A popular spot offering diverse, affordable food is creating a buzz. Ellie Dyer and photographer Charles Fox check it out.
Wander down bustling Street 63 and you may just miss the small restaurant that takes its name from its location. With minimalist white décor, basic wooden furniture and a small concrete bar, the compact shop-house eatery set in the heart of Phnom Penh’s BKK1 area is keeping things simple.
Yet the unassuming outlet, called St 63, is fast becoming a popular lunch and supper spot in the capital, winning regular customers and rave reviews on TripAdvisor. The feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that competition is growing daily on the major thoroughfare, where a slew of venues have opened this year alone.
We visited on a Monday lunchtime and found St 63 pumping with office workers, no doubt drawn by its cheap menu, with main courses priced from $2 up. First up was the $3 trei chien (fried fish) with tamarind sauce, which came surrounded by a mound of rice, steamed water spinach, cucumber and tomato. The small portion of tender white fish had a pleasing golden crust, but our decision to lather the saucer of sauce over the top was a mistake. The very salty, slightly sour, tamarind overpowered the delicate seafood. It’s best kept as a dipping sauce — as perhaps the chef had intended. All in all it was a solid start, but not a stand-out dish.
This all changed with the pomelo salad, well-priced at $2, which arrived next. A generous helping of very juicy, slightly acidic citrus was balanced perfectly with Thai basil, prawns, peanuts and small slices of garlic, creating the highlight of the lunch. The separate ingredients combined to create a fresh, zingy and very moreish dish. The $2 banana blossom salad nearly lived up to its predecessor, but slightly lacked in flavour. Though benefiting from its liberal portion size and crunchy blossom strips, an extra squeeze of lime or a sprinkle of chilli would have brought it to life.
Another main, the beef char kdaeo with rice, was much better and also excellent value at $2. Though the portion was modest, the thin slices of stir-fried meat were melt-in-the-mouth tender and came doused with lashings of vibrant lemongrass and hot basil. This well-spiced dish scored high on both value and taste.
Given the dizzying size of the menu, we couldn’t leave without sampling one of its European dishes — namely a $6 pizza, intriguingly called the ‘Cambodian Update.’ Italians may quibble whether their famous offering needs a Southeast Asian revision, but St 63 — considering it specialises in Cambodian cuisine — did a solid, if rather middle-of-the-road, job. A large floury base was topped with handfuls of ham, cheese, peppers and mushroom, but the overall effect was let down by an extremely overcooked, crumbly egg that lay in the pizza’s centre, plus the length of time it took to get to the table.
Overall, St 63 offers excellent value for money and some sound dishes, though its strength lies firmly with Cambodian fare. It’s a good spot for a simple meal and, with $0.50 beers and $2.50 cocktails, a drink or three.