Another French Masterpiece

Darren Witcoop / Reuters No Comments Share:
Shophouse turned tradtional French bistro La Provence makes a definitive impression. Supplied

An Englishman, a Belgian and an Aussie walk into a French bistro…

Anyone who has read the works of Peter Mayle or admired the aching beauty and incandescent pallet of Van Gogh’s paintings around Arles or Saint Remy cannot fail to be romanced by the French region of Provence. Matisse described the light there as “soft and tender, despite its brilliance.”

In Phnom Penh, between Kandal and Old markets on Street 118, about a block and a half from the river amidst a cluster of down-at-heal- looking KTV joints, you will find La Provence. This small French bistro is a veritable oasis of charming tranquility amidst the maelstrom and madness that is rainy season in the heart of darkness.

Another shophouse transformed into a traditional French bistro, this works better than most with its bright pastel colors, shiny new, clean and uncluttered shelves and its impressive, jade colored, marble-top bar.

My first trip to La Provence was only last week, for National Pinot Noir Day. I had lunch there with an Englishman, a Belgian and a fine bottle of Mercurey. We all found the dining exceptional, gushing with praise as we strode back out onto the street, giddy with Pinot Noir and Bonne acclamation.

Feeling the experience somewhat enchanted, I ventured there again a few nights later, alone to try different dishes, and am delighted to be able to report that once again, it was brilliant.

There are 12 seats at the long, curved bar, eight in the front section of the restaurant and the eight more in the lavender colored little courtyard out front on the pavement. Inside, the walls are adorned with framed movie posters, each with a connection to the region of Provence.

The restaurant is owned and operated by Rodolphe Seiller, a tall, thin, somewhat suave looking gentleman of indiscriminate age who has spent many years in hospitality roaming from Provence through Africa and Asia. It would seem that both his connection to his homeland and his experiences abroad have served him very well.

In the kitchen is chef Bunra, a late twenty-something Khmer woman who used to do the cooking at Ocean Restaurant in BKK1. She is indeed a great talent and her skills – combined with Rodolphe’s knowledge and experience – is turning out food of outstanding quality, especially for the prices asked.

The dishes are full of freshness and the quality of ingredients shines through, with good technique and lots of know-how in the kitchen. The service staff are very charming and eager to please, smiling and friendly, which adds a bit of welcome joy to the dining experience. The menu board offers a typically modest selection of seven dishes, plus two desserts and a cheese. Prices range from $6 up to $15 for the Dijonnais beef.

Over the two meals, I managed to sample most dishes. The highlights were the Carpaccio Cipriani, said to come from the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. The original Carpaccio was invented by the owner Giuseppe Cipriani when he was at the word famous Harry’s Bar, which he also founded.

Cipriani invented the dish in 1963 for a friend, Amalia Nani Mocenigo, and rather than employing the customary arugula and Parmesan cheese, he napped his dish with a sauce of mayonnaise aromatized with lemon and Worcestershire sauce and thinned out with a bit of milk.

The recreation here is incomparable and special, with the subtle acidity and creaminess of the sauce working magically with the raw beef.

The tagliatelles aux morels is also a revelation with the aromas and flavors of the morels in the sauce superb and the texture of the pasta perfect. In fact, it was impossible to fault a dish and all the sauces were outstanding. The Tomme de Savoie cheese to finish was also exceptional.

Just as the great impressionists of the Belle Epoque were drawn to Provence for inspiration, La Provence bistro has left a definite impression on me and I shall now be seeking inspiration there on a regular basis.

La Provence,
#48 Street 118,
Phnom Penh.
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Phone: 096 999 0278

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