Featuring French classics with a twist, The Deli’s recently updated gourmet bistro may just be the city’s best-kept secret. Writer Joanna Mayhew and photographer Charles Fox dig in, and spill the beans.

Free of frills and any lofty boasts of innovation, gourmet bistro The Deli is deceivingly unassuming. But French duo Pierre Favitski and Gwen Lescutier take food seriously, and the proof is in the pudding – and the starter, and main.

Chef Favitski has been at the helm of The Deli for 10 years, through its evolutions from a coffee and sandwich shop to a bakery. Eight months ago, co-owner Lescutier joined the team, freeing Favitski to remain where he thrives: the kitchen.

Trained in Michelin-star restaurants in Paris and London, Favitski is now channelling his skills into perfectly crafted offerings. “I do some classics, but always put my touch into them,” he says.

The sophisticated plates would stand out in any major city. The sesame seed-topped grilled sea bass filet ($15.50) is crisp outside and buttery inside, served with a fennel fondue, its sweet aftertaste balancing the fish, and alongside salty chorizo crisps and sliced spring potatoes, with a touch of saffron butter.

The light and moreish foie gras ravioli starter ($11.50) is prepared with chicken, black truffle and cream, cooked in truffle juice, and served with a truffle mousse emulsion.

Inviting further indulgence, the rich chocolate fondant ($4.50), made with dark chocolate, butter and a dab of sugar, is served with powdered sugar, diced almonds and caramel sauce – as well as tempting vanilla ice cream, but the cake is delectable enough to stand alone.

The chef’s secrets are, unsurprisingly, simple: high-quality ingredients, including imported red meats from Australia and New Zealand, and organic pork and vegetables; vigilantly timed cooking; and seasoning with French-imported fleur de sel and daily-ground Kampot pepper. “We start with the basics, and when it comes to the plate, we make a small effort to make it look nice,” says Favitski.

The space, too, is understated. Seating a total of 30, it is filled with dark wooden benches and tables, embellished only by black runners and simple white napkins. Blackboards and square box lamps adorn the white walls, with burnt orange accents in cutout windows, and a bar houses a selection of liquors and baskets of fresh-baked baguettes. At dinner, the setting is more intimate, with adjusted lighting and space between tables. “I never keep the restaurant full, so I have more time to spend on the plate,” says Favitski.

The Deli offers a new menu weekly and caters to customers’ off-menu requests whenever possible. “We see a restaurant as somewhere you cook for the customer,” says Lescutier. “It is absolutely ridiculous to propose the same menu for six months.” With just three additional staff, the co-owners are present for every meal.

“We just want to be honest and give pleasure,” adds Lescutier. “And we want to stay simple.” Simple perhaps, but the duo has successfully upped the city’s dining scene. And their secret is out.

13 Street 179, Phnom Penh
Tel: 012 851 234
Open 11am to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 10pm. Closed Sundays.