Dining at the Hotel Nine restaurant has dispelled a couple of myths for me:
1. Hotel restaurants aren’t usually very good, and
2. Tapas are too small to be satisfying.
This unassuming little spot is quite the hidden gem. Unadvertised, unpublicised and tucked away in the boutique hotel on Street Nine, it looks like a casual hotel café for guests to drop into for a sandwich after hitting the tourist trail.
But it’s a delightful surprise. Inside the café, you’ll find a host of delicious dishes – many prepared with a culinary twist and delivered in portions large enough to satisfy.
First, there’s the location. As with several other Phnom Penh boutique hotels and restaurants, it follows the same formula: an exterior which belies what lies behind the wall. Once passing through the entrance, you’ll find yourself in an attractive setting with a small sparkling pool and al fresco dining as well as an air-conditioned glass-enclosed space for meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I found the indoor café a little stark in atmosphere and thought it could use some wall hangings, colour and dim lights in the evening to soften it up. But the menu, though small in quantity was high in quality and just right for my taste.
The focus is on tapas, with 17 to choose from (as well as a handful of pizzas, paninis and bauguettes). On our recent visit, my husband, Skip, commented that as many as 10 of the small plates appealed to him (and the others weren’t an option since he doesn’t eat red meat).
So we settled for four.
It’s important to note that Hotel Nine’s “tapas” are not your traditional Spanish fare. Here, tapas are small plates that incorporate Cambodian flavours (loc lac meatballs and chicken skewers with amok sauce) as well as western-style bites, including Aussie chiko rolls and pork sausages.
We started with the trio of homemade dips (olive tapenade, capsicum and cashew and sundried tomato with parmesan) closely followed by three more plates: prawn, coriander and sesame toast with chilli dipping sauce; crumbed pesto chicken strips with lime mayo and Peking duck pancakes with plum sauce.
Every dish arrived on a long, narrow white plate, garnished with fresh herbs and decorated with slivers of vegetables or chillies. And each one was tasty, fresh and expertly prepared (a combination of the culinary skills of Franco, the congenial Australian hotelier, and his creative Cambodian cook).
Our favourite of the dips was the capsicum/cashew combination, closely followed by the sundried tomato. The crunchy prawn toast could have used a touch more prawn for my liking and I’d like a smidgeon more pesto in the chicken and less cucumber in the Peking duck (disclaimer: I detest cucumber, so that’s just me).
But we found every one of our choices to be mouth-wateringly good and were disappointed that we couldn’t fit in another bite after completing them all.
The pesto chicken strips were crispy, puffy and constructed in such a way we wanted to dissect them to discover the chef’s secret (eventually divulged to us by Franco) and the Peking duck pancakes were Skip’s favourites since the duck was tender and flavourful and encased in soft warm wrappers with sprigs of spring onion emerging from each one.
Almost everything on the menu would be great for a cocktail party since, at $5 per dish, you could gather together quite a selection for a reasonable price (home deliveries are available by ordering online at www.hotel-nine.com).
At the end of dinner, our full stomachs didn’t stop us from inquiring about the other meals at Hotel Nine and I’m now keen to return for what sounds to be one of the best breakfast deals in town.
Every day, the hotel serves a buffet which may include fruit, cereal, eggs, pancakes with caramelised bananas, noodles, French toast and sausages – all for $4.
So, since anything with caramelised bananas has my name on it, I know I’ll be back.
Location: #48, street 9, Phnom Penh, Cambodia