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Raising the bar at Rahu

By: Jeffrey Staggs Posted: July-22-2011 in
This is why you go to Rahu: the Espresso Martini. Oh, and the beautiful women. Than Be Leng, Bee Sasha and Hor Titraksmey
Jeffrey Staggs

Devotees of Metro, the uber-hip riverfront restaurant, have been awaiting the opening of the "new Metro" for months. The grand opening was Saturday, July 16, with a private party from 6 to 10 pm for 75 and their plus-ones. Then the doors officially opened.

For the record, though, the name is Rahu.

Not the New Metro. It is difficult, however, to discuss one without the other. Rahu is at 159 Sisowath Quay, just off the corner of street 110 (and less than five blocks from Metro). You will find it if you are looking for the small blue neon sign says RAHU. If you get close enough, you can see METRO on the sign, but by then you're already at the door.

Inside the door the restaurants' ever-ebullient marketing director Nouth Sokha greeted guests. Mr. Nouth, who spends most of his time behind the scenes, was enjoying his role as host.

"Metro is always full," he said, explaining the decision to open a new restaurant. There is enough clientele to support two restaurants, he said, but only at night. While Metro is full to bursting for dinner, it is less busy for lunch. Rahu, then, will be a nightspot only, open from 4 pm to 2 am daily. He expects it will take about three months for Rahu to operate at full capacity. It might not take so long, judging by the happy hour crowd on the first Friday after the opening.

Mr. Nouth explained that the name is a shortened version of the Khmer word for "eclipse". The name was modified to make it "easy to remember" for foreign customers.

Which is not to say Rahu is meant to be an expat hangout. They also aim to attract the "high class" Khmer crowd. In other words, the Metro crowd. With apologies to Jonathan Swift, Rahu is not for yahoos.

Recently I witnessed a bizarre scene at Metro. A young couple entered and sat at the bar. He lined up his iPad and three mobile phones on the bar. A table became available, so he gathered his toys and they moved. She sat as they ordered, ate and paid the bill. He stood the entire time. The food and service may be excellent, but he went there to be seen.

The bar at Rahu stretches from the front door to the rear of the restaurant, angling from the hostess desk at the front into the dining area, then bending to run parallel to the wall. The setup allows patrons to see ... and be seen.

The Big Question is, can the new Metro (sorry) match the standards of the original? The literal bar at Rahu is long, but the metaphorical bar is high. If you're talking about the best food, best drinks and best service in Phnom Penh, conversation inevitably turns to Metro.

Veerle Cnudde enjoyed the "darker, different atmosphere" of Rahu. She did note, though, that "At Metro you can sit outside," but not at Rahu. She is a program coordinator for a Belgian NGO called VVOB. The Flemish name translates into English as the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance. She was joined by the firm's financial officer, Chan Sokha.

When asked what he thought of Rahu, Cana Securities CEO Larry Ng looked to his left, looked to his right, and said "fantastic!" Asked to elaborate, he said "It's relaxed and fun". In that spirit he had shed his daily suit-and-tie attire for shorts and a t-shirt.

Australian chef Ross Erickson's menu is a mix of Metro staples (Peking Duck Pancakes and Black Sesame Tuna being two favorites of yours truly), sushi and congee. The latter is a personal favorite of owner Paul Tripp's. He is betting that Cambodians with the late-night munchies will come to Rahu for congee, a rice porridge. Sushi offerings include two clever twists on the Metro menu. There is the beef lok lak roll and the Hassakan roll -- beef with red ants.

It's a short walk between Mr. Tripp's restaurants. He said the close proximity of the two restaurants was not part of the plan. He found a good space for a new restaurant that just happens to be close to his first. He did, however, admit that it does make it convenient for patrons to visit both.

Food was free during the private party. Mr. Erickson sent it out in waves. (Drinks were half-price.) The quantity and quality of the food were impressive. The kitchen had had some practice during the soft opening in the week leading up to the party. If there were any back-of-the-house issues, they weren't apparent to the guests.

The atmosphere was relaxed and conversational. The music was downtempo fare such as Thievery Corporation, Zero 7 and Gotan Project. If you want to hear Lady Gaga or Super Junior, go elsewhere. There are no TVs. If you want to watch a football match, sorry, wrong place.

In fact, there is nothing on the walls, except for one painting in the rear of the restaurant. It's a giant portrait of a young monk. The boy appears to be quite angry. The closest thing I heard to a complaint is that it can be disconcerting to eat and drink while Little Brother is Watching You with a disapproving glare.

(My apologies for the tardiness of this report. On Monday, after two years in Southeast Asia, I had my first motorbike accident. Concussions are not conducive to the writing process. Any errors, factual or otherwise, I blame on the moto dop who t-boned me.)


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Jeffrey Staggs is a Phnom Penh Based writer

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