Friendly French couple’s stylish eatery aims to provide a place for fresh food and chilled sundowners
Neither French photographer Cochise Ory, nor his partner Borany Mam – an unpaid restorationist at the National Museum – have a hospitality background, but with smart design, good food and a friendly atmosphere, their first attempt at an eatery/bar is a welcome addition to the burgeoning drinking and dining strip in Tonle Bassac’s Street 308.
Bistrot Bassac – sandwiched between two other newly opened bars in the now-bustling laneway – is a narrow, stylishly renovated shophouse with a spare aesthetic and largely French expat clientele. The walls have been painted in clean white and dark grey panels, and are hung with a series of photographs by Jean-Luc Moreau Deleris titled “Koi Fish”, and the floor is laid with an art deco-style tile pattern. Downstairs is a casual dining area lit by bare incandescent bulbs, while upstairs is an open-air terrace purpose-built for quiet sundowners.
Ory, who was named after a 19th-century chief from the native-American Chiricahua Apache tribe (“I think my parent’s maybe smoked too much weed,” he quips), said he and Mam, 30, had been looking for an opportunity to open a business, and when they saw the space for rent in December last year, immediately put down a deposit. Bistrot Bassac is only one of more than a dozen new expat-oriented bars and restaurants that have opened in what was a quiet residential area only 18 months ago.
“This street is beginning to be the place to be in Phnom Penh,” he said. “It’s crazy right now. Every week we have people come in and ask us if there are any other buildings available to rent.”
The renovation – assisted by Mam’s French-Cambodian father who specialises in such work – took only a month and a half. They were going for a “’50s industrial” look and almost everything was custom made, said Ory. He was particularly proud of the wooden and cast iron stools and plans to prepare a catalogue to sell them and other bespoke items.
“The place is supposed to be an art gallery as well as a restaurant,” he added. “Every two months, we will have a new exhibition.”
The short chalkboard menu is split between Western fare – such as ceviche, beef carpaccio, burgers – and local dishes including eggplant puree and pork and chicken and ginger. Prices range from $2.50 for a small bowl of refreshing cucumber and mint soup to $8.50 for beef tartare and French fries. Delicious-sounding cocktails like the Mademoiselle Say (vodka, watermelon, passionfruit, lime, mint, cane sugar) cost $4 to $5 each. Beers start at $2.
While he had never worked in a restaurant before, Ory said he was passionate about food and cooking. It was important to him that all the ingredients were fresh. Nothing frozen. Everything was bought in the morning and used during the day.
“I make my food like I would for guests in my own home,” he said. “My plate is maybe not so beautiful, but I try to create something that is unpretentious and tastes good.”
He especially recommends the beef tartare: an Asian-influenced variation on the French classic which tosses in coriander, spring and red onions, soy sauce, mint, homemade mayonnaise and a dash of Tabasco. While it doesn’t look particularly appetising, the raw mince beef patty has a soft texture and the fresh herbs make it a healthy, tasty, protein-rich meal.
The homemade fries, as well, taste a lot better than they look.
Ory said he wanted the place to be welcoming and unpretentious, and have a close relationship with the customers. Already, regular customers were coming in two or three times every week. In fact, the place has been almost uncomfortably busy.
“We were not prepared for this so soon – we thought it would be calm and relaxing – but we are happy that people like the place,” Ory said.
Bistrot Bassac is located at #38 Street 308. Tel: 070 902 021.