I arrived in Phnom Penh on Monday. It’s the second time I’ve been here in 2014 and I am so glad to be back! After a fairly uneventful journey (the only blip being Cathay Pacific serving regular bread with the on flight gluten-free meal, which was not ideal – never trust the bread!), I’ve been spending my first week unwinding by the pool, going for walks with the family and catching up on some last-minute Christmas shopping.
One of my favourite things about Phnom Penh is the great boutique hotel and restaurant scene. Sure, you get some of the same chains here that you do everywhere else, but there are so many options for going out – great bars, independent restaurants, shops and galleries that I can’t wait to cover this trip! The cocktails here are also incredible – and for about an eighth of London prices too. It’s safe to say that so far, I’m having a pretty incredible Christmas.
One of the first places I went for lunch here was Friends the Restaurant, #215 Street 13 in Phnom Penh. It came highly recommended by my friends, not just due to the menu – a selection of Asian and Western-inspired tapas – but because of the restaurants’ work with the local community. Friends is a TREE restaurant, providing on-the-job training and skills for marginalized street youth, giving them valuable skills to help secure their futures. I love this idea, and there are several places throughout Cambodia that have initiatives like these, which are absolutely great as you can really see the programs at work. Last time I was here, I went to Dine in the Dark, another great experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, and a great social initiative.
We sat in the outside area, guided there by a member of staff in a ‘student’ t-shirt. The students and the teachers of the program can be told apart in this way – often the students would be waiting on tables with the watchful eye of the teachers nearby.
I loved the concept for this restaurant, and for this reason I hadn’t particularly set the bar high regarding the food. I was really pleasantly surprised after being presented with a simple but charming and imaginative tapas menu, with locally sourced ingredients and flavours.
I had a pineapple and chilli margarita with my meal, and really liked the combination (I’ll have chilli in anything given half a chance), but it’s certainly not for everyone. The drinks menu was extensive, with lots of variety, which is always a plus.
2-3 plates per person are recommended, between $4.50 – $8 per plate, with some dishes (like the 3B burger) slightly more, around $15. We went for the crispy zucchini and cheddar fritters, baby squid with Kampot pepper and rice wine, a grilled beef fillet with daikon and chive flowers served with a wasabi mirin vinaigrette and the sun-dried tomato hummus with crispy wonton wrappers.
The vegetarian options were my definite favourite – I loved the fritters, which were served with a chilli mayonnaise sauce, and the hummus, tomato and basil-topped wonton wrappers were lovely.
The squid and beef fillet were also tasty – I love daikon, but the whole Kampot peppercorns were a slight surprise and biting into them was not a particularly pleasant experience, despite the fact that I love the stuff.
Besides the fritters, the dessert was my favourite part of the meal. I clearly hadn’t had enough pineapple or chilli with my margarita, as I went straight for the caramelised pineapple with chilli ice cream. The warm caramel and pineapple combined with the cold ice cream was a real treat for the senses. I loved the ice cream – it seemed to be warm and cool at the same time, really unusual and something I’d definitely try again.
At some points there seemed to be a lull in service, despite Friends the restaurant not being particularly packed, but that might be due to the fact that we missed the lunchtime rush. I really enjoyed my Friends dining experience – a nice, interesting meal for a worthy cause.
Friends the restaurant is located at : #215 Street 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
+855 12 802 072