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Midnight dim sum on Monivong

By: Bronwyn Sloan Posted: July-13-2009 in
Bronwyn Sloan

Chicken feet may not be to everyone's taste, but true dim sum lovers will understand the joy of finding melt in the mouth stewed poultry feet at an ungodly hour. But less adventurous diners need not panic. At Mekong Village Restaurant on Monivong Boulevard's northern Chinese restaurant strip, the choice doesn't end there.
A range of dumplings and steamed buns are also on display in a small metal cart at the entrance to the late opener (the dim sum and other delicacies don't stop flowing here until 3am). The selection changes depending on the day, with Sui Mei and other morsels also making frequent guest appearances.

"Savor the taste and flavours of the Mekong region all in one specialty restaurant dedicated to the diverse culinary influences from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos," the restaurant claims on its website, although in actual fact the emphasis is very much on Chinese.

"Feast yourself on succulent freshwater prawns, meaty Mekong river lobsters and soft Andaman Sea snappers, amongst others out of the abundant selection of seafood, live for your picking from the restaurant's display tanks," it continues. "It is also here where visitors and locals enjoy the famous crispy Beijing roast duck authentically prepared by Chinese chefs using the same ways which were inherited since centuries back."

And indeed, the roasted meats come highly recommended, with the crackling on the roast pork of particular perfection. This restaurant sees a few foreigners, but is a huge favorite with locals and Chinese business people, but the menu is illustrated and there is an English version, and the manageress speaks reasonable English.

The live seafood, too, seems to change depending on supply, and comes at market price. Watch as they are expertly taken from their tanks and weighed in front of you before being whisked off to the kitchen. Some nights there is a wonderful array of exotic shellfish to compete with the live crabs, frogs and the ever-present cockles (pronounced Nee-iu in Khmer). Grouper, or Trei Teukei, are always available, and the staff fuss over them, skimming their tanks and making sure they are healthy and active to attract the eyes of hungry diners.

Chinese staples such as a range of vegetable dishes are available, ranging from $3 upwards and with an admirable emphasis on freshness, and the Crab Fried Rice ($3) is full of large chunks of the sweet crustaceans and can be made with extra vegetables on request.

Noodle soups and fried noodles make good light meal options, or there are more substantial clay pot options. China's excellent Tsing Tao beer is just $1.50 a bottle, and there are the usual range of spirits and mixers available at Chinese restaurants catering to wealthier locals. Chinese tea is complimentary and generously poured.

Patrons can sit outside and watch the world go by on Monivong or sit inside in air-conditioned comfort in this cavernous two-storey establishment, and staff are attentive but unobtrusive, making it an excellent venue for a night out with friends, an end of evening snack, an intimate dinner or a business meeting.

But good food in an impressively clean environment is not inexpensive. Although it is competitively priced, backpackers on a tight budget may not entirely agree with the restaurant's website assertion that "the only unhappiness you may encounter when dining at the Mekong Village Restaurant is when the experience is over", but for most, it is an enjoyable and affordable taste of China (and particularly its dim sum) in the heart of the city.

Mekong Village Restaurant is located at No. 290, Monivong Blvd.

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