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The W: Bar & Restaurant formerly known as “Lunchbox’’

By: Alison Posted: May-16-2011 in
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My initial response to this transformation is a slightly furrowed brow. The Lunchbox, upwardly morphing into "The W" inside a new boutique hotel, "The Willow"?

Perhaps slightly less sensational than Prince’s re-branding as "The Symbol", or the revamping of the Marathon as the Snickers bar, but, this is nonetheless, in the Phnom Penh macrocosm, a bold move.

When I last visited The Lunchbox, an Australian ex pat chatted jovially with the Khmer staff, and the words "cool place" "amazing space" "my new favorite place in Cambodia" bounced off my eardrums. A little sycophantic, but really not far wide of the mark.

The Lunchbox was an experience to be savored. And so with expectations soaring in conjunction with our tropical temperatures we make our way to "The W". Cambodians typically do not use street numbers and so Khmer-style, "The W" is round the corner from Coffee Maker.

In spite of the multiple wicker chairs and stools, fans and foliage, there is an overwhelming feeling of space, uncluttered yet creative. The dark wood ceiling and ornate staircase add substance and a sense of heritage to the unblemished and modern decor. Eliza has effortlessly but purposefully selected her "feng-shui-ed" furnishings to re-create and upgrade the ambiance of relaxation that hall-marked the Lunchbox brand.

Her undoubted flair for the aesthetic, conscious or unconscious, is paired, very effectively with a discrete customer focus. Next to the restaurant and bar area is an enclosed private room, which is referred to as "the drawing room" for those clientele wanting a quiet and air-conditioned space.

There is a certain sophistication and subtlety about "The W": the reception desk blends unobtrusively into the background, rather than smacking you, like a corporate reception (figuratively speaking of course) in your food-laden face.

Speaking of which, let’s look at that food. “The W” replicates Eliza’s gourmet sandwich bar, but extends the offering. The menu straddles the globe and provides not so much a lunchbox, but a cosmopolitan hamper. It offers all day breakfast, salads, burgers, pasta, small bites, and smoothies.

My salade nicoise with its welcome density of olives and mercifully delicate use of dressing rivals the equivalents in the city, at a very reasonable price. The shared chocolate desert, moist intense and plentiful is in itself an event. Two lime and passion fruit smoothies follow suit. But if your palate craves alcohol, then you need look no further than the well-stocked bar, which looks as if it will have both day and night time appeal.

Despite its range, the menu is all about catering for the individual. How well this sits with the concept of the boutique hotel which boasts 15 large and unique rooms, catering for different wants and budgets. Small wonder then that this bar cum restaurant, with its down-to-earth class and relaxed colonial air, is likely to draw in both the tourists and the expats.

If I were a betting woman, I would guess "The W" will overshadow its predecessor.

“The W” (formerly The Lunchbox)
The Willow
Street 21
Phnom Penh

Check it out on Wednesdays for the weekly trivia quiz for starters.


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