Not just for cultural trips anymore—we went in and asked the people at Rosewood Phnom Penh on what to drink when we’re in town.
As rapidly as we remember how quickly Bangkok’s drinks scene evolved, our neighbours are surely catching up. Classic cocktails? Check. Inventive combinations? Check. Utilisation of local ingredients? Check, check, check.
[Hero and featured image credit: Rosewood Phnom Penh]
To feed our curiosity, we flew over to Phnom Penh and asked Bob Louison, Director of Bars at Rosewood Phnom Penh, as well as Udom Chhoun, the manager of Sora Sky Bar for their thoughts. Their Rosewood Bar Series has introduced the capital to a number of globally-renowned mixologists, including Giacomo Giannotti of Paradiso, who recently got the title of the World’s Best Bar.
Let’s see what they have to say.
What Phnom Penh’s drinking culture is like, according to Bob Louison and Udom Chhoun of the Rosewood Phnom Penh
The Rosewood Bar Series is such a wonderful and unique experience. Who is the person you’re most enticed to work with?
“Every mixologist that we have invited to the bar has brought their own uniqueness that we can’t find anywhere else,” Udom prefaces. “We’re very thankful for the experience—to be sharing the station with talented people from the World’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best List.” Bob also added that they’ll be inviting a lot more people for 2023.
“One of the bartenders that stuck out to us is Hayden [Lambert].” Udom continues, “He’s from Melbourne, and he’s a very experienced bartender from a bar called Above Board. He became the first guest in the series, and it made us realise how unique this opportunity is. It gave us the motivation to keep learning and improving throughout the year.”
Another name that came up is Nikos Bakoulis. “His bar from Greece is called The Clumsies, and let’s just say that I tried his drinks.” Udom says, “It made me understand how his bar got the No.4 spot [on World’s Best Bars].”
Out of all the drinks you’ve served, do you have a favourite?
“It would be quite hard to pick just one,” Bob laughs, “because they’re all good in their own way. But I think we do have a few in mind.”
According to Udom, there’s always a Negroni on the menu of every guest shift. “We love twists on the classic Negroni, and one of them that I love is from 1930 bar from Milan. Benjamin [Fabio Cavagna] saw our local ingredients, and incorporated them into his Negroni in a way that is balanced, yet still can be called a Negroni—something not very easy to do.”
What’s the drinking culture like in Phnom Penh?
“People are big beer drinkers,” Udom says. “You can see a lot of street food just outside, which goes hand in hand. The cocktail culture is still a growing business, but we can see a lot of bars popping up around town. You can see lounges being opened. People are starting to understand the art that goes into making a drink—it certainly has picked up, even among local communities.”
Bob adds, “It’s also very interesting to see the drinks industry expand in the city. There are a few Japanese places we usually visit. As Udom said how people love beer here, it’s good to see how restaurants and drinking spots started to offer a number of spirits to accommodate more needs—vodka, gin, rum, many more. There’s even a Japanese bar near here that opens till late. They have a lot of whiskies, and you can have one on the rocks as you smoke a cigar.”
When prompted for a place to visit, apart from their own, the first answer is the Samai Distillery. Samai is the first local rum brand of Phnom Penh, providing handcrafted rums. “It opens every Thursday, so we’re probably there when we have some time off,” both of them agree.
What makes a good drink, in your opinion?
“A good cocktail is the whole process, not just the drink,” Udom answers. “From the ingredients, to the shaking and stirring, to how it’s presented and brought to the table—all of them are equally important in making a good, memorable cocktail. We need to make sure that our drinks are well-balanced and taste great, along with service that is well-trained and able to explain the menu thoroughly.”
“For me, it’s the guest reaction,” says Bob. “Whatever you make, it needs to be according to the guest. You can use anything to your imagination. You can use local ingredients, herbs shipped from abroad, top-shelf alcohol, but the guest needs to be happy once they’re tasting it. That’s the most important part for me.”
He continues, “However, nothing beats a drink that can evoke a feeling. Some sense of nostalgia, a reminder of childhood or a good date night—if you can do that, if you can put feelings into a drink, that’s a good enough drink to please the best critics.”
If you’re looking for places to visit on vacation, Phnom Penh might just be a new destination you’ve never thought of. Maybe call up the folks of Rosewood for accommodation, and grab yourself a drink or two. The view from Sora Sky Bar is simply marvelous.
You can find more information at Rosewood Phnom Penh.