Hong Kong Garden

Darling A mentioned to me last night that perhaps I might consider booking somewhere for dinner for tonight to avoid us ‘faffing around’ as usual. What exactly, I hear you mutter, does he mean by faffing around? I shall explain by virtue of this conversation, repeated practically verbatim every Saturday night we are in Phnom Penh.
A (or J – doesn’t really matter, quite interchangeable in fact) – ‘where do you want to eat?’
J – ‘dunno’
A- ‘what do you want to eat?’
J – ‘um… dunno’
A – ‘when do you want to eat?’
Can you guess the response? The soundtrack to this exchange ought to be Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ (Byrds version please, if you don’t mind), as that is normally what we are in real danger of doing, as eating habits among the expat fraternity seem to have changed considerably over the last few years. In the mid to high range eateries that we frequent on a Saturday evening (it’s our only treat, right?) there has been an alarming increase in the number of formal reservations being made. Used to be you could stroll in off the street, plonk yourself down, a quick howdy-doo-dee to the owner and voila! , dinner was served. Not any more, oh no. Now it’s ‘You have a reservation? No? Oh, I’m sorry, we are fully booked… my apologies.’ What’s he moaning about then, you may well ask, if they’re booked that’s it, end of story… well no, because we have another phenomenon in play here, namely The Great Phnom Penh Reservation Mystery!

The (presumably unwritten) law among the Phnom Penh restaurant fraternity is that reservation is sacrosanct. One example – the FCC. Foreign Correspondents Club, one of the legendary eating and drinking places of the city (although it has precious little to do with foreign correspondents, and actually never has. You’ll find most of them, particularly the ones who never made it back, downing Tequila in Cantina, just down the block…) has these balcony tables, which appear to be constantly reserved. Come in, say at 5pm for a happy hour drink, go to sit by the balcony and you’ll be given short shrift – ask politely and you’ll be told this table is reserved, so no, you can’t sit there until the reservee turns up. An hour and a half later, by which time you if you’ve stuck around to mire yourself deeper in the overpriced delights (but it is happy hour… go on, one more G ‘n’ T) of the drinks card you will have observed around a half dozen others being shooed away, the customer who reserved the table finally turns up. This scenario is repeated all over town…

Myself and A are early eaters. We normally dine just after 6 on a Saturday evening. This is because we have both got abnormally large stomachs and digestive tracts, and only eat once a week, so we spend a great deal of time swallowing and digesting large amounts of food to ensure we will not suffer any hunger pangs from Sunday to Friday. We’re a bit like those snakes you see on National Geographic Channel, crushing then slowly engulfing and devouring their prey, usually (for ultimate televisual shock value) a large and startled rat. Of course we don’t do anything like that in a restaurant. The closest would be shelling prawns I suppose.

Yes, the above is indeed a complete and utter lie. We eat early because we are too old to stay out late (anytime after 8pm is ‘late’ for us). But we too stand in completely empty restaurants at 6pm to be told ‘sorry, fully booked’ and marvel at how completely crazy they are to turn us away when we’d be in and out in under an hour, long before their other customers would turn up…
Tonight will be different though. Tonight I am going to block book every upmarket restaurant in Phnom Penh under a multiplicity of assumed names from a plethora of phone booths across the city… we shall have drinks in one, starter in another, main course elsewhere, dessert somewhere else, coffee… who knows? …and in each we will call the maitre d’ over and puzzle together with them over where the hell exactly everybody is tonight…???

Or maybe not. But where to go indeed? In truth, we are spoiled for choice… ‘Armands’, to watch ever so slightly tetchy owner Armand theatrically flambe steaks and desserts? No, went there last week… ‘Yumi’, for Japanese cuisine cooked marvellously by a chef from that well known Japanese prefecture, London? Maybe, but one place you definitely need to book… ‘Deco’, the latest hot dining spot? Ditto as per ‘Yumi’. ‘La Marmite’, hearty French food located next door to a pole dancing club (mmm… wonder why our Tuk-Tuk driver the good Chairman Mao always waits for us outside? Everywhere else he heads off home to await a call…). Perhaps. What about ‘Zino’s’, new kid on the block, a wine bar plus restaurant with an Orcadian chef? Yes, you did hear me right – Phnom Penh is nothing if not cosmoplitan now… ‘Dolce Italia’, Giorgio (Pop Cafe’s) delightful (and truly delicious) pizza restaurant, staffed by the cast of Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video? Come to think of it, that video seems to have had a profound influence on the uniforms sported by staff in the upmarket wining and dining spots of the Penh. They must all be owned or run by men of a certain age, I surmise…

ArmandInAction
Choices, choices…

Perhaps we’ll just get on the blower and order a number 23, chicken chow mein and chop suey from the Hong Kong Garden takeaway…

Oh hang on a minute, we’re not in Chiselhurst anymore… are we?

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