Phnom Penh Restaurant Reviews: The Lost RoomJanuary 24, 2012
Getting there is rarely half the fun in Cambodia (dirt bike enthusiasts excepted). Even if you have your own chauffeured transport, a very good speaker system and an ice chest of beer under your feet, it still doesn’t mean you won’t get plowed into headfirst by a truck driving 180 kilometers an hour the wrong way. Even if this doesn’t happen, the near-misses are the stuff ulcers are made of.
Finding the Lost Room is not quite as treacherous, and the rewards that await you there are worth the effort. This (literally) hidden gem of a restaurant is tucked down a back alley between Norodom and Sothearos, a sleepy neighborhood of rabbit-warren-like streets containing a mix of large, gate-enclosed villas and corrugated tin roof shacks of people tending to babies and charcoal fires in their doorsteps. If you run into barefoot, glue-sniffing teens lurking in the shadows of the smaller alleys, don’t fret, you can probably outrun them.
Derek and Wendy, of the late Talking to a Stranger, are hosts extraordinaire and will guide you through the evening with warmth and knowledge, and a general desire to make sure you leave happy. To kick things off we were steered towards a lovely OTU Savignon Blanc from New Zealand ($24) – crisp, light with a citrusy-floral finish. It had recently been discontinued, so we were consuming what may be one of the last three bottles in the country.
The menu warns that it offers ‘small plates for sharing’, though I found the portions more than adequate for a main dish. Wendy materialized again to help us navigate, explaining the portion sizes, and giving her recommendations. We started off with olives and wood-fired bread, a good-sized portion of herb-inflected black and green olives with crusty baguette, along with slices of grilled herbed bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. All went nicely with the wine.
The ‘pork in the crispy pork belly braised in dark ale and caramel’ was extremely tender and fell apart with the touch of a fork – no need for steak knives here. The luscious, rich meat was covered in a layer of fat topped with pork skin, all rich and flavorful. I usually abhor sweetness in a savory dish, but the caramel in the sauce worked perfectly, no cloying or overpowering sugary taste – perhaps the bitterness of the dark ale tempered it. The accompanying broccoli was cooked perfectly, firm but not crunchy, as were the rosemary baby potatoes we ordered as a side.
‘Moroccan lamb fillet on leek and butter bean mash with homemade yoghurt and mint sauce’ (stop, breathe), was also excellent. The lamb was tender and slightly pink but cooked well, and had no unpleasant raw flavor or texture, but was in need of a bit of salt. The leek and butter bean mash, however, was divine, a mix of spicy, musky, bitter, salty, with a tiny hint of sweetness, with a wonderful firm but lush texture. (If you catch the chef at the bar he will reveal the ingredients with very little arm-twisting.) I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of the stuff, and my dining companion very kindly let me trade some of my lamb for it. The homemade, unsweetened yoghurt has a great, mellow flavor and contrasted nicely with the rich meat.
After all that I was ready to throw in the napkin and order more wine, but my companion convinced me that chocolate mousse was the path we should be on. Served in a teacup dusted with cocoa it was extremely rich and dense, almost like half-frozen ice cream. The intensity of the flavor – like a chocolate truffle mixed with a slightest bit of butter, and the thick texture were heavenly, I don’t even like desserts that much. Wendy had wisely advised us to share one, or we would still be there now trying to finish.
Overall, the food, atmosphere, service, and décor were all stellar. Intimate and cozy, it definitely qualifies as a good date spot. Even though the space is small the tables are arranged so you’re never sitting on top of anyone or bumping elbows, and you don’t feel like the whole room can hear your conversation. The music was a bit hit or miss, but the paintings on the wall were fascinating – if Tim Burton made doll houses the parlor would look an awful lot like this place. Price was decent: 2 mains, 1 appetizer, 1 side, bottle of wine and dessert came to $45. Just leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you can find your way back home.
The Lost Room
Directions – Drive south down Sothearos to the Russian Embassy then take an alley west and you will be on the dark and unlit Street 21. Look out for a black and red painted key next to the shophouse gate. It’s about parallel to the Russian Embassy building. There will be a guard outside outside the Lost Room and normally a couple of bikes parked.