Just like the etched design on the plate glass windows, this excellent new restaurant has all its ducks in a row.
Less than a month after opening its doors in Phnom Penh, Duck is delivering an experience that’s hard to beat and even harder to resist: delicious food, excellent service, comfortable atmosphere and a management team that clearly knows what it’s doing.
It’s a place that’s classy yet not pretentious, with light jazz background music, subdued lighting, eclectic artwork and patrons ranging from expats to Khmer couples to families with kids – all enthusiastically passing around dishes to sample.
With its soft brown decor, gentle music and upscale ambiance, it could easily be located in San Francisco, Cape Town or Melbourne except for the contrast between the interior and the exterior. As incongruous as a thoroughbred in a rice field, Duck is a shiny new establishment in a neighbourhood that’s teeming with life.
Positioned between Meta House on one side and the decrepit White Building across the street, the restaurant provides a fish-bowl view onto the bizarre world outside. Tuktuks and motos whizz past the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, women in Angry Bird pajamas drag recycling carts and Lexus SUVs compete for space in front of the entrance. While the interior of Duck may be subdued and artsy, it’s the scene outside that makes it quintessentially Phnom Penh.
Since the restaurant is still in its infancy, the menus are printed on stapled sheets of paper. But that’s the only thing that’s undeveloped in this tasteful spot. While there’s no duck on the menu yet (stay tuned), there’s a selection of dishes that are mouth-watering to read about even before you taste them.
Brandy chicken liver pate with caper berries. Mushroom risotto with truffle oil. Wagyu Scotch fillet with port jus. John Dory fish and chips. These are just a few of the dishes, which are prepared in the rear of the restaurant in a sparkling open kitchen by a chef who has 25 years experience cooking in Australia and New Zealand.
On our visit, we wanted to try them all. But we settled for two appetizers, three mains and two desserts between the three of us.
The meal began with complimentary shot glasses filled with delicious and creamy warm tomato soup. From then on, it was first-rate all the way. The wine list is extensive and offers bottles priced from $19 to $175 (Chateau Candale Cabernet Merlot) as well as glasses priced from $4.50 to $9, most of them hailing from Australia, New Zealand, France and Italy.
We started the meal with the wild mushroom medley made with burnt butter and truffle oil ($6) as well as the salt and pepper squid with lime aioli ($6). While the truffle flavour was hardly perceptible in the mushroom dish, it won our vote for the most delicious of the night with its mixture of enoki, King Brown (oyster) and shiitake mushrooms, lightly sautéed in burnt butter (filling the restaurant with a great aroma), bursting with flavour and perfectly seasoned in the kitchen. (We noticed the absence of salt and pepper shakers on the table and figured it was the chef’s way of letting diners see he knows what he’s doing). The salt and pepper squid was good but not up to the standard of the other dishes.
For main course, I ordered seared Norwegian salmon with a teriyaki glaze, served with braised tomato sugo (concentrate) and cilantro ($17). The fish melted in my mouth and the glaze gave a slightly crisp, slightly sweet casing that made me want to savour every bite. Slowly. In silence.
Same with the red snapper served on top of baby potatoes with popped capers and a drizzle of pesto ($13). Both Skip and Wes (my dining partners) ordered this dish and both declared it to be one of the best dishes they’d eaten in Cambodia.
Everything arrived at the same time. Appetizers were served less than 15 minutes after ordering. And all were artistically presented on shiny white plates.
There were two dessert options on our visit – crème brulee with caramelized banana fingers, and chocolate mud cake with chocolate sauce and berry compote (both $4.50). We couldn’t decide between them so we ordered both.
I’m not usually partial to banana desserts but I have to say this one captivated my tastebuds. While the chocolate mud cake was incredibly decadent and delicious with three individual pots filled with sticky dense chocolate, blueberry preserve and fluffy cream (Skip’s favourite), the “banana fingers” gave me a new appreciation for this quintessential Cambodian fruits as they were encased in a crisp, toffee-like coating and served alongside the creamy pot of brulee.
While Duck is still emerging as a newcomer on the dining scene, it’s moving fast in delivering new options. Starting this week, they are open for lunch during the week , brunch on weekends and breakfast weekdays starting at 7am (with dishes priced from $2 to $4.75).
Keep watching this space. I’m pretty sure they have lots more waiting in their wings.
47 Sotheros Boulevard (opposite the White Building)