Spanish; Tapas and Bodega
389 E1 Sisowath Quay (entrance on Street 184)
The Riverfront, Phnom Penh
Tel: 023 224 394
Email: [email protected]
Having run out of Andrex in the office, I started riffling through a pile of back issues of the local newspaper (conveniently being stored in the smallest room in the office) where I came across an advertisement for this new Spanish restaurant in Phnom Penh, a few of my poncier work acquaintances had already been there and had good things to say about it, but then again, these are people who tend to live their lives in an all white, air-conditioned, non-Khmer interacting, vacuum, so I generally do not bother listening to much of their ‘advice’ about things. However, as I sat there, a captive audience, ruminating and releasing, I remembered that the following week some of the ‘out of towners’ were back in Phnom Penh and would probably appreciate trying something a little different.
Looking back at the restaurants flyer, their advertising struck me as being slightly reminiscent of a Cambodian Guide book, ‘Overlooking the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, as well as Phnom Penh?s Royal Palace, Pacharan is an oasis of Spanish food, wine and hospitality.’
I will just gloss over one of my usual pet peeves about how it is redundant to say Tonle Sap River.
So we decided to go there before the ‘Introductory Tapas Promotion’ expired, (sorry folks, it ended on the 31st of March) which involved a choice of two tapas, plus bread and alioli plus a glass of sangria for US$7. – the power of the Cambodia (rarely) Daily (almost) advertising machine might not be as good as that of 440, but I guess it slowly seeps in, eventually.
Right from the start, even before we had arrived at the restaurant, while we were still having an aperitif up the road at the Jungle Bar, The Governor was complaining about tapas ‘waste of time, total rip off, never fills you up.’ Keeping it Riel was just happy to be out of the provinces and off his rice and dried fish rations for a few days. Me, well, I was just happy to try somewhere different.
To get to the restaurant, you have to enter through a side door in Street 184, where you ascend a fairly steep hardwood staircase, while the powerful air-conditioning unit at the top tries to blow you back down.
When you finally rise to the zenith you are greeted by a spacious interior, with a stylish Mediterranean influenced decor, rustic styled art work, hints of stained glass, an open kitchen, a central bar and the sense of suddenly being unsure as to which Country you are in, Phnom Penh? Madrid? The London West End? Southend on Sea?
It was about 9 o’clock on a Wednesday evening as we stood there wondering where we were, when a politely spoken waiter came up to us and asked if we had a reservation, I can not even remember the last time I was asked that, but I am fairly certain it was not in Cambodia!
There were around 30 customers in the restaurant, several faces I recognised, some good, some not so good, so out of the few remaining tables we chose to sit outside on the balcony, away from the glitterati, the young and beautiful people, the foreign government employees and the large drunk biker slumped at the bar in a Sharkey’s tee-shirt.
The nice thing about reviewing such a new restaurant is that there is a reduced chance of somebody who works there recognising either myself or the 440 management gourmand gorging team, which jointly means; we get the same service as our readers would get, plus a decreased chance of me being hit over the head with a sharpened bowl of prahok in the moto-park for saying something bad about the place.
Having selected our assorted tapas dishes, I took a few moments to weigh up the ordinary menu. Several of the tables that we passed seemed to be enjoying that classic Spanish dish paella marinera (30 minutes cooking time, minimum for two people, US$9:75 per person) The extended tapas menu – as opposed to the condensed minimum cost special offer menu version that we were dining off – contained what looked like a few promising treats that I might just return for if our everyday, run of the mill, tapas were any good; such tantalising tapas frias as jamon iberico, pata negra, gran reserva – Iberian cured ham from the rare semi-wild, acorn fed, black footed pig (100g) US$19, well, I would be at least semi-wild too if I had been fed nothing but acorns all my life. The slightly less heart-stopping-expensive, embutidos ibericos y pate – a selection of cured meats and pate US$7 sounded good and also appealing was the langostinos pacharan – grilled king prawns with garlic, white wine and tomato sauce US$4:50.
In addition to tapas, Pachran also offers a small selection of segundos platos – single plate main courses – of which, the cochinillo asado – roasted suckling pig US$12 – caught the imagination of my carnivorous taste buds, as did the pechuga de pollo con olives y salsa a la pimienta verde – chicken breast with black olives and green peppercorn sauce US$9. Mmm, my mouth is watering just typing that, let alone when I was sat there in the restaurant reading it and smelling the gastronomically enticing aromas that were floating around.
When, oh so swiftly, some of our tapas had arrived, roughly 5 minutes after ordering, what service! The waiter skipping lightly in his loafers through the door with the tray held in the palm of one hand, high above his head, he deposited our drinks on the table and then, with a casual flick of his flexible wrist, covered our groins with the heavy linen napkins in front of us, before pirouetting back through the door to collect more dishes.
Along with the napkins, we had heavyweight cutlery and Ridel wine glasses; corners had not been cut in establishing this new venture, things had been done very properly.
Tortilla Espanola – Spanish omelette – a cake-shaped wedge of this classic potato and onion omelette, beautifully presented on a square plate with a drizzle of olive oil and things, very tasty.
Calamares a la Romana– deep fried battered squid rings – ah well, this was the one, marginally, disappointing dish, the calamari had been slightly overcooked, not quite enough to turn them into elastic bands, but still overdone, alas.
Gambas al pil-pil – prawns, olive oil, garlic, chilli peppers and parsley – this dish was the star of the evening, it was so good in fact, that we were forced to order a second portion of it to stop us squabbling over who had the surplus prawn. Slices of smoked garlic fan-fried with the prawns and a couple of slivers of red chilli, heavenly!
Almejas a la marinera – baby clams, onions, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and parsley – this dish was initially overlooked because of the fervour and excitement that the prawns above had caused, but while we were waiting for our second dish of gambas, we started on it to find a very fresh and crisp tasting sauce supporting the clams.
Champinones al ajillo – mushrooms in garlic, olive oil and parsley – arrived piping hot, swimming in garlic oil which was eagerly mopped up with the extra basket of hot bread that we had ordered.
Croquetas vegetales con arroz y salsa de mile – vegetable croquettes with rice and honey sauce – were a good three inches in diameter, a crispy breadcrumb exterior that when pierced oozed a cheesy vegetable mixture that tasted so good I even forgot for a moment that it was a vegetarian dish.
The service throughout the whole evening had been exemplary, very attentive, yet never intrusive. At one point Keeping it Riel dropped his fork and before a profanity could escape his wine stained lips a waiter placed a clean one on the table in front of him, then retrieved the fallen utensil.
Upon departure, The Governor had changed his tune ‘excellent food, could not knock it if I tried, hmm, tapas, bloody good.’ Which I guess sums it up pretty succinctly. As for me, I believe that I shall be returning at some point in the near future, if only to gnaw on the flesh of some semi-wild, acorn fed, black footed pig.
Oh, one final point, I have faith in my opinion that the toilets in Pacharan were designed by Terence Conran.