Marissa Carruthers and photographer Charles Fox go fresh and healthy at Phnom Penh’s stalwart salad option, Vego.
Making salad seem sexy is a feat in itself, but it’s one that Vego has been perfecting since opening its doors four years ago. The co-owners’ initial aim was simple: to promote healthy, organic eating. And it quickly caught on following the launch of its first venture on Street 51, which started life serving up freshly-baked bagels and a selection of salads.
Since then, the concept has mushroomed, with a more spacious Vego opening on Street 294 about nine months ago. It has branched out by offering a series of hot dishes, including Bangkok pad thai ($3.50) and Naples-style pasta ($5.75).
“When we first started Vego there weren’t really many good salad bars about so we wanted to fill that gap,” says co-owner Rattana Gordon. “What we really wanted to do was to promote healthy eating and chemical-free food, and educate people about the benefits of eating a healthy diet in a fun way.”
Putting the fun into salad is something Vego does well. Rattana and her husband Brad, together with married business partners Sophea and Phloeun Brim, have created eateries that get hunger pangs started. From their indulgent blueberry bagel ($1) and naughty brownie ($1.75) to succulent salads and a range of power drinks (starting from $2.75), dishes are packed full of flavour and contain no meat, with seafood the only sign of flesh.
Creating individual salads for each customer was another key element to Vego’s concept, achieved by allowing diners to tailor-make their meal. For $3.95, visitors can choose from a selection of leaves, four add-ons — including mango, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes — plus one condiment from a range that includes walnuts, raisins or croutons.
The set menu has been crafted so that each salad or wrap is named after the country its ingredients are inspired by. The Venice ($4.75) contains parmesan cheese and the Phnom Penh ($4) crispy noodles. The sandwiches, served on bagels but also focaccia and pitas, follow the same pattern and include the Mexico with prawn and avocado ($5) and the Canada with smoked salmon and capers ($5.50).
Mirroring the emphasis on fresh, clean and healthy is Vego’s décor. Kitted out in white with splashes of bright green, the design is all about smooth surfaces, symmetrical lines and order. “We really wanted to create somewhere that people would enjoy eating so put a lot of effort into the design,” Gordon adds.
As well as opening another restaurant and plans for more in the pipeline, Gordon believes her greatest success has been to see more local customers choosing to dine at Vego. “It’s also great to see children coming in here and enjoying eating salad because traditionally it’s not something they like to eat,” she says.