A brand-new Phnom Penh restaurant with a prime location situated just a block over from the intersection of Monivong and Mao celebrated its grand opening on October 18, stirring hopes that the pandemic-era – with its far more frequent restaurant closings than openings – is truly coming to an end and the economy will soon be back on track.
You can thank Thai-Cambodian entrepreneur Thanisorn Sethasuphang for the appearance of this brand-new “bunnery” in a tastefully remodelled space on the corner of Mao Tse Toung Blvd and St 95 that is grand enough in dimensions to suggest that it may have originally been the headquarters of a bank.
Although he acknowledges the increased risks associated with opening a large restaurant these days – even if the pandemic is now winding down as everyone hopes – Thanisorn says he just got fed up with waiting and couldn’t put it off any longer, not for business reasons per se but as a way to personally keep sane.
“We decided to open the business now but it’s not because we don’t fear Covid – we take it very seriously – but with so much of the population here vaccinated and practicing good habits like wearing masks and washing hands, we felt it was time for the country to turn the corner and resume our lives,” he says.
KIN Bun House has the honour of helping people do exactly that as the first big post-pandemic entrant into the capital’s dining scene, which has been reeling this past year from lengthy bans on meals in restaurants, group gatherings and general lockdowns with curfews.
KIN’s menu contains a cornucopia of bigger-than-bite-sized baked buns with different flavours presented in various attractive colours. All of the buns are baked fresh, resulting in a perfectly on-point texture that is both crisp and chewy at the same time.
The main attraction at a restaurant calling itself a Bun House has to be the buns necessarily one might assume, but KIN’s other menu offerings make a strong case otherwise with excellent entrees and appetizers as well as unusual but interestingly flavoured drinks.
“About two months before our actual physical restaurant opening we started out with deliveries of our signature dish – the baked bun – and after two months of perfecting those recipes we began testing dishes like dim sum and adding them to the menu one-by-one as soon as we landed on the perfect version of them,” Thanisorn tells The Post.
Thanisorn began his planning for KIN Bun House by himself about two years ago with the goal of opening not just one location but creating a restaurant franchise with many locations while pursuing the dream of becoming an international brand someday.
He decided to start his own brand after entering into protracted and frustrating negotiations with established franchises that have yet to enter the Cambodian market. Some of them were interested, but none of them were ready to meet his conditions and seal the deal due to the pandemic economy.
“It took us two years to do the business plan with everything about the place specified down to the last detail. It was really challenging, but fun at the same time. All of our choices for this first restaurant directly reflect our eventual goal of building this brand into multiple locations and then exporting it to places outside of Cambodia,” he explains.
Thanisorn has a multi-ethnic background, coming from a family that is part-Chinese, part-Thai and part-Cambodian in ancestry, something that he feels has given him a nuanced familiarity with Asian cuisines and a hybrid-style of cooking with broad influences though he readily acknowledges the Hong Kong origins of their signature offerings.
“I would not say that it’s a hundred percent authentic Hong Kong restaurant, but we do have a few dishes that are fairly authentic but also some dishes that we modified so we’re using our own recipe,” says Thanisorn.
He says that anyone who travels to Hong Kong and orders dim sum will find that it’s quite different from what gets served in Cambodia typically.
“Cambodians often find the truly authentic Hong Kong flavours too strong, so over time the recipes have been adjusted to suit the local tastes – a gradual process that occurs all over the world between many different cultures – and sometimes those changes can add-up until it’s a whole new dish entirely,” he says.
Having only been open for a little over a week now, Thanisorn has been thrilled with the turn-out of curious diners KIN Bun House is so far attracting each day, including some Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong expats who only had words of praise for his versions of their traditional dishes.
“It really helps that the food is fresh because we make everything here at our in-house kitchen and we don’t store a bunch of frozen pre-made stuff forever before serving it because, let me tell you, a lot of restaurants do exactly that and their food tastes like it, unfortunately,” he says.
KIN Bun House’s eponymous buns are near-perfect creations with unique and tasty flavours packed into pleasantly warm buns that are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.
“I’m still a little frustrated with some of our deliveries because anyone who is too far away will end up getting buns that are a bit too soft and a bit too cool for my tastes, so we’re working on a fix for that. But if you want to get the full bun experience then come in person – here I can guarantee you perfect buns that are always warm and crispy when they hit your table,” Thanisorn pledges.
Thanisorn says his goal for the interior decor and atmosphere of the restaurant were to keep things clean and minimalist with much of the lighting during the day coming from the street-facing floor to ceiling windows.
The overall feel of the place is upscale-casual. You can eat there during the day wearing jeans and a t-shirt without any concerns – but you could also go there in the evening on a first date wearing something a little nicer too – and the central location on bustling Mao Blvd makes it a natural choice for business meetings or working lunches.
Thanisorn says that everyone – no matter if they are rich or poor or whatever their race or nationality – should feel welcome at KIN Bun House and be able to enjoy its high quality but affordable food in comfort and convenience.
The food on the menu definitely lives up to those standards as all of it is affordable – as little as 5,000 riel for some of their buns, though you’ll probably want to order several of them to make a meal – and everything we tried was delicious.
KIN Bun House is off to a great start but Thanisorn has enough experience in the restaurant business to know that things may not always go this smoothly for him and he says he’s ready for those challenges.
“It’s a really tough job at times, but food has been my passion from the start. I studied culinary arts in Thailand and went to cooking school – as well as taking courses in hospitality and tourism management – so I feel ready to solve whatever problems come my way and to work hard and earn some success,” he says.
When asked if he had any parting words for The Post’s readership, Thanisorn thought for a moment and then spoke with a warm smile.
“I’m going to tell you our food is great, because it is. But don’t just take my word for it – of course I would tell you that – even if it wasn’t. The only way to find out for sure is to come and try our food, and if you do then I’m certain you’ll understand the truth of my words.
“And you’ll get to enjoy some really excellent buns, which is actually much better than proving me right, at least for yourselves it definitely is,” he says with a laugh.
KIN Bun House is open every day from 7am-8pm and it is located at No. 46 Mao Tse Toung Blvd at the corner of St 95.
Delivery is available through Nham24 and Grab or by calling 093 285 599.
For more information, they can be contacted via their Facebook page: @KINBunHouse