Good value Khmer food with class
Pi Thnou St (opposite Siem Reap provincial hospital), Old Market area, Siem Reap
T: (012) 493 948
About 100 metres from the northern end of Pub Street but a million miles from the genuine free Apsara shows, authentic Cambodian snake and crocodile barbecues and myriad piscene pedicure tanks, you will find a small haven of tranquility, a very classy little Khmer-owned and managed restaurant serving inexpensive and reliably high quality local food in zen-like surrounds.
Old House Restaurant sits in a run-of-the-mill shop terrace with a tall terracotta-tiled pitched roof, between two pharmacies and opposite Siem Reap’s Provincial Hospital. But don’t let what could be seen as a rather fortuitous proximity to a choice of emergency medical treatments put you off; behind the understated exterior lies a great eatery that is as easy on the senses as it is on the wallet.
The main drawcard here is the three-course set menu for just $6. While many unscrupulous establishments in Southeast Asia will lure you in with the promise of a multiple course meal for the price of a bag of peanuts, only to disappoint you with a meal which is… about the size of a bag of peanuts, The Old House won’t let you down. The set menu portions are not huge but they are generous enough to have left me needing a doggy bag for my tropical fruit platter dessert on more than one occasion.
Set menu starters include fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp, a refreshing banana blossom salad with smoked chicken, and lotus root salad with seafood. All these dishes are mildly spicy and even if the seafood is mainly squid with just the occasional prawn, the overall flavour is good and the ingredients all fresh.
For your set menu main course you can choose from 10 dishes, all traditionally Khmer to a greater or lesser degree. Stir-fried chicken with cashews is a good sized serving, although should be avoided if you don’t like red peppers. The most Khmer of dishes, the Old House amok, is full of flavour, with plenty of meat and not too spicy, although purists might find it, as with many of the tourist-focused restaurants, just a little too reminiscent of a Thai curry. The stir-fried grilled seafood with green Kampot pepper is a reliable take on one of Cambodia’s signature dishes, although again the seafood is mostly squid. However for $6 all-in it would be churlish to quibble. One word of warning: the set menu does not really cater for vegetarians, and although the a la carte menu has a slightly better selection of meat-free options, non-meat eaters will probably be disappointed.
Set menu desserts include tropical fruit salad and seasonal tropical fruit platter — which on my most recent visit consisted of watermelon, mango and pineapple. A popular choice is the braised bananas with coconut milk — two classic locally grown ingredients and a must-have if you have a sweet tooth.
It’s not all about eating on a budget though, and the classy interior — polished wooden floors, soft lighting, laterite feature walls with art and objet-filled alcoves — along with the calm and professional service also make it a good place for a little treat.
The a la carte menu has a great range of Khmer and Western dishes with soups from $1.50, starters from $2, salads from $2.75 and main courses ranging from just $1.75 for a simple egg fried rice with vegetables, through a variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes with rice or noodles up to a slightly extravagant $14.75 for oven-roasted imported rack of lamb.
The choice of wines is not huge but the list represents excellent value, with glasses starting at only $2.50 and bottles at $9. The Argentinian Chardonnay-Torrontes at $12.75 is a really good bet with spicy white meat, fish or seafood dishes. Oh, and they have ice buckets too, just to complete the air of sophistication.
So if the booming bass on Pub Street don’t take your fancy, walk around the corner and give yourself a break. You can always pop back for some whisky buckets and a bit of late night table-dancing once your dinner has gone down.
By Simon Hare
Last updated on 29th March, 2015.