Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise


‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise

Lighting glares above the tables.
Lighting glares above the tables. Charlotte Pert

‘Fine dining’ doesn’t fulfil its promise

Phnom Penh has no shortage of Italian food: there is the cosy, deli-style Piccolo Italia da Luigi; the crispy pizzas at Limoncello and the fabulous gnocchi at Opera Café, washed down with red wine and jazz. Caravan’s, which opened a month ago, promises to bring “Italian fine dining” to the table.

And promise there is: on Sihanouk Boulevard, close to Norodom, the restaurant offers a prime view of Independence Monument, glorious when lit up at night. But when I dined there with friends last week, I found there to be almost no substance behind the shiny façade.

The staff did their absolute best to be welcoming. Before we’d even stepped inside, two waiting staff eagerly bombarded us with questions and tripped over themselves to invite us in, as though to leave us to our own devices would risk us slipping through their fingers. When we sat down, they gathered around our table – the only one occupied – and stood watching. Unnerved, we moved nearer the door and further away from the bar, which was marginally more private.

Caravan’s tortellini a fungo: I couldn’t taste any mushroom.
Caravan’s tortellini a fungo: I couldn’t taste any mushroom. Charlotte Pert

As with the service, so much effort was put into the décor that it was affronting. The tables, draped in white tablecloths, are set in the style appropriate to a fine-dining experience. But it’s all chillingly ostentatious. Walls are painted a garish gold colour with a shiny veneer, paintings in a faux-Picasso style hang on the walls, and the lighting, mostly dark, glared above us at the tables. It felt as though we were on a film set that could collapse at any second.

A first glance at the menu’s high prices prompted an intake of breath: $6 to $8 for appetisers; pasta dishes that ranged between $8.50 and $27, and as much as $30 for a main course of meat or fish. A cut of Kobe beef steak was a whopping $67. But then again, it was fine dining I expected – more fool me.

Our main courses were disappointing – obscenely so, when taking the price into consideration. I ordered tortellini a fungo ($9.50), described on the menu as “mushroom tortellini stewed in a tomato sauce, butter, chopped parsley”. It was in fact a very ungenerous portion of what tasted like undercooked pasta from a tin, covered in Heinz tomato soup. I couldn’t taste any mushroom.

A friend’s salmone grigliato was flavourless and unseasoned and came with sides of a peculiar spinach puree and lumpy mashed potatoes. It cost $20.50. The torta al cioccolato caldo dessert didn’t prompt too many complaints, but at $12.50 it was more than double the price of similar dishes available elsewhere in the city.

I don’t know what kind of clientele Caravan’s is trying to draw in. In Phnom Penh, $80 between three people – a price that includes just two glasses of wine – is a lot of money for cuisine that is underwhelming to say the least. Management is going to have to push the views of the monument as a selling point unless the menu is drastically improved, and fast.

Caravan’s, #68 Sihanouk Boulevard.

MOST VIEWED

  • Typhoon Noru brings flash floods – 16 dead

    An official warned that that the 16th typhoon of the season, Noru, had brought heavy rains to areas the Mekong River and flooded thousands of homes in the provinces bordering Thailand. As of September 27, the death toll from the flooding had risen to 16. National Committee

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement