Writer Jessica Tana and photographer Enric Català sample Riverside Bistro’s combination of food, drinks and a dose of history.
“Once upon a time there was a sacred Kingdom,” reads an inscription above the arched entrance to Riverside Bistro, flanked by paintings of the vine-covered temples of Angkor Wat. Like the set to an Indiana Jones movie, the corners of the French colonial-style building are lit up with Buddha statues, antique vases and Chinese plates. Welcome to the days of early European explorers, with a café, restaurant, bar and patisserie, all in one.
“He’s been here 21 years, since the days of the United Nations,” says marketing manager Art Moon. Moon is talking about owner Andreas Stanke, an eccentric antiques collector who opened the business in 1996. “During the time between the first Prime Minister and the second, I slept upstairs in the restaurant,” says Stanke. “The Foreign Correspondents’ Club closed. I was the only one to stay open.”
With his straw hat and open-neck shirt, Stanke looks every bit the European explorer. “He is an original fixture, next to the Chinese general,” laughs Moon. Running an antique store around the corner, the bistro is a mix of replica and original Asian paintings and curiosities, neon lights, a pool table and HD sports screens. Much like the restaurant, the menu is an eclectic mix of Khmer, European and American flavours.
Starting with a plate of bruschetta ($4.50) which came covered in fresh, chopped tomato, a sprig of basil and drizzle of pungent olive oil, we sipped on Frontera crisp white wine ($5 a glass) before tucking into a plate of Riverside salad ($7), a green salad with tuna, olives, feta and anchovies.
Moving on to some cocktails, we tried the Mango Maneater ($5), a sweet and heavy mix of Cachaca (a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice), passionfruit, mango, lime, brown sugar and mint, and classic Sex on the Beach ($4.50).
The main course consisted of thick, fleshy, grilled pork ribs ($8.50/ 300g). Served with brown sauce, head chef Eric Randrianasoavina says he cooks them twice to get the tender consistency. Grilled salmon steak ($12.50) with potatoes and salad was next; the filet laid on a plate of deliciously tangy horseradish and dill, cream sauce. Followed by a Khmer favourite, seafood Amok ($7.50). The mix of well-cooked shrimp and squid was a welcome change. The sauce had more kick than many others and was a little less cream.
Riverside Bistro’s French pastry chef makes all cakes in-house. We tried the white chocolate with zesty raspberry glace ($3.50) and the irresistibly decadent double chocolate cake with Cointreau filling ($3.50).
Housed in a picturesque building constructed in 1910, which originally contained the offices for the Bureau Dumarest D’Indochine, the restaurant is featured on a local architectural walking tour of Phnom Penh. Combining food, history and entertainment, it is certainly a bistro worthy adventuring into.