Tonle Bassac Restaurant. Rub shoulders with the wealthy Khmer.

Building 534, Preah Monivong Blvd, Sangkat Tonle Bassac. Clientelle: Khmer. Price: Expensive $20 and up.

Ok so you’ve eaten at a few street food places and had Lok Lak and Char Kdout on riverside, maybe you’ve even eaten the fried tarantula and now you are longing for more Khmer food and really want go somewhere which gets you close to another side of the Khmer people eating out. Well we have somewhere for you.

Tonle Bassac, named of course after the river which runs through Phnom Penh, have a couple of branches but the one we tried is at the end of Norodom where it meets Monivong and just before the Monivong bridge goes over the river, yes you guessed it, the Tonle Bassac. This is far removed from the street stalls you ate at yesterday, this is where the wealthy Khmer go to eat and you will very probably be the only tourists in the place. Depending upon traffic it is a good 15-20 minutes drive from the riverside area and in an area that tourists have no reason to frequent and it is considered to be quite an expensive restaurant, coming in as it does at about $15 for the lunch buffet and about $20 for the evening spread.

As mentioned it is a buffet and they offer a huge variety of dishes, lots of Khmer with a representation from China, the west and other spots in the world, the fresh seafood is just in the evening though so be aware. It is a buffet so the variety of food is huge and the standard is very good, the customers here can be demanding I’m sure so they have to stay on point in the kitchen. Included in the price is as much iced tea as you can drink but there is much more available as evidenced by the full wall wine rack as you enter the main room.

In fact the place has a number of quite elaborate sculptures and environments created simply to make the presentation of the food special, everything from horse’s head sculptures to giant mushrooms and minature Chinese temples on the side of giant white rocks. It’s elaborate, it’s camp, it’s kitsch and it’s wonderful.

The area is divided up into regions at least partially, this means you know exactly where to go to get Japanese food or Mongolian food, it somewhat reminds of a especially elaborate food hall in a top hotel, great if you are doing a little bit of Hilton backpacking, something I have enjoyed immensely at times.

I said the main room earlier because there are several and these can be rented for your wedding or party, the prices go from about $500 to a thousand for a half day and increase from there on up, the lobby area is big and airy too with a pond with literally meter-long fish swimming about as though this was the most natural place in the world for them.

This is an experience most will not bother to search out and I get that, but much of the time to get really good Khmer food, or certain great dishes like Prahok, you have to spend a bit more money and eat where the rich eat, or alternatively find a good local chef to cook for you in their home, but making the effort to go to places like Tonle Bassac is going to be easier. 

Check out the website here!


Lucien Grey.

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