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An New Taste of an Old Favourite

By: Aaron Leverton Posted: January-01-2006 in
Aaron Leverton

Freebird is an old name in Phnom Penh. If you can get a copy of an old guide book, it will probably be described as "American-style bar with large injections of Australia and New Zealand." Or something very similar. Since its "re-launch" on Independence Day, 2005, the reviews tend to emphasise the "American-ness".

In 2005 the Freebird Bar and Grill was awarded "Best Restaurant" in Phnom Penh. A year later, after the categories were modified to separate bars and restaurants, Freebird was awarded "Best Value for Money".

As any resident expat (or any resident, for that matter) can tell you, getting value for money is becoming increasingly important in Phnom Penh. Inflation has recently arrived and proven to be a bit of a shock. It mightn't be Weimar Republic-like in its scope of economic devastation, but we all felt a 10% hike in bowser price when it happened in a single day. Anyone with a local spouse (or who does their own shopping in the markets) will tell you just how far a dollar goes these days.

Bowing to the inevitable, the Freebird has also increased its prices. But to ease the pain it has also retooled its menu for the first time since that re-launch thirty months ago.

The owner, Dunk, says he's been listening to his patrons. The new menu should be particularly pleasing to customers as they had a large portion of the input to its creation. Mostly by way of "what would you like to see on the menu?" The staff were also involved in the decision making process as they take note of which items are not receiving much traffic and which are.

The menu has grown. Particularly the Khmer/Asian end of things. This would seem obvious, given the nationality of the chefs, but the fact that the menu has remained so popular for so long suggests the favourable responses the very western menu has been generating when prepared by Khmer chefs.

Given a sneak preview of a couple of the items, I can whole-heartedly recommend the baked fish topped with tomatoes and cheese with rice and mixed vegetables on the side. I'm trying to remember when I've had fish that tasted this good and the fact is that I can't.

Of course, Freebird is a bar, it isn't only about the food. But, as the food shows, it is so much more than a bar. You get free internet while you drink, eat and chat, plus there's no elitist snobbery. The bar offers both Wi-Fi and cable, Freebird doesn't discriminate.

If you're in a party and you want some privacy then you can head to the VIP booths out the back or go upstairs to the lounge. If you choose the 1st floor option you'll get your own barmaid for the evening, dedicated to ensuring you and your companions don't die of thirst.

"Both have big screens, DVDs and music," Dunk says. He also mentions Freebird's catering and party planning services. A notable customer of the latter is the US Embassy. Freebird also holds poker nights, birthdays and christenings.

What else? Oh, yes, the staff.

"The most special thing would have to be the wonderful staff we have," Dunk says. He attributes both award wins to the ladies behind the bar and the men and women in the kitchen. You can be only "semi-regular" and it's likely they'll know what you want to drink before you do.

Dunk again: "We are aiming for a friendly, laidback atmosphere for guests who enjoy great service and great food in a clean environment with no hassles."

Now if that doesn't sound like a mission statement, I don't know what does. There's a hard corps (but not hardcore) of regulars who will attest to the 'bird's success in meeting its mission statement. You can see them there every week. They call themselves the "Freebird Family".

Freebird Bar and Grill is at no. 69, Street 240. Between the Royal Palace and Norodom Boulevard.


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