Thalias Hospitality

Restaurant & culinary review: We Savoured Elegance, Creativity and Excellence”, at Topaz

I was curious to find out what was going on in the kitchens of Topaz Norodom and was intrigued by the numerous new announcements about seasonal menus, so I decided to once again venture into the delights of this Mecca of French cuisine in Phnom Penh.  Although I’m not actually a regular at this highly regarded restaurant – although I have had the privilege of attending a few gastronomic events held there – I have always considered it to be the best restaurant in the capital when it comes to haute cuisine. There are several reasons for this: the cuisine is refined in the true sense of the word, there is genuine creativity and the subdued evening atmosphere encourages you to let yourself go, that strange nonchalance that makes you completely forget the hassles of everyday life to completely and voluptuously devote yourself to a single activity: savouring a sumptuous and excellent dinner.  So I persuaded my husband and eight-year-old son to go to this beautiful restaurant to try out their new seasonal menu. The main reason was the idea of a fine gourmet evening, the curiosity to discover what this magic formula “Savouring Elegance” meant and, another strong argument, Topaz is offering a formula with three price levels, 50, 60 and 90 USD. So there’s really no reason to pass it up at that price.  I’d forgotten how quickly the setting and the elegance of the place put you at ease. Lots of greenery around the main room, large tables with comfortable armchairs or sofas and, of course, smiling, respectful and particularly attentive staff.  I’ve heard that it was the boss of the Thalias group, Arnaud Darc, who himself suggested this seasonal menu inspired by the flavours of France and Europe, with the help of his teams and probably relying on the talent of chef Sopheak to create a subtle harmony between his local inspirations and his ability to blend in these touches from beyond. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve had the opportunity to taste Chef Sopheak’s creations and the verdict has always been clear: marvellous!  As I love fish and all the different ways it can be prepared, I decided to go for the ‘red snapper carpaccio with Asian herb vinaigrette’ starter.   In true French gastronomic tradition, we were offered an amuse-bouche at the start of the dinner, a nice plump prawn with a special creamy sauce, but I didn’t have time to taste it because my son grabbed the three crustaceans and ate them, rolling his eyes and giving a thumbs-up. So I imagine it was very good.     To come back to the carpaccio, I asked my husband out of curiosity about the origin of this dish. Being Asian, I’m much more used to recipes for fish in soup, grilled, smoked or salted, and I was intrigued. I then learned that carpaccio was in fact an Italian discovery, a recipe devised by Giuseppe Cipriani (contemporary chef at Harry’s Bar in Venice) at the request of a countess on a strict diet, and named after the Venetian painter Vitorre Carpaccio (1465-1425), the red hues of the dish recalling those used by the artist. While the original recipe is essentially based on red meat, the use of fish is a relatively recent culinary technique.   In this recipe by Chef Sopheak, the combination of the freshness of the fish, the richness of the herbs and the delicacy of the accompanying vinaigrette make for an invigorating and simply delicious starter full of ‘Vitamin Sea’. My husband, after thoroughly enjoying the crayfish soup with truffles, chose the grilled prawn salad with plum vinaigrette. More generous than my son, he allowed me the privilege of tasting a portion and I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by a clever blend of flavours that I couldn’t have imagined.  As I’m a big fan of meat and reminded of my previous experiences at Topaz, I’m really looking forward to this. And I won’t be disappointed, far from it. In addition to its original presentation, this dish is a veritable homage to the art of cooking lamb and offering a totally harmonious accompaniment. The sauce is absolutely magnificent, the vegetables are tender and fresh – I’m delighted and, to complete the picture, the portion is really generous. I couldn’t resist calling the friendly manager of the restaurant, Eden, to tell her how delighted I was with the food. This compliment was greeted with a broad smile, and will probably convince her that the seasonal and inspired menus are an excellent idea that customers like and will like.   My husband, who is not very keen on meat dishes, chose a fish dish, the pan-fried turbot fillet with lemon, butter and caper sauce, which is also perfect, but I definitely prefer my meal with lamb. As for my son, who is also a meat lover, he will choose the Australian beef fillet with pomme macaire, green asparagus and veal jus. This time, I’ll have a slice… again, the presentation, composition, accompaniment and tenderness of the meat are beyond any criticism.   More than satisfied with this rich meal full of pleasant surprises, I decided to skip dessert. However, moved by the hot chocolate fondant and Madagascar vanilla ice cream chosen by my husband, I will take a spoonful out of sheer indulgence, and here too, the chef’s dexterity has resulted in an original and ‘decadent’ dish, to use the term often used by the restaurant’s staff. Finally, I was also curious to try some of the bananas flambéed in rum, a recipe inspired by the French West Indies, and chosen by my son who was delighted to see the bananas prepared and flambéed before his very eyes. Here too, my curiosity was aroused: what is the origin of this very special and tropical dish?  In fact, this dessert of bananas lightly caramelised and flambéed in rum was invented in 1951 by Paul Blangé, chef at Brennan’s restaurant in the Vieux carré français in … Read more