Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Malis and Topaz, 2 of the Capital's Best High End Restaurants

February 12, 2018
My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.



MALIS AND TOPAZ: TWO OF THE BEST HIGH-END RESTAURANTS IN PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA


Ayo sis*! I’ve found the Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Phnom Penh’s restaurant scene. Like the Sweet Valley High twins who have so little in common, these two restaurants exist almost side by side - separated by a 5 minute walk on the same street in downtown Phnom Penh - and belong to the same family (Thalias, a leading company in the Cambodian hospitality industry), yet seem like polar opposites: one being a revival of an almost-forgotten traditional Cambodian cooking style, and the other being French haute cuisine that is classic and unlikely to ever go extinct let alone out of vogue. Like the Wakefield twins, the two restaurants have more in common than their personalities suggest: both Malis and Topaz represent an era in Cambodian history, both are two of the most highly-rated restaurants in Phnom Penh. Want to keep it in the family next time you’re in the city? I got you, fam...


MALIS RESTAURANTTOPAZ RESTAURANT 

*I’m stanning Aja for All Stars 3, can you tell? She levelled that pussy UP!



My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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MALIS


 Malis seemed a world apart from the cacophony of the city. Despite its prime downtown location (Malis is a mere hop and skip away from Independence Monument) the restaurant is a study in tranquility. I turned the corner around white stone walls and was greeted by a giant statue of Buddha, his serene expression welcoming this weary and hungry visitor into a restorative space.

The restaurant, colonial and traditional in style, is built around a fish pond and surrounded by lush, thick layers of tropical plants. For this reason, dining al fresco is just as comfortable as in an air-conditioned room, but with the added bonus of the sweet scent of flowering frangipani wafting in from the garden. It was my great and unusual fortune to be in Phnom Penh during an unseasonable chill (that’s 20c in this part of the world), so being seated beside the pond and enjoying the best of the breeze was a “silk scarf around shoulders” affair, adding more of a surreal air (pun not intended) to my extraordinary surroundings.



My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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A CULTURAL AND CULINARY REVIVAL

Like a hearty meal, heritage and culture are best served warm and fresh, lest they fade from consciousness and risk being forgotten among the annals of time. The analogy may be a bit of a stretch, but the mission at Malis is sincere: Malis was born out of the desire to restore Cambodian cuisine to its former glory by keeping alive traditional Cambodian recipes that had nearly gone extinct following the Khmer Rouge regime of the ‘70s. 


My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.




Master Chef Luu Meng and his team not only bring forgotten Khmer dishes back to life, they also adapt it with modern twists. The result is new age Cambodian cuisine that pushes the boundaries of fusion food; by taking the past and updating it for the present to preserve it for the future. For these efforts, Malis is a landmark restaurant that has earned a deserved reputation for excellence and for helping put Cambodia back on the map as a culinary destination.

And what a destination - every dish took me on a delicious journey through the best of Cambodia’s gastronomical offerings. Pan-fried scallops with green peppercorns, deep fried soft shell crab, fish amok (a Cambodian traditional dish of fish curry, marinated in a lemongrass curry paste and steamed in a banana leaf basket) all went down a treat with side dishes of fragrant Jasmine rice and mango salad. A dessert of “Palm in Coconut” (young palm fruit cooked in coconut milk and served with a coconut jelly and vanilla ice cream, below) ended the meal on a sweet and thoroughly satisfying note.

All in all, Malis was my kind of history lesson in my favourite sort of classroom - a tasty meal in a tasteful restaurant.



My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.



TOPAZ

A GASTRONOMICAL GEM IN A COLONIAL SETTING

Displaying a different facet of Cambodian history is Topaz, the sister restaurant of Malis. Topaz is a culinary celebration of the country’s French influence, when Cambodia was part of Indochina. Topaz ranks among the top fine dining French restaurants in the Asia Pacific region and is consistently lauded as one of Phnom Penh’s best restaurants (as well as the city’s most expensive restaurant), with a loyal clientele including members of the country’s royal family.

For good reason: this bijou restaurant whispers ‘c’est chic’ through and through. The setting is elegant and contemporary; from the fish pond spanning the floor to double height-ceiling windows of the main indoor dining room to the outdoor dining area's centrepiece of a giant Banyan Tree floating on a pond. There’s an air of discretion throughout the restaurant - whether its the subtle attentions of white-gloved waitstaff as they attend to the well-heeled diners, or the impression of cozy nooks enhanced by the warm wood decor. In fact, everything is so subtle that I had no idea Topaz also has several private dining rooms, a brandy library, one of the most impressive wine cellars in Cambodia, and most astonishingly - a ballroom. Truly a multifaceted gem.


My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
THE OLDEST SURVIVING BANYAN TREE OF NORODOM BOULEVARD.
My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
THE TABLE WITH THE BEST VIEW.
My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.

My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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My review of two of Phnom Penh's best high-end restaurants - Malis and Topaz by Thalias.
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The menu at Topaz is, naturally, a showcase of the best of French cuisine. Whether it’s fresh oysters, caviar, homemade foie gras, escargots, exceptional steaks; everything is prepared using traditional French techniques. The expertise and skill in the kitchen is the legacy of Master Chef Alain Darc - aka “Papa" - who has dedicated over a decade to training a generation of young Cambodians in the ways of one of the world’s greatest culinary cultures. The reverence to the ‘source material’ as it were is taken even further, with many ingredients flown in directly from the Marché Rungis in Paris. 

It felt not only safe but also right to indulge in one of my favourite dishes which demands a certain precision. My steak tartare was prepared exactly as it should - before my eyes, with the freshest meat and egg, and with just the right ratio of onions, capers, Tabasco, and Lea & Perrins sauce. The foie gras was seared to perfection - again, another indulgence I would never eat outside of a less than reputable French restaurant. Pudding was a chocolate souffle that sliced opened to reveal a piping hot melting middle topped with Tahitian vanilla ice-cream; as well as another dessert of passionfruit sorbet and coconut ice-cream. All of it perfect from start to finish.


My tastebuds sufficiently seen to by 2 of Phnom Penh's best high end restaurants, it was time for my appetite for culture to be satiated. And just like its restaurant scene, the city delivered. Next, my guide to 24 Hours in Phnom Penh...

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