Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A reservations-only taste of home



A reservations-only taste of home

For now, Amine Mdidech runs his reservations-only restaurant on his own.
For now, Amine Mdidech runs his reservations-only restaurant on his own. Scott Howes

A reservations-only taste of home

At the top of a narrow, Mediterranean-blue staircase, behind an unmarked wooden door, French-Moroccan chef Amine Mdidech serves dinner to just four tables each night.

Open for two months, Casablanca is currently operating with reservations only. It’s less for the air of exclusivity than as a matter of practicality: Mdidech serves as the restaurant’s host, chef and waiter all at once.

He arrives an hour or two before his diners, to begin preparing the night’s meal. There are always two rotating entrees on offer, often slow cooked with market-fresh ingredients. The chef needs time.

In fact, Mdidech opened Casablanca partially with an aim to slow things down. He says he wants his restaurant to feel like a home. And he greets his guests that way: the chef has an air of formality, but his friendly banter reveals a comfort with strangers integral to his one-man show.

“I wanted something completely different in Phnom Penh,” he explains. “I always felt like [at restaurants in the city] it was just, ‘Give me my money and go away’. I would like a special relationship with my guests.”

Mdidech grew up in Fez – a city famed for its labyrinthine streets and alleyways – and despite taking the larger city’s name, his restaurant seems to retain some of its old-world charm. It occupies a remodelled French-style apartment with a vaulted ceiling and a breezy, wraparound balcony. A dimly lit roof beckons – for the dry season.

Casablanca’s duck tagine.
Casablanca’s duck tagine. Scott Howes

The chef says that, as with the other things, he embarked on the two-year construction project by himself. He had been immediately taken with the space. “The tile reminds me of the tiles of my childhood,” he says.

At the age of 5, Mdidech started learning to cook at home. “My first meal was an omelette,” he laughs.

He later moved in with his grandmother, who he says was a “really famous cook” in Fez. There, he picked up her habits – and some of her recipes. “Today, what I propose in Casablanca, is what I learned from her,” he says.

On the menu one night this week were braised beef ribs slow-cooked with Moroccan spices (his grandmother’s recipe) and cauliflower; and duck tagine, served with pumpkin paste, carrots, raisins and grapes. (The chef notes that he can tweak the menu for vegetarians or allergies.) The meat was remarkably tender and the Moroccan flavour a welcome addition to the Phnom Penh palate.

Before the main dishes arrived, Post Weekend was served seven different starters – black olives, potato salad flavoured with cumin and lemon, and a summer salad with grilled pepper and tomato. And dessert followed: fruit salad accompanied with a seemingly bottomless cup of Moroccan mint tea. The entire experience – excluding wine and cocktails – comes in at $15 per head.

After leaving Fez, Mdidech studied in France and worked in restaurants in Paris. The influence is apparent in his restaurant’s quite comfortable take on fine dining. “The Moroccan food that I make, it also includes my French experience,” he says.

It’s unclear how the reservations-only model will fare – it’s pretty untested in Phnom Penh – but while Mdidech’s line is open, it’s worth the call.

Casablanca is located at #170 Street 278 (near the corner with Street 63) on the first floor. To reserve a table, call 096 672 3660.

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Mr Pancake or M Crepe? Tasty by any title

    Crowds of people gather around a lone man with a mobile food cart every day at around 2pm in front of the Institut Francais du Cambodge to order what many say are the best crepes in Phnom Penh. To some – even to the man making

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Phnom Penh condo market loses steam

    Just four new condominiums were launched for sale last year in the capital, down from 17 in 2020, according to research by CBRE Cambodia. The four developments comprised “more than 1,000” units, while the 17 in 2020 consisted of 10,866, the real estate firm reported. CBRE Cambodia categorises condos as “high-range”, “

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused