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Raffles Hotel, Le Royal - The Princess in PP

By: Claire Superfine Posted: January-01-2006 in
Claire Superfine

Phnom Penh does not afford expats the fantastical royal treatment one might secretly dream of after too many viewings of the King and I at age 6. It's impossible to sit down at the royal palace for a 5 course meal - or at least I've never been invited. But Le Royal at Raffles Hotel does justice to its name. If your aim is princess-for-a-day, it's well worth the pricey royal treatment. Although I thought the reason behind the many attentive staff was due to their belief that I actually could feel the pea at the bottom of my mattress, it turns out that it's off season right now - making everyone's blood run blue.

Entering the dining room, you may question whether you are meant to waltz or eat. Ornately decorated ceilings boast the same design used in the Royal Dancing Pavilion at the Palace. Without venturing out of your plush seat to take a saunter around the perimeter of the room, you might miss exquisite photographs where royal dancing girls from the 1930's stare back at you in traditional Khmer poise. Tables are positioned thoughtfully, dividing guests into private spaces. As Erik, the Swiss manager, knowledgably described the history of Raffles and Le Royal, we let the ambience settle while a young Khmer played 20th century classical music on the piano. Two suggested menus, a Khmer and a French, were given. Since my dining mate was a visitor to this Royal Kingdom, and lacks my Khmer cuisine curiosity, or perhaps just my Asian-princess fantasies, I chose the Khmer menu while he adopted the French.

Despite the Victorian setting, globalization and the 21st century allows for an extensive and worldly wine-list. We chose a lovely Malbec from Argentina, only partially based on their football team. Khmer appetizers included seared scallops, mango salad, and prawn purses with mushrooms. I begrudgingly allowed my dining partner a taste, in exchange for a bite of his foie gras and lentil salad. Next, I enjoyed a rich pumpkin soup while he indulged in cappuccino escargot; I prefer steamed milk with coffee, but the escargot were delicious. If we thought we'd made it to our main course, we'd forgotten that royalty are meant to be pampered. My fish amok was mild, slightly heavy on the peanut sauce. My westerner found scallops in a saffron immersion with caviar. If rich foods are not in your preferred diet - do not become a princess. But then a miracle appeared, the palate cleansing "Singapore sling" - sweet and icy I had to remind myself this was not dessert. Finally, our main course arrived. On a long dish I faced takeo lobster in a mild curry sauce and beef loe lac.

I did not take one bite of my jasmine rice - the lobster and beef were too good to be adulterated. I barely noticed the rack of lamb across the table; it promptly vanished into one western belly - and a new convert to French-Khmer dining was born. In princess fashion, I inspected my dessert plate - Khmer sweets ranging from sticky coconut rice to pumpkin custard. Better than any Khmer dessert I've eaten; the westerner in me still craved the dark stuff. While my dining mate discussed intricacies of Turkish coffee with Erik, a petit dish appeared in front of me with tiny porcelain chocolates. I was content - as only a princess should be.

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