"Meet me at E&M Café in five minutes,” the high-pitched, brutish voice tells me. I hang up the phone and stare blankly over the rail of my balcony. I didn’t want to resort to such low methods. Indeed, this was the last course of action I was willing
to consider. But Lucio has forced me to go this far. In my agony, I have sought out the services of one of the lowest life forms inhibiting Phnom Penh.
The first thing that strikes me as I enter E&M’s huge terrace is the enormous honeycomb-shaped booth in the corner. If you think that’s strange, wait until you see the innards of the café. On one hand, the place has something of a dollhouse style to it, with baskets of squishable mock fruits adorning the table and corny petit point pictures of flowers on the wall. At the same time, the trippy, kaleidoscopic paintings of peacocks and nightmarish trees covering the walls bring to mind your stereotypical hippie backpackers. The contrasting themes create an outlandish decoration that, nonetheless, spawns a homely feeling.
Amid the bizarre decoration, a small, ghostly figure of a man sitting on a table by the back wall stands out. Meagor looks even more wicked than I had imagined from his animal-like voice over the phone. His sunken eyes and grossly large nose are embedded in an asymmetric face. His ivory skin seems to not have seen sunshine in eons. With reservation, I take a seat in front of him.
I skim the menu, and my interest is instantly aroused. The place has potential. The wide selection of coffees includes hazelnut and caramel cappuccino, items that I have struggled to find. They are cheaper here than in the most popular cafes in town.
The food menu is large and comprises a well-balanced variety of breakfast dishes, with pancakes and eggs served in a multitude of forms. The lunch menu includes sandwiches and pasta and rice dishes, all at prices that fall in the cheaper side of the spectrum for this type of establishment. As in any self-respecting café, you can accompany your coffee with brownies, cookies and other specimens of Western bakery.
With a wide grin that exposes yellowing gums, Meagor receives his order of an ice latte ($2), and croissant with scrambled eggs and bacon ($3.50). Without warning, he attacks his food in the same way a snake assaults an oblivious rat.
My hazelnut latte ($2.50, small) is just what I was craving, hitting that elusive level of sweetness that pleases your taste buds without overwhelming them, and with a spot-on creamy texture, I find momentary happiness amid the sordidness of my situation.
The food is good, but it is not in the same league as the coffee. I get scrambled eggs with bacon and toast ($3.50). The bacon is succulent, but, beware Americans, it is not streaky and crunchy like you like it. Instead, these strips of fatty ham are what the British call rashers: thin and floppy, they have been extracted from the loin of the pig. The worst part of the whole breakfast experience, apart from the company, is the sliced bread, which is a bit stale.
Nevertheless, E&M is one of my favorite cafes in town: since I discovered it, I have been back on a daily basis. Come here for great coffee, and stay for the reasonably priced menu that comprises both Western and Khmer cuisines.
“Time to talk to business,” Meagor says in his serpentish way. “You want him out. I can help with that. I can find trash about anyone. Trash that can ruin a person’s life.”
He stops to take a sip of his latte.
“Tell me, Adolfo, does this Lucio have any weak points.”
As I take a deep breath and exhale, an ominous word parts my lips: “Women.”
E&M Café #61, St. 57, between St. 352 & St. 360, BKK 1
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Advisor
The Advisor is Phnom Penh’s leading arts and entertainment newspaper. Published weekly and delivered to almost 600 locations throughout the capital, The Advisor covers and uncovers art, music, theatre, books, food and drink with style, grace and attitude.