The best Phnom Penh French restaurants include everything from elegant fine dining restaurant Topaz for classical French cuisine and sophisticated yet super-affordable Khema Pasteur to lovely Open Wine for quintessential French favourites and Bistro Lanka for a buzzy French vibe.
We typically steer travellers in Southeast Asia towards Southeast Asian food, unless there’s good reason to do otherwise. We’re unlikely to suggest you eat, say, German food in Bangkok when there are so many terrific Thai restaurants to try – unless you’ve been travelling a while and need a change and we get that.
In that case, we like to guide you to a cuisine with a connection to the place. In Bangkok, we recommend Portuguese (Il Fumo is a must) because of Thailand’s Portuguese history and its influence on Thai cuisine. For the same reason, visitors to Cambodia should explore French food, as Cambodia, along with Vietnam and Laos, was a French protectorate within Indochina from 1863 to 1946.
As in Siem Reap, the French legacy in Phnom Penh is strong. It’s felt in the Cambodian capital’s wide boulevards, its French-colonial architecture and in Cambodian cuisine – in the European vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and cauliflowers, along with baguettes and pastries, butter, Laughing Cow cheese, and the pâté, spread onto Cambodia’s baguette sandwich, num pang.
After the brutal Khmer Rouge era and Vietnamese occupation, the French and French-Cambodians were some of the first to return to help re-build Cambodia. As a result, the country has a sizeable French expat population and citizens of French heritage, so sampling French cuisine in Cambodia is a must, especially in the capital.
As usual, this is by no means a comprehensive list, rather, these are our picks of the best Phnom Penh French restaurants.
Best Phnom Penh French Restaurants – From Elegant Fine Diners to Casual Buzzy Bistros
With its Baccarat crystal stemware, Bernardaud Limoges porcelain dinnerware, impeccably dressed staff, and outstanding service, elegant French fine dining restaurant Topaz, opened in 1997, is easily on par with any Michelin 1-star establishments in France, and is undoubtedly one of the best Phnom Penh French restaurants.
Topaz has been directed for the last decade by French master chef Alain Darc, born to a long line of cooks as far back as King Louis XVIII. Darc has trained a slick team, including Cambodian executive chef Sopheak Pov, a 15-year Topaz veteran who staged at Michelin two-starred chef Alain Dutournier’s Carré des Feuillants in Paris and chef Philippe Arrambide’s Michelin-starred Arrambide in the Hotel les Pyrénées in France’s Basque region.
The restaurant’s premium ingredients are sourced from the Marché International Rungis in Paris and farmers across France and Cambodia, while the bottles from the impressive wine list reside in the restaurant’s atmosphere-controlled wine cellars. Peruse the Topaz menu and you know you’re dining somewhere exceptional from the first two items – caviar and oysters.
Topaz serves Sturia, France’s premiere artisanal caviar producer in Aquitaine, birthplace of French caviar, and a pioneer of sustainable sturgeon farming. Spoil yourself with the sublime bronze roe of exclusive Sturia Oscietra from Russian sturgeon, washed down with a glass of Grand Cru Champagne. Or savour the plump taste-of-the-sea Gillardeau oysters from the Gillardeau family of boutique oyster farmers established in 1898 near La Rochelle and the Île d’Oléron in western France.
These delicacies, along with French classics such as a heavenly house-made foie gras terrine with mignonette, port jelly and sea salt; a succulent grilled Black Angus beef Chateaubriand, with thyme and rosemary jus and roasted bone marrow; and a generous seafood platter of Gillardeau oysters, crab, shrimp, mussels, clams, and sea snails scream ‘special occasion restaurant’. And you can certainly celebrate the first or last night of your Cambodia holiday or a birthday or anniversary here, confident that you’re in for a memorable evening – and one more reasonably priced than any one-star restaurant in Europe.
Along with the lavish classics, there are dishes with a creative twist that are incredible value for the quality, such as the Œuf façon carbonara (US$15), a “remastered carbonara” with Pata Negra ham, a 62° egg and Parmesan cheese; the millefeuille d’avocats et crabe (US$18), an avocado and crabmeat salad with salmon roe and Asian herbs; or Topaz’s luxurious take on a salade Niçoise (US$12) with Mekong lobster, foie gras, quail eggs, and green beans. Save room for old-fashioned French desserts, such as the crêpes Suzette flambée (US$6!) prepared tableside.
Or try the three-course business lunch menu (11am-2pm), which changes monthly, for US$21 for starter, main course, glass of wine, and coffee/tea. If you’re in Phnom Penh for a while, enquire about the ‘Les Étoiles du Topaz’ dinners, cooked by visiting Michelin-starred chefs. The next on 16 January 2019 is a 7-course menu for US$95 or $135 with wine pairing by chef Christian Têtedoie, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (‘Best Craftsman of France’). Whenever you dine, skip the shorts and sandals and dress up a little. Smart casual is fine; they know you’re on holidays.
Topaz, 162 Preah Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh +855 (0) 15 82 18 88. Daily 11.30am-2pm, 6-10.30pm.
Like Topaz, Khéma Pasteur’s white linen tablecloths, quality Australian Plumm glassware and immaculately groomed staff make this sophisticated restaurant, café, gourmet deli, and bakery look more expensive than it is. As do the luxury cars parked outside. Khéma’s regular diners include everyone from Cambodian royalty to diplomats.
You’ll also encounter a lively mix of chatty young Cambodian office workers sipping glasses of wine (especially at lunchtime), boisterous expat families with kids and groups of friends (particularly for the weekend all-day breakfasts), local girls ‘gramming their decadent high tea, and food-loving tourists taking it all in.
The reality is that Khéma is not only one of the best Phnom Penh French restaurants, it’s also one of the best value. How can you beat a plate of house-made pâté for US$4 or a perfectly done steak frites café de Paris with French fries for just US$9? You can’t in Phnom Penh at this quality. Soon after you sit down, staff will deposit creamy butter and complimentary bread, baked on site, on your table. As moreish as it is, don’t eat too much.
Everything at Khéma is of outstanding quality – if it’s not produced on the premises from fresh Cambodian ingredients, it’s imported from France. Start with a coarse farm-style pork pâté or a velvety chicken liver mousse, both of which are house-made and come with chunky pieces of toast and a green side salad. If you’re dining with friends, order the charcuterie platter of cold cuts, pâtés and terrines, pictured above.
The sea bass tartare with coriander, spring onion, sour cream, and caviar, and the beef carpaccio (also, above) dressed with shallots, chilli, olive oil, Parmesan, rocket and lemon are light enough to squeeze in before your mains. We adore the steak frites café de Paris, which swims in a rich buttery sauce and is accompanied by crispy fries (so hard to get right in Cambodia), but the beef Bourguignon with potato purée and the house-made Toulouse sausage, mash and bacon jus are also excellent.
Save room for the classic profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce or the zesty lemon tart – or take away your dessert. The bakery offers French boulangerie treats such as chocolate éclairs, financiers, millefeuilles, and macarons, along with daily-baked loaves and savoury pies, while under the glass deli counters you’ll spot an array of French cheeses if dessert means cheese for you or you’re looking for picnic supplies or in-room snacks.
The daily ‘free-flow’ Breakfast, where you order as many dishes as you like for $10.90 per person is ridiculously popular, as is the High Tea (2-5pm daily) featuring a scrumptious selection of savoury bites, sweets, and a pot of loose-leaf Harney & Sons tea (US$6 per person), and the Thursday early evening Wine and Dine (6-8pm), a ‘free flow’ of wines, cheeses, charcuterie, salads, and daily specials for just $20. Reservations are essential, especially on weekends.
Note that there are two branches of Khéma in Phnom Penh – Khéma Pasteur on Pasteur Street in the petite Arunreas boutique hotel and Khéma La Poste opposite the old French-colonial post office (pop inside for a look after lunch). We recommend Khéma Pasteur – the service is a bit better and the atmosphere a bit buzzier.
Khéma Pasteur, 163 Pasteur St, Phnom Penh, +855 (0) 15 823 888. Khéma La Poste, Preah Ang Eng St, Phnom Penh, +855 (0) 15 841 888. Daily 6.30am-10.30pm.
If you can handle Cambodia’s heat and humidity, there are few more pleasant places to linger over lunch in the capital than the terrace at Open Wine, and its proximity to the Royal Palace and National Museum make it perfect for refuelling in between absorbing Cambodia’s history – or shopping. There’s a lovely décor store next door and nearby Street 240 is dotted with fab boutiques selling everything from handmade Cambodian quilts to quirky jewellery.
As my French dining companion who abhors air conditioning revealed over lunch the other day, Open Wine is also one of the few French restaurants in Phnom Penh where you can dine outside – although the interior is inviting, with its wood panelling, polished wooden floorboards, large mirrors, and red lamp shades; light-filled by day, after dark there’s a warmth to the dining room that’s alluring.
Opened in 2005 by French chef Frank Sampere and business partner Belgian Philip Veeckmans – who each received the Order of Agricultural Merit from the French Government in 2018 for their contributions to promoting French gastronomy in Cambodia – Open Wine began life as a retail store for their French wine distribution business.
Sensing their wine company would take time to become sustainable, the two diversified and the sprawling yellow villa that housed their wine shop became home to a bakery, butchery, ice creamery, and eventually a restaurant. The son of a cooking instructor, Sampere, who went to culinary school in Toulouse, took on the role of chef. Open Wine quickly became a favourite of French expats and locals alike and is now considered one of the best Phnom Penh French restaurants by the French community.
Essentially a brasserie offering quintessential French dishes – from a hearty fish soup with croutons and Emmental cheese to crispy frog legs with garlic herb butter – Open Wine’s cuisine is based on the finest produce the chef can get his hands on. That means you could be slicing your knife through tender Australian beef with a Cambodian Kampot pepper sauce, savouring Norwegian salmon the chef has smoked, or tucking into a big bowl of plump French mussels in wine.
Like Topaz and Khéma, much of what Open Wine serves up is made in-house, from the sublime foie gras to the rustic charcuterie, and it’s also ridiculously affordable for the quality. The 3-course lunch menu, available daily from 11am-5pm, is just US$14 and allows diners to choose from around ten starters, ten mains and seven desserts.
I sampled the very moreish ham and cheese croquettes served with a crispy fresh green salad, a perfectly cooked poached seabass fillet with a white wine and citrus sauce with carrot mouselline and cumin, and a yoghurt ice cream with raspberry sherbet. I’d return for the same again, but next time I’m trying the shrimp croquettes.
For the next few months, the restaurant is also offering a tribute menu to chef Joël Robuchon, who died in 2018, featuring three of his dishes for US$49 including his scallops with caviar and Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes.
Open Wine Restaurant, #219 Street 19, Phnom Penh (behind Royal Palace, nearest cross street is 240 St), +855 (0) 977 067 060. Daily 11am-10pm.
Named after nearby Wat Langka, one of Phnom Penh’s original five pagodas founded in 1442, Bistro Langka is tucked at the end of an increasingly hip and happening little lane, between BattBong bar, a speakeasy secreted behind a Coca Cola machine; Un Été à Kep-sur-Mer, a boutique selling summery women’s fashion; and Sakana Lab, a seafood-focused Japanese izakaya.
While Bistro Langka, which opened in early 2016, is certainly one of the best Phnom Penh French restaurants, it is not the best, as its Trip Advisor spot at #3 might have you believe. Not that we believe much that we read on Trip Advisor. Nor does Bistro Langka offer creative French cuisine, as some TA contributors claim, although we understand it may well have been more inventive before.
And nor is this little bistro – with its bare wooden tables dressed with a small vase of flowers, smiling waitresses in black jeans and t-shirts, and French tourists in shorts and flip flops – ‘fine dining’ as Lonely Planet (rarely on point with their restaurant listings) suggests. Not that any of that matters, it’s just important to form realistic expectations.
Rather, Bistro Langka is a cool, casual, intimate French bistro with a dimly-lit dining space spread across two storeys and an Indochine vibe thanks to its location in a renovated Chinese shop-house, its polished concrete floors and patterned polka dot tiles, long grey upholstered banquette, and striking, contemporary steel-framed ‘lanterns’ over bare light bulbs.
What Bistro Langka does offer is a concise menu of just five starters, ten mains and four desserts of delicious French and European bistro fare of the kind you’d find in a very good local neighbourhood eatery in Paris.
Although I was keen to sample the slow-cooked 65° egg with chorizo cream and toast soldiers, which other diners seemed to be enjoying, at the suggestion of the waitress I tucked into the homemade gnocchi with truffle oil, grilled mushrooms, and Parmesan. It was very good although a tad under-seasoned (salt fixed that) and a tad dry (and I was reluctant to request olive oil after asking for salt), and, let’s face it, gnocchi is Italian not French.
I also tried the beef tartare with a well-dressed green salad with radish slices, and a bowl of so-so French fries on the side. While very good, I would have preferred to have combined the ingredients myself at the table, the traditional French way, and I have to confess that it didn’t agree with me the next day. Perhaps the beef wasn’t cold enough or I simply lingered too long.
I believe the ambiance is a big part of the appeal for Trip Advisor contributors, and for French travellers the incredibly attentive service from the French-speaking owners in a country where these days the second-language of locals is more likely to be English than French. I, for one, was happy to be left alone, sipping wine, absorbing the atmospheric soundtrack that alternated between early jazz and indy music, and enjoying the buzzy vibe when the bistro was busy. I’d return for that alone. But next time I’ll try the slow cooked egg with chorizo cream.
Bistro Langka, #132 Z13 (same laneway as Patio Hotel), off 51 Street, between Streets 288 and 294, Phnom Penh, +855 (0) 70 727 233. Daily 6.15-10pm.
If you live in Cambodia’s capital or are a regular visitor, we’d love to get your tips on the best Phnom Penh French restaurants in the comments below.