The Midnight Special

Darren Gall / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
One of the many food stations serving succulent meats at the Midnight Brunch at Elephant Bar. Supplied

The “Misnomer of the Year” a friend called it. Indeed, brunch is supposed to be about sleeping in very late on the weekend and then having a relaxed, decadent and somewhat boozy meal that starts somewhere between breakfast and lunch and often rolls on until late in the afternoon.

According to the August 1896 edition of the British magazine Punch, this “excellent portmanteau word” was coined by a Guy Beringer, who a year earlier was making his case for a new style of meal, one specifically curated to suit Saturday night revelers, taken immediately after Church on Sundays.

The basic premise was to commence serving breakfast at lunchtime and move on to hardier, heavier dishes throughout the course of the afternoon.

The modern brunch is an odd concept, cocktails for breakfast and a menu that might just as well have a beef and mushroom pie sitting next to toasted muesli and Greek yoghurt. Your nine-grain, gluten-free artisan bagel will be topped off with a slice of salmon cured in “Straight Rye” whiskey and your raw, cold-pressed, organic, freshly squeezed juice will come with a healthy shot of prosecco.

Rogue dining is a dining concept where chefs out to make a name for themselves break free of the traditional models and pathways available to them to take over non-conventional spaces. Here they set up a mise-en-place and convert the site into a one night only, pop up restaurant; utilizing unusual venues to create a unique ambience and make the dining itself an event.

Quite often the public space or site chosen will require that the dining take place at an unusual hour, like midnight or even later.

One rogue dining concept that has now spread from the dining scene in New York City all the way to Phnom Penh is the Midnight Brunch, with Raffles Le Royal hotel having now hosted two very popular events.

Having completed the striking and very successful renovation of the famous Elephant Bar, it is now the turn of the hotel’s iconic Le Royal restaurant to be closed for a total refurbishment. This has left food and beverage manager Thomas Bianco with a small dilemma. Having lost his main dining outlet for a few months, he still needs to stimulate dining revenue and maintain the hotel’s connection with its guests through its cuisine.

The charming, ebullient Bianco possess many outstanding qualities that see him perfectly suited to his job, but perhaps his most valuable assets are both his own imagination and the willingness of his superiors to let him have his head. Bianco identified that whilst there were a lot of great clubs and bars in the city, there was not a lot of focus on the pre-club segment. After doing a bit of research, he discovered the New York Brunch Club and felt that this rogue dining concept –with several “live kitchen theatres” set up throughout the Elephant Bar – was just the kind of culinary fun and fancy the Cambodian club set might enjoy.

Along with a few friends, I attended the second Midnight Brunch last Saturday evening. Bianco informed us that the first one was so successful and he had received so many inquiries that a second was inevitable. Given that it was again a full house, it now looks set to become a monthly fixture on the social calendar.

For $55+ guests could partake from 9pm until midnight unlimited food from the half a dozen food stations, accompanied by a selection of custom Elephant Bar cocktails and free-flow Mumm Champagne, truly extraordinary value from a five-star hotel.

On arrival, I was given glass of a vibrant purple, “infused” gin on ice and a beaker of tonic and lemon juice to add myself. After adding the contents of the beaker, the gin started to change color from ultra-violet to a ruby beverage right before my eyes. The infusion is a local flower known as butterfly blue pea and the pigment changes color when it comes in contact with the citric acid in lemon juice. It is a neat party trick and a fun way to start the evening.

Soon the bar was full, cheer and laughter flowing along with the Champagne, the evening was dripping with promise and abandon. One food station was serving whisky cured duck, another had various cured salmon including one marinated in beetroot. The fresh pasta station had different pastas infused with squid ink, pesto, saffron and semi-sundried tomato, all hanging on display like someone’s washing.

There was a station offering Serrano ham and winter-cured salami, and there was a chef administering a flambé to the crepes. The cocktails included the hotel’s world famous “femme fatale,” said to be the preferred drink of arguably its most famous guest, Jacqueline Kennedy. And then there are the Royal’s twists on the classics.

As midnight rolled around I may have been more than ready to turn into a pumpkin than hit a club, but I had already had a wonderful evening and I’m ready to do it all again next month.

When the grand dining restaurant finally reopens under Bianco’s watch, it will no longer be solely about reminiscing and nostalgia – it will also be about making its own history and creating its own legends. I can hardly wait.

Some of the weird, wonderful cocktails serverd at Midnight Brunch Supplied

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