As Phnom Penh grows taller, the number of roof top offerings are growing. Jessica Tana and photographer Lucas Veuve visit Vehaa, the latest to open its doors.
Perched on the ninth floor, the calming ambience of Vehaa feels miles above the bustling streets of Phnom Penh. Like its namesake, the restaurant feels somewhere between the clouds and the stratosphere, which is a rough translation of its Khmer name.
Spacious rooms lined with huge windows fill the rooms with natural light, while the design is crisp, clean and infinitely welcoming. Recycled wooden tables, plump cushions and bamboo detailing give the restaurant a homey feel, while the views over the city are spectacular.
Of course, design and location are only one part of what makes a great restaurant, the real test is in the food. Led by head chef Sok Chhong, the dishes at Vehaa are Khmer cooking at its best – fresh, sweet and zesty.
For our entrée, we tried the pomelo prawn salad ($7), a bowl of shredded pomelo, red, green and yellow bell peppers, mixed lettuce, tomatoes and juicy tiger prawns covered in sweet chili sauce. A unique salad, it was light and invigorating, a perfect combination with the succulent prawns.
Chef Taro ($6) was another surprisingly original dish. Made from minced pork and prawn, the meat is rolled into a ball and covered in grated taro slices before being fried. The balls were crunchy on the outside, tender inside and lightly seasoned.
For mains, we started with the duck loc lak ($8), a twist on the traditional beef loc lac. Here, tender pieces of grilled duck served with Kampot peppercorns, peppery Khmer watercress, onions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Served with the usual fried egg and rice, the duck was a pleasant change from the beef, and there was a nice amount of crunchy, pungent peppercorns to offset the richness of the meat.
A speciality, we tried the Demoiselle Du Mekong Au Four ($17.5) next, which consists of two, giant, buttery river prawns grilled and served in their half-shells. Brought from the rivers of Takeo province, these blue clawed prawns are often referred to as lobsters, their flesh being similarly sweet and flaky. Served with a side of fried rice and salad, and a dipping bowl of lime and butter, the dish was ripe and fruity.
Whilst we were eating, our host Brice Martinez treated us to a glass of one of the restaurants many wines. Mas Du Vieux Chemin de Fer ($72) is sold by the bottle, and is a delectable dry red Syrah wine. With a varied list of wines to choose from, the imported red was a perfect accompaniment to the seafood.
Sticking with the fruit theme, for dessert we tried the fresh mango on sticky rice ($4.50), served in a clear glass to emphasise the colours. The bright yellow mango pieces sat upon a white layer of sweet coconut cream, atop the rice pudding, a mixture of green pandan leaf, shredded coconut and palm sugar. Like most Khmer desserts it was lightly sweet and nourishing without being overpowering.
Opened in May this year, Vehaa boasts stunning views of Phnom Penh, a relaxed and open vibe, a happening sky bar, and delicious Khmer food.