As Van’s Restaurant gears up to mark a decade of French fine dining in Phnom Penh at the end of the year, editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Enric Català sample the menu.
As impressive from the exterior as it is inside, Van’s Restaurant oozes sophistication from the moment diners catch a glimpse of the 150-year-old French colonial villa it calls home.
An outdoor tropical garden houses Van’s latest addition – Garden Café – a casual eatery that serves up light bites and snacks from breakfast until dinner. While the restaurant, an elegant affair, sits upstairs in the main building.
Having spent eight years heading up the kitchen, French chef Nicolas Malherbe has perfected the menu, fusing the flavours of France and Asia.
We started off with the ceviche de thon ($13), a perfect example of the experimental flavours on the menu. Here, chunks of delicate marinated raw tuna with fresh coconut and grilled sesame oil are served alongside shrimp roe, salmon eggs, wakame and kaffir lime zest.
The dish takes in sweet, salt, spicy and sour, leaving the palette clean and fresh. Edible purple flowers finished off the perfect plating – a theme that ran throughout, thanks to Nicolas’ self-confessed love of playing with colours.
Next was another well-presented plate. Containing three types of foie gras ($22), the soft terrine topped with blackcurrent jelly is marinated in sweet wine and port before being cooked at a low temperature, pressed and left to cool. The result is a strong foie gras, balanced out by the sweetness of the fruit. The pan-fried option sees foie gras served in the traditional way, with Chef Nicolas placing it atop ginger bread to add texture. The mildest was the foie gras-stuffed ravioli with parmesan, porcini sauce and white truffle oil.
Moving onto the mains and the roasted rack of lamb ($35) lived up to its impressive appearance. The New Zealand lamb was cooked to perfection – tender and juicy – with the sweet spices sauce adding a mellow bite. It was served alongside baby carrots and a fresh mint broccoli mousseline. The gravy finished off the dish, adding a slightly sweet and warming element to the mix.
Taking in a range of seafood options, the raviolis de homard ($20) stood out. Each of the melt-in-the-mouth soft parcels of ravioli were packed with flavoursome flakes of Canadian lobster and topped with soft diced leeks and vanilla from Madagascar.
Rounding off our meal was the monthly special (available until Aug. 15). A feast for both the eyes and stomach, this Instagram-worthy creation is almost too good to touch, with a lobster head peeking out from the top of the bowl. The Mekong saphira ($30) sees Mekong lobster cooked pot au feu style, in broth with kaffir lime, fresh vegetables, enokitake mushrooms, rice noodles, lemongrass foam and Thai basil. The aromatic dish cleaves traces of hot, sour and sweet dancing on the tongue.
With changing lunch specials offering two courses and a drink for $15 or three courses for $20 and a set three-course menu ($32), indulging in some fine-dining is an attractive treat.