Phnom Penh Restaurant Reviews: RahuSeptember 19, 2011
If you’re looking for Metro’s goofy wannabe urban chic (white on white, changing wall of color) you won’t find it here; Rahu is serious about its minimalism. Save for the huge painting of an angry monk child glowering down on you from the far wall, there is little to distract you from the task at hand: eating upscale fusion food in their determinedly elegant setting.
The hot Fushimizu Jitate sake was sharp and light bodied, a nice bit of warmth for the throat on a cool, rainy night. Unfortunately it cooled quickly in the air conditioning without the hot water bucket that is meant to accompany that drink.
Dynamite shrimp maki rolls were spicy and crisp; the tempura coating over the huge, juicy prawns wasn’t greasy and gave a great crunch along with cucumber and red pepper. Chili made an appearance inside and out – it turned up in the green-flecked mayo swirl the dish sat in. A long dunk in the soy sauce helped off-set the heat and brought the flavor back to the lovely combination of vinegared rice, seaweed and fresh seafood that maki rolls exemplify.
My squeamish Irish dining companion was somehow tempted by the Hassakan, a sirloin with red ant maki roll, though I declined (disclaimer: I put lots of disgusting things in my mouth; I just hate ants). Expecting an assault on his taste buds, or at least a good story for folks back home, he was pleasantly surprised how well the combo worked. Incredibly tender meat was folded in with scallions and chili for a nice crunch, and the whole thing sat in an even hotter sauce than the previous dish, made with red chili. There was scant evidence of ants – they are supposed to taste sour, though the crunch could have been from their little bodies and not the scallions.
Anthony Bourdain has some caveat about ordering fish on Sundays; ours probably tasted better the day before, but the Salmon Sashimi was close enough to sublime: fresh, light and buttery. Not content to let the fish speak for itself, Rahu had it lolling in a bath of lemongrass and spices, and blanketed in cilantro, deep-fried garlic, and julienned red pepper. It would make a better salad with all that fuss, though the flavors blended nicely. A quick drag through soy sauce rounded everything out here as well. It topped out as the most expensive item at $7, quite a good deal considering it was imported.
Luckily the Saba Shioyaki ($4.60) escaped the heat treatment and was allowed to shine on the plate atop a lone banana leaf. Crisp skin outside held a perfectly cooked fish that was described as tuna-like, but looked and tasted like bluefish. Meaty and tender, the spartan presentation highlighted the fish’s rich flavor.
Overall they seem to have confused spiciness with sophistication and the abundance of chili was in danger of overpowering the subtler flavors. However, fusion food is meant to stray from the norm, and everything was fresh and mostly delicious. Continuing with Metro’s tradition of affordable, inventive but tasty winners, Rahu carries the mantle well.
The attentive, knowledgeable manager did a great job answering the most picayune and tedious questions, which helped identify everything on the plate. Our waitress repeatedly tried to clear near-empty plates, but disappeared every time we wanted more food, beer, water – the things one generally visits restaurants for. However, the service is friendly and skilled, and up to Metro’s high standards.
In the past decade in the West, the trendy restaurant tide turned from slick, cold flash (stern, gorgeous wait-bots, unidentifiable foam blobs) to warm and homey (jam jars on tables, antler racks on walls). But in this town fine dining still strives for the former. Rahu labors quite hard to exude this sophisticated aura, and it works more or less. Wood and marble make up the minimalist décor, with comfy leather bar seats and plush banquettes. An, ahem, eclectic mix of Grateful Dead, bad pop and hip hop accompanied our meal, and repeated twice in 1.5 hours.
Open 5pm to 1am weekdays, and until 2am weekends, Sake and all Japanese dishes are 50% off after 11pm, so no need to line up at the burger truck for late night munchies. Brave the disapproving glare of the monk-child and dig in.
Rahu Bar and Restaurant, 10 Sisowath Quay, Tel: 023 215 179, Open daily from 4pm to 2am, closes at midnight on Sundays.