When I heard Deco was serving sticky toffee pudding, I was on the first tuktuk over.
It brought back memories of warm gooey sponges swimming in rich butterscotch sauce served across the dinner table, after a pub lunch or even packaged from Waitrose. There isn’t one I won’t try.
So, with visions of puddings dancing in my head, I strolled into this new Phnom Penh dining spot on a Saturday night, ready to indulge.
Wrong. I discovered something that’s seldom seen in this city: a full restaurant.
Since Deco is owned and managed by the team who run Yumi, the reputation of Caspar Van Hoffmanstahl and Rob Ainge seems to be enough to get Phnom Penhnies rushing for a table. So, I tried again a few days later, this time making a reservation (which was needed, even for a Tuesday night).
There’s something Caspar and Rob and their team are doing right. In fact, there are a lot of things, other than filling a restaurant.
For starters, the design is compelling, even from the street, where the art deco logo beckons you into the courtyard and through the glass doors, fringed by black and white checkered flooring. Inside, the lighting is subdued, with art deco wall sconces and a backlit, mirrored cocktail bar providing an inviting atmosphere and everything in the room is black and white.
There are only five tables (with three more in the cocktail area and four outdoors) but, unfortunately, the acoustics in the restaurant aren’t conducive to intimate dining and it’s a challenge to have a conversation over the hubbub of other people talking. Perhaps a couple of sound baffles or carpeting on the raised cocktail section would help as the sound needs to be toned down to a gentler tenor.
The menu offers an interesting and eclectic mix of dishes whether you’re a meat-eater, a fish lover or a vegetarian.
Appetizers include spiced lentil, yoghurt, mint and spinach with flat bread ($6), Scotch quail eggs with mustard mayonnaise ($6) and chilled tomato soup ($4). I selected the beetroot and citrus salad with walnut dressing ($5) which arrived as a beautiful presentation of luscious, lightly-dressed rocket topped with chunks of beet and oranges with a deco(rative) sliver of orange peel for garnish and tasted delicious.
My husband opted for one of the newest items, the tasty Kampot crab cakes with sherry mayonnaise ($8) which was a nice-sized portion of succulent crab, coated with crunchy panko and served on a stripe of sauce.
Presentations at Deco are stunning and every dish looks like a little work of art. Flavours however, though interesting and tasty, are sometimes lacking in pizzazz, as with the beautifully presented red snapper with potato rosti and cream sauce ($10). While the rosti was crisp and tasty, I found the snapper to be a little bland and the sauce a bit too creamy for my taste.
Skip’s duck breast with cashew nut and plum sauce ($8) tasted good (they held the watermelon part of the dish since he’s not a fan) but it was a little on the fatty side. His favourite parts of the meal were the potatoes – a buttery, creamy mash and crunchy triple cooked Heston Blumenthal-style chips.
For vegetarians, there’s a mushroom risotto ($8) as well as a warm aubergine, couscous, pomegranate and sour cream dish ($7) and for carnivores, there’s a 200g deco burger and chips ($10) as well as a slow-cooked hanger steak with chimichurri sauce ($12).
The service is excellent – our water glasses were constantly topped up and dishes arrived in a timely manner and without a hitch, despite a full restaurant and Rob handling incoming customers as well as those of us at tables.
But the real test for me was in the grand finale. And, boy did it live up to its name…. A big wodge of warm sponge, smothered in pools of butterscotch cream sauce with a smidgeon of dark rum. Completely decadent and very delicious.
I’m proud to admit I ate every bite (except for the one Skip had) …but not so proud to admit I could have probably eaten another entire pudding.
Next time, I’m going straight for a seat at the bar, a beetroot salad, plate of chips and a sticky toffee pudding.
Corner of St 57 & St 352, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Website: Deco Phnom Penh
Cuisine: Modern European