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Review: Sinan Restaurant - Cheap and Pretty Good

By: Charley Bolding-Smith Posted: February-02-2011 in
Charley Bolding-Smith

You decide to visit Friends Restaurant, with, well, friends but forget that they’re closed on a Sunday night. Where’s your emergency local choice for Khmer food? It used to be directly opposite. ‘Sinan Restaurant: Cheap and Best’ declared the fading Perspex signboard. It’s a bold claim, even in the land of broken English hyperbole. The nonpareil of the city’s dining establishments? The nondescript exterior suggested otherwise, a view by no means altered upon entering the place. I guess the lease must have run out because recently the business has decamped to a new location, just around the corner in St 172. So, is it now even better?

Alas, I do not think so. The signboard still makes its bold claim, but, ironically, the new furniture makes it indistinguishable from the many other eating joints on this budget-friendly street. Presumably in an attempt to move upmarket, the family owners have replaced the retro-charm canteen tables and chairs with familiar rattan loungers. Very comfortable they are too – for lounging. Unfortunately, it’s the old story of form over functionality (pause, budding restaurateur, and imagine - just a moment - that you are the diner). It’s impossible to eat without assuming an uncomfortable bent-over posture, or, as our party eventually decided, picking the damn plate up and pretending you’re in front of the telly.

But, hey, the food’s the thing we’re here for. On that count, Sinan continues to deliver in spades. The laminated menu is succinct and does not categorize between Western and local dishes. Perversely you have to scour the carte for the Khmer dishes, but it’s worth the trouble. The Green Mango Salad ($2) is the best I’ve eaten in the city. It’s a generous pile of coarsely shredded fruit and vegetables; crisp, tart and smothered with roasted peanuts. There was no lack of flavour in the Stir-fried Ginger with Beef ($2) either. Quite the reverse, let me look up gutsy and audacious. Suffice to say, if stir-fried ginger and beef (or chicken) is the sort of thing you like then you’ll like this dish a lot. Another favourite, the Friendship Sour Soup ($2), is packed with good-for-you stuff, while the Sweet and Sour Chicken ($2.25) is pure comfort food.

The homemade crème caramel ($1.50) is also worth a mention. Introduced to the region by the French its nursery food that’s frequently now taken for granted, but don’t make that mistake here. It’s got just the right sort of wobbly pudding consistency. If they don’t quite thaw it sufficiently before serving, think of it as caramel ice. Either way, it’s delicious.

Beers and softs start at less than a buck. The service is relaxed – it will happen, don’t fret.

The liberal sprinkling of serious-looking NGO and EFL types spotted on a recent visit suggests they’ve kept their old clientele. I’m pleased about that. Cheap and Best? No. But Cheap and Serving Rustically Authentic Khmer Cuisine in a Genuinely Warm Family Atmosphere? I’ll happily allow it that claim. But it’s not very catchy, is it?

Sinan Restaurant
No 19 Street 172, Phnom Penh

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