Phnom Penh Restaurant Reviews: Gastrobar BotanicoApril 25, 2012
Getting into Gastrobar Botanico is a bit like foraging in the jungle. If you don’t have a machete on hand, it’s a bit of a challenge to skirt the hanging vines and push through the leafy plants flapping across the path.
However, once you’ve strayed off the beaten path (aka Street 29), there’s a little oasis tucked away behind its walls (and, in all fairness, I may have visited on days when the gardener took a couple of days off).
Located in one of the city’s small enclaves of new restaurants (the other is opposite Bopha Titanic on the riverfront), Botanico is operated by the same owners at the expertly-run Chinese House restaurant. And it shows.
The food is excellent. The atmosphere delightful. Great attention is paid to every detail (such as the hanging candle-lights in coloured glass bottles and the neatly-arranged magazine rack for browsing).
And Nature provides her own choreography as the singing of birds permeates the air and jasmine blossoms emit perfumed aromas in their own welcoming embrace.
I visited Botanico several times over the past week to try it out at different times of day –
breakfast, lunch and cocktails – and all times of the day, the setting was delightful.
Padded couches and bed-like arrangements are spaced far enough apart to provide privacy, and each seating area is sheltered by a canvas roof, offering protection from the sun or the rain. More than 2,000 tropical plants and flowers provide a lush background in this secret garden and there’s counter seating on heavy wood barstools as well as a scattering of shorter stools around a central area and an open kitchen for observation (and inhalation of aromas).
The menu proclaims it’s a “Soft Opening Menu” (it opened in January) and consists of a selection of small dishes, light meals and interesting variations on traditional preparations.
Breakfast is a little limited as there are only a handful of offerings: yoghurt with fresh fruit, muesli and honey ($4.50) or scrambled eggs with tomato, pepper, onion and cheese ($5). However, the croissant with smoked salmon and herbs could easily work as a morning dish so we ordered each of the first two breakfast selections along with a croissant as an accompaniment.
Both dishes arrived as attractive presentations in several little bowls containing separate items for diners to assemble at the table. The fluffy scrambled eggs were delectable and the muesli dish was equally good but could have done with more yoghurt (or less muesli).
The only unexciting item was the croissant which was dense and appeared to have been defrosted. Coffee is provided by Illy, dark and delicious and served various ways, including latte, cappuccino and a lesser-known cortado (a smaller and stronger version of latte).
Most dishes are small so they are perfect for appetizers or lunch dishes but a single portion may be a little lacking for hearty diners. Among them are ciabatta and foccaccia dishes – chicken with melted gouda, bacon and tartare sauce ($6.50) or veggie with goat cheese, sundried tomato and rocket ($5) – an Italiano beef burger ($8), salad with tomato tartare, goat cheese and basil ($5) and corn bread with chicken avocado, onion and chunky tomato sauce ($6). I had the tomato tartare salad for lunch and found it to be fresh, tasty and not overly cheesy and accompanied by slivers of tomato-flavoured toast.
On our evening visit, we arrived right after the heavens had opened, pushed our way through the wet jungle and encased ourselves in a private seating area wrapped in waterproof canvas. We were too late for Happy Hour (3-6pm) but found an interesting list of cocktails to choose from, including a deliciously spicy lemongrass chili mary (a variation on the bloody mary), Pimm’s, sangria, various types of wine ($3 per glass) and several beers. There’s even a bottle of Billecart Salmon, one of my favourite French champagnes ($79).
We sampled the potatas bravas ($2.50) and a chicken skewer ($1.50), both of which were delicious and extremely more-ish. And I’m keen to try the deep-fried champignon and cream cheese lumpias ($4) and salted cake slices with sundried tomatoes, olives and feta ($2).
So far, the only course I haven’t sampled is the final one, which I’m saving for an occasion of indulgence. There’s a Mi Tiramisu item that’s described as “marscapone mousse on a drunk cake with coffee English cream”.
Now how can anyone in their right mind resist that one?
#9b, Street 29 (near Sihanouk Blvd. and street 294), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cuisine: tapas, salads, sandwiches