I’ve been trying to get to Phnom Penh Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurant in Chinatown for ages now. I’ve heard about it around a zillion times, and I just haven’t seemed to venture there yet. I’m not sure what had been been stopping me, but I needed to put an end to the waiting, and decided to finally go there for dinner tonight with a girlfriend.
When we showed up at around 7 PM, it was filled to the brim as I was expecting. We sat down after putting our name forward, and we had to wait about 5 minutes for a couple of tables to be seated before us – even the large tables were being filled by multiple large parties!
As we walked down to the back left of the restaurant to our table, I kept peering over at all of the dishes we passed by to see if there was anything that looked interesting to me along the way. Upon sitting down, we already knew of three menu items that we wanted, but the choices were so vast, so we still spent quite a bit of time going over it before finding a fourth dish to round off our meal.
We opted to just have the tea that they brought to our table once we sat down, and then started ordering. We were very happy to see that some of the popular dishes came in half sizes so that we could try more food; nonetheless, our server seemed impressed with the amount two small Asian diners were planning on pounding back – when I said “…and we’ll see if we want anything else later,” he replied with, “if you’re lucky to finish that!”
He obviously hasn’t seen my friend and I eat before.
The first dish to come to the table was the Butter Beef. Earlier in the evening, I was asking around a bit to see what was popular, and another friend of mine who frequents the bustling restaurant told me to order it. She did say the look of the rare meat kind of threw her off, but once I had my first bite, I knew that this was a winner. It was covered in cilantro, and something that looked like fish flakes – I can’t be sure what it was, and can’t find the detailed menu online anywhere – but it was salty and complemented the dish very well. The sauce was slightly sweet and may have also contained a hint of balsamic vinaigrette, so when eating it over some steamed jasmine rice, it was absolutely delicious! What I don’t understand for sure is how it was cooked – perhaps it was seared with a torch?
Next came the Garlic Chili Chicken Wings. I’ve never heard so much hype about a dish before, but I’d have to say that people back in Vietnam have probably even heard of this item at Phnom Penh in Vancouver! So of course, we had to try it. And when walking to our table, this was the dish that we saw the most often. What I really enjoyed about them were their crunchiness, along with the fact that there were the drummettes, wings, and also just the wingtips (I’m not sure what you would call that part specifically). Of course, the garlic didn’t hurt either. This came with a light dipping sauce that consisted of fine black pepper and lemon, and a few other ingredients that I wasn’t sure about; however, I preferred to just eat the wings without it after I had tried it a few times.
The Garlic Chili Squid was very similar – it had the same toppings and light sauce and garnishes. This was my second favourite of the night, and was so addicting. The squid were cooked just right and weren’t chewy, and the crispness was so divine. I could eat it like popcorn – in fact, that’s exactly what I did.
Last of all, the Trieu Chau Steamed Dumplings arrived. These looked quite interesting and came served with a balsamic vinaigrette sauce on the side. The small glutinous shells were filled with boiled egg, Chinese sausage, pork, mushrooms, and maybe one or two other items, and were topped with cilantro and fish flakes (again, I think). Have I told you before how much I love cilantro? Unfortunately, even with the delicious chili sauce and vinaigrette added to these, they didn’t have quite enough flavour for me. They were listed on the Kitchen’s Specials section of the menu, but I’d actually say that this was my least favourite of our mains for the evening. Not bad by any means, but just not all that exciting – I would bet that there are plenty of other items that would trump these that I’d prefer when I return.
Although we couldn’t quite finish off everything on our plates, we still made some room for dessert and took another look at the long list of sweet treats available. I picked a couple and we decided to share those as well. The first one was the Iced Rainbow Drink, which I’ve had before. This version didn’t come with coconut milk in it though, and I think it would’ve been much better off if it did. The juice wasn’t all that flavourful, but I really enjoyed the small pieces of jackfruit and pandan jellies within. There were also a few too many beans for my taste. Next time I get this, I will stick to the one at the Cambie Vietnamese Restaurant.
Last but not least was the White Bean Coconut. When making the choice for the final item, I asked what this was like and our server said that it was a warm white bean dessert with rich coconut milk on top. This also had sticky (glutinous) rice within. I’m not a huge white bean fan, as it turns out, as it just feels more like something healthy to eat in your entree, and not in your dessert (although I like red beans – go figure). What would’ve made this better is if they took out the beans and threw in some freshly sliced mango instead (but that would just make it Thai). Or else maybe crush up the white beans a bit?
Phnom Penh has the type of atmosphere you expect from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but the food is phenomenal and I’m glad to see that it lives up to its hype! This is definitely one place that I’ll be returning to again and again.
Phnom Penh (no website)
244 E Georgia St
Vancouver, BC, V6A 1Z7