Writer Bridget Di Certo and photographer Charles Fox get a taste of Switzerland at Tell Swiss restaurant.
Stepping into Tell is like stepping out of Cambodia and straight into Germany, Austria or, in the case of career restaurateur Urs Hauser, Switzerland.
Set in an expansive villa near Wat Phnom, Tell channels the traditional ambience and aesthetics of a yesteryear beer hall. Heavy wooden seating is matched with even heavier wooden tables, dotted in a maze-like arrangement to ensure maximum privacy for guests. A canopy of vineyard-inspired timber beams sets off the indoor eating area.
The décor has remained mostly unchanged since it first opened its doors in 1999, and if the visual appeal of the restaurant is something to talk about, the food is worth hollering for. “The concept of Tell never was to be for tourists, it was always too upmarket for that,” says 51-year-old Hauser.
The menu features traditional Swiss-German favourites such as cheese fondue, sausage, sauerkraut and Tell’s piece de resistance — pork knuckle. The knuckle is a basted and roasted pig leg joint, served with home-fried potatoes and Tell’s special sauerkraut recipe.
“Pork knuckle is really unique. We do it in a very traditional way with the sauerkraut and the home fries. We are not trying to be fancy — it’s all straight forward and at very reasonable prices,” Hauser says.
The menu takes a traditional approach to Swiss-German cuisine that is unrivalled in Phnom Penh, and finding a loyal following amongst expats and locals was not a particularly difficult task. “It was a smooth introduction for a lot of Khmers that know European food, especially if they have lived in France,” the owner explains.
Along with the pork knuckle, Tell is famous for its Octoberfest feast ($26.50 for two). Served in a large pot, it is a smorgasbord of one pork knuckle, two sausages, home-smoked bacon, pork loin, home-fried potatoes, sauerkraut and gravy. The rich roasted and smoked flavours of each individual meat permeate the dish.
American Loin Steak ($16.50 plus sides) includes french fries, vegetables and pepper sauce sizzling on a large hot plate. The juices are still cooking as it is served. Hauser has also introduced imported wheat beer from Munich, called Hofbrau, in blonde and dark varieties to wash down the generous helpings that Tell is famous for.
“We have made very little changes to the menu over the years. When we first opened, we had six or seven Khmer dishes, but we lost those quite quickly because the interest was just not there,” Hauser says. After tucking into pork knuckle, schnitzel, sauerkraut or steak, it quickly becomes apparent that it would be hard for other dishes to compare.