were coated with tangy lemongrass. An accompanying pickled papaya salad added a pleasant sour bite to the meat dish. While the sirloin was perhaps a bit chewy, the mix of flavours more than made up for it. The classic Thai dish Prad Prik King (US$5) also offered up a perfect level of heat with spicy chilli coating fresh long beans and beef. A good amount of sauce prevented it from being dry.
Perhaps the dessert course was the low point of an otherwise delicious meal. Though a large selection of Asian puddings (at about US$2) are on the menu, the mock jackfruit seeds we tried were no stand out – albeit being an exciting blast of colourful presentation. The grape-like balls of sugar and fruit had a delicious sweet interior, but the egg yolk strands layered on top in a riot of yellow lacked flavour. But with a huge array of other options – including mock pomegranate seeds and numerous coconut-based dishes – diners are more than likely to find something to their taste.
Sophy’s is clearly doing well. Despite being new, half the interior tables were full during our visit. The prices may be higher than average for Cambodian cuisine, but a visit is worth it for a chef who produces such a sensational salad.