Photo: Wat Lanka, Phnom Penh.

Van's Restaurant

Lunch with a side of history

5 Street 102, Place de la Poste, Phnom Penh
T: 023 722 067 
[email protected]
http://www.vans-restaurant.com

Van's Restaurant

Van’s Restaurant is located in the atmospheric former Banque de L’Indochine. They serve up excellent French cuisine in their hushed main room, with a bar on the roof offering panoramic streetside views ideal for sunset or a later aperitif.

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A bit chilly, but that’s history, right?

The bank was established to serve mainly Chinese merchants and the French in 1890. Skirting Post Office Square and near Wat Phnom, it was located right in the heart of the French administrative district during the colonial era. The present building was opened around 1900 and sold to a private owner in 1960. After the Khmer Rouge were ousted, the building was used as the State Rural Development Bank; in 2004 it was rented back to the children of the former private owner, according to a sign posted at the restaurant today.

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In the thick of it.

The children aim to help preserve history by “matching the authentic taste of French cuisine with the classic French architectural style of the Belle-Epoche”. The main vaults these days house Van’s offices — you can still see their green steel doors. In the centre of the restaurant, one floor up, you’ll see “ICB” in original mosaic tiles on the floor (standing for Indochina Bank, which doesn’t sound anywhere near as romantic in English). The wood panelling and ceiling frescoes are also original.

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The ICB monogramme is sort of bottom right.

If you didn’t know the history of the building, the vast restaurant space might seem a little austere, though it’s softened by soaring curtains, muted glass and flowers. While you may want to come for the history, we found the food to be delicious, and not too pricey if you come for one of their lunch set menus — and consider it part of an entry fee into an historical sight. (Incidentally Van’s gets a mention in Hunters in the Dark, the 2015 novel by Lawrence Osborne, which we didn’t love, but others lavished praise on it, so what do we know?)

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The right sort of spot for a tete-a-tete.

A two-course set lunch menu is $15, or three courses go for $20, inclusive of a drink. It’s on the expensive end of the scale for Phnom Penh, but a steal by Western standards considering the quality and surrounds. If you're an historian on a budget, just stick your head in around opening time!

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History at every turn.

Our meal began with a smoked salmon and red onion amuse bouche, and was served with warmed bread rolls and butter on the side.

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French comfort food. With added Kampot pepper.

We had the sauteed beef with Kampot pepper and straw potatoes, which was lovely and peppery, with the crunchy potatoes a great match for the tender beef. Other options included seafood skewers with pesto and risotto, duck leg blanquette with vegetables and lamb ravioli with mint and zucchini with citrus.

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From the school of slightly fussy, it’s true, but delicious.

We followed it with a divine Alsatian tart with cinnamon ice cream and coffee on the side.

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Plenty of view to go around.

Despite the history, this isn’t a popular spot with tourists — at least for lunch. On our visit the clientele was a mixture of expats and Khmers, some business, some having a social catch up (we were eavesdropping).

We’d come back for an evening cocktail and expect the atmosphere to be more convivial and a touch less sombre, with great views over the square to see Phnom Penh’s crazy rush hour.


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Van's Restaurant
5 Street 102, Place de la Poste, Phnom Penh
Daily 11:30-14:30, 17:00-22:30
T: 023 722 067 
[email protected]
http://www.vans-restaurant.com

Location map for Van's Restaurant