There is a definite buzz in Phnom Penh these days, audible above the everyday rumble of the slow-moving traffic – and one of the new, not-to-be-missedattractions is The Common Tiger. Set up by South African chef Timothy Bruyns, who worked previously on North Island in the Seychelles and more recently at Song Saa, an extraordinarily beautiful island resort off the coast of Cambodia, the restaurant offers a vibrant take on the region’s cuisine – one that Bruyns describes as “progressive Asian”.
Under a leafy mango tree on the eatery’s wooden deck, Bruyns talked about life in Phnom Penh, the explosion of restaurants – some 300 have opened in the last year alone – the pleasure of hopping on a bike and going to the market each morning to decide what to cook, and his desire to promote local ingredients as much as possible. As the conversation flowed, my travelling companion, Olivia, and I were served a steady stream of flavourful dishes from the weekly changing menu.
We started with an irresistibly warm and tangy, smoked brown butter on freshly baked cumin focaccia ($4.50), followed by tuna ($9) – raw, cured and served with banana heart, hot basil and som tam dressing. The dish was perfectly balanced; zingy in the mouth, but not so much that the individual flavours couldn’t be tasted.
My companion had cured breast of duck with seared heart and liver bonbon ($8), which she declared excellent. Our main course was pan-roasted sea bass with a peanut crust and tamarind, white onion and fried greens with a hint of palm sugar and ginger glaze ($13). Again, the success was all in the balance of flavours and play of textures – from the crunchy crust to the soft fish.
We finished with white-chocolate and coconut-milk ice cream ($8.50) – a refreshing note of cool in the humidity of the city… just like the restaurant, really.