In search of a perfect lunch spot, Ellie Dyer and photographer Conor Wall test out The Willow, one of Phnom Penh’s boutique hotels to find Australian hospitality and an extensive menu.
For Westerners, grabbing a quick sandwich at lunchtime is often a way of life. In Asia, however, the humble sarnie can be harder to come by given the triple challenges of overly sweet bread, mystery meats and sometimes dubious hygiene standards.
The Willow hotel could be the answer. Since opening in April 2011, The Willow has built on the reputation of owner Eliza Mealey’s previous BKK 1 eatery, Lunchbox. Along with her partner and baby daughter, Mealey has also brought Lunchbox’s packed sandwich selection to Street 21.
A lunchtime visit finds the villa’s lush garden filled with office workers and guests, who are dotted around the low chairs and sofas that scatter the eatery.
Lunchers looking for variety will not be disappointed. The Willow’s newly-expanded menu features full-scale mains, including Australian steak ($12) and pork chops in mustard sauce ($6.50), as well as lighter soups and salads alongside Asian classics such as fish amok ($6).
We plump for two creations from the menu’s 16-item strong sandwich list, on which items such as pineapple and beetroot-filled Byron Bay Bliss betray Mealey’s Ozzie roots.
The Asian wrap ($6.50) is a mix of sweet barbequed chicken, lathered with rich char siew and hoisin sauce, cut through with a refreshing zing of spring onion and coriander.
The wrap itself, so often hit or miss in Cambodia’s humid climate, is satisfyingly warm yet still soft and chewy. With four individual wraps topped with fresh greens and grated carrots, the dish puts a successful and filling Asian twist on a Western meal.
A classic option, the Club Sandwich ($6), is our next choice. Four triple-decker sandwiches layered with thin egg crepes, onion, tomato, bacon, cheese and chicken come surrounded by a large pile of crinkled fries. The dish could have easily fed two people, if not more.
Opening our mouths as widely as possible, we found the toasted white bread contained a pleasing mix of fatty bacon and chicken with potato adding both bite and value for money.
Finally, we find room for the British classic fish and chips ($5.50). A light yet crispy batter enwrapped the fish, making it a satisfyingly indulgent meal. Well-salted chips and a huge dollop of tartar sauce – packed with a blast of mustard seeds – make the meal one to remember for all the right reasons.
All in all, The Willow is a good place for a laidback lunch or a few drinks with friends. Don’t expect to see lashings of experimentation, but it does Western classics and bonza bar food very well.