I am that annoyingly enthusiastic person who is always harping on about eating all the local or traditional foods of the place I am visiting. Little to no research is done on what to see or do, but I’ve always got a list as long as my arm of dishes to try or restaurants to visit. However, there are times when my dogged determination in search of the exotic, authentic or down-right unusual takes its toll on our poor tastebuds, and we find ourselves craving a taste of the familiar. We ate some of the most incredible cuisines in South East Asia, but even I had to admit that you could have too much of a good thing. About once a month we hit pause on anything eaten with chopsticks, anywhere the dining table view was the roadside, and anything we couldn’t pronounce. Which is how we ended up at Khema, a French restaurant and deli with two sites in the heart of Phnom Penh.
After a hot and sweaty tuk tuk ride which took twice as long as it should have, walking into the cool and calm Khema La Poste in the recently rejuvenated Post Office area was a dream. In a past life, this space was a nightclub, but now it is all understated French chic and sophistication. Open all day, we chose to meet in the middle and lunch among the bustling array of local and expat business clientele. I imagine many of them would take advantage of the generous and well-priced lunch menu, a three course offering which changes every two weeks depending on the seasons and chef’s whims. I was tempted, but the a la carte menu filled with familiar favourites was too appealing.
Beef carpaccio was one such dish, and the breathtakingly thin discs of beef did not disappoint this long-time lover of dainty raw beef things. All it needed was a healthy sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper, and it was ready to melt in our mouths. The chef’s salad came highly recommended and unsurprisingly, given the mountainous portion, is one of Khema’s most popular dishes. The luscious heap of salad greens, tomatoes, olives, cucumber and whatever else was fresh that day, was topped with slices of ham they make in-house and cheese they import from France. In fact, they import all their cheese and cured meat from France; their selection is probably the best in town which is why their cheese and charcuterie platters are such a hit.
Coq au vin was a risky order for a certain someone as there was a recent disastrous experience in an overrated French establishment in Luang Prabang. There, the chicken was tough and that sauce, which he had hoped to dip crusty French bread into, was nowhere to be found. He fared much better with Khema’s succulent chicken which fell away from the bone with a gentle nudge. The sauce could have been more abundant, but there was enough of it to ooze the warmth and flavours of this classic French comfort food.
My cravings for puff pastry (believe me, not easily found in South East Asia) led me to the Beef Wellington, which perhaps should actually be called filet de boeuf en croute, given the French theme. But you can call it whatever you like, it’s the taste that matters. My only minor disappointment was that I had asked for beef to be cooked medium rare, and it came out closer to medium. Overdone for me, but not necessarily game over for the whole dish because the beef itself was still exceptionally tender and there were no soggy bottoms to be seen on the pastry. Combined with the mash potatoes and gravy, this is was one satisfying plate of food.
Dessert seemed like overkill but then someone mentioned lemon meringue tart and chocolate fondant, and I miraculously found my second stomach. The tart, pretty as it was, had some flaws; a tart case which was too thick and stodgy, and so much meringue even the eye-wateringly sharp lemon curd was no match for. The fondant passed the ‘gooey centre’ with ease, the decadent chocolate sauce flowing out of it like an rampant volcano. A few mouthfuls and I was defeated, it’s good but do yourself a favour and have a light main so you can fully appreciate the chocolate goodness.
Khema delivered a delightful lunch experience but it seems this restaurant and deli wins fans at all times of the day. Their breakfast and weekend brunch offerings are well loved for the exceptional eggs and free-flowing servings, while the afternoons will see ladies of leisure pile in for tea, cake, and conversation. If we were in town for longer, a cheese and charcuterie platter would have been on the cards because it’s near impossible to get the really good stuff in these parts… and finally, dinner is always a special treat. Their a la carte menu might be the same but the ambience is more elegant and sultry – perfect for those date nights. Khema is the place to go if you find yourself craving a break from the local cuisine and in the mood for being whisked away to a sophisticated French brasserie for the day!
Are you a fan of eating local when you travel?
Thank you to Khema for magnifique French fare, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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