Occitanian Masterpiece

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An Englishman, A Belgian and an Aussie walk into a French Bistro…

Anyone who has read the works of Peter Mayle or admired the aching beauty and incandescent palette of Van Gogh’s paintings around Arles or Saint Remy cannot fail to be romanced by the region of Provence.  Matisse described the light here as ‘soft and tender, despite its brilliance’.

A region as famous for its produce as its diversity with alpine roads and lavender fields, craggy ranges and Roman vineyards, the Mediterranean Sea, olive groves, tomatoes and garlic, a glass of pastis and a game of petanque, rose wine and Marseilles bouillabaisse and those magnificent fields, the very essence of the great impressionists.

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In Phnom Penh, between the Kandal and Old Markets on Street 118, about a block and a half back from the river amidst a cluster of down at heal looking KTV joints, you will find La Provence. This small French Bistro is a veritable oasis of charming tranquility amidst the maelstrom and madness that is rainy season in the heart of darkness.

Another shop house transformed into a traditional French bistro, this works better than most with its bright pastel colours, shiny new, clean and uncluttered shelves and its impressive, jade coloured, marble top bar.

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My first trip to La Provence was just last week, National Pinot Noir Day, I took lunch there with an Englishman, a Belgian and a fine bottle of Mercurey. As one, we found the dining exceptional, gushing with praise as we strode back out onto the street, giddy with Pinot Noir and Bonne acclamation.

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Feeling the experience somewhat enchanted, I ventured there alone a few nights later to try different dishes and I am delighted to be able to report that, once again, it was brilliant.

There are twelve seats at the long, curved bar, eight in the front section of the restaurant and the same again in the lavender coloured little courtyard out front on the pavement. Inside, the walls are adorned with framed movie posters, each with a connection to the region of Provence. The restaurant is owned and operated by Rodolphe Seiller, a tall, thin, somewhat suave looking gentleman of indeterminate age, who has spent many years in hospitality roaming from Provence through Africa and Asia. It would seem that both his connection to his homeland and his experiences abroad have served him very well.

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In the kitchen is chef Bunra, a young, late twenty something Khmer lady who used to do the cooking at Ocean Restaurant in BKK1. She is indeed a great talent and her skills -combined with Rodolphe’s knowledge and experience- is turning out food of outstanding quality, especially for the prices asked.

The dishes are full of freshness and the quality of ingredients shines through, defining the good technique and know-how in the kitchen.

Front of house, the service staff are very charming and eager to please, smiling and friendly which adds welcome joy to the dining experience. The menu board offers a typically modest selection of seven dishes, plus two desserts and a cheese. Prices range from $6 up to $15 for the Dijonnais beef.

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Over the two meals, I managed to sample most dishes, highlights were the Carpaccio Cipriani, which comes from the  Cipriani Hotel in Venice. The original Carpaccio was invented by the hotel owner, Giuseppe Cipriani when he was at the world famous Harry’s Bar, (which he also founded). Cipriani invented the dish in 1963 for a friend, Amalia Nani Mocenigo and rather than employing the customary arugula and Parmesan cheese, he napped his dish with a sauce of mayonnaise aromatized with lemon and Worcestershire sauce and thinned out with a bit of milk. He called it “Carpaccio” after the 15th century Venetian painter, Vittore Carpaccio, whose work was the subject of an art exposition at the time, saying that the contrasting red and white of his new dish reminded him of the painter’s work. The recreation here is incomparable, special, with the subtle acidity and creaminess of the sauce working magically with the raw beef.

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The ‘tagliatelles aux morels’ is also a revelation with the aromas and flavours of the morels in the sauce superb and the texture of the pasta perfect. In fact, it was impossible to fault a dish and all of the sauces were outstanding. The Tomme de Savoie cheese to finish was also exceptional.

Just as the great impressionists of the Belle Epoque were drawn to Provence for inspiration, La Provence bistro has left a definite impression on me and I shall now be seeking inspiration here on a regular basis.

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La Provence

#48 street 118,

Phnom Penh.

Open for Lunch and Dinner 7 Days per week

Phone Number: 096 999 0278

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