Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau
The Lost Room is a small urban dining space located behind the Svay Pope Pagoda, it sits in a quiet lane that runs parallel, between Sotheros and Norodom Boulevards. If it wasn’t difficult enough to find already the lane has two names: Street 21 and Abdul Carime Lane, it is not a continuous thoroughfare breaking at Street 308 to reconnect through a series of little laneways a block further back.
I have known the owner for many years and have a great deal of affection for both her and for her former partner, with whom I also remain a friend. When they decided to open a restaurant in this out of the way and almost impossible to find lane we used to joke about how on earth people were going to find it; the name was both an inspired and a logical choice. We still get a chuckle out of the would-be diner who couldn’t find it and gave up, venting his frustration online by giving it a one star review for being too hard to locate!
For a place that in 2012 no one was ever going to find, it has certainly attracted its fair share of attention. Before all the alley bars and laneway cafés there was the Lost Room and whilst many have come and gone it’s still with us, still busy and getting much better reviews from the people who actually dine there.
When Wendy Lucas and I first met all those years ago, she struck me as something of a contradiction, her sparrow like frame and the delicate movement of her hands betraying the determination in her eyes and her no nonsense way of conversation. Wendy -who is a South Australian- seems to have spent a great deal of her life getting lost, Tasmania, England, India, America, Thailand. She finally found her way to Cambodia back in a time when everyone here seemed a little lost and disoriented.
Wendy soon found her feet with a bar and eatery called ‘Talking to a Stranger’, which she opened in Boeung Keng Kang 1 in the late 90’s. People warned her then that it was too far from the riverfront to ever do any good. Serving a mix of cold, authentic, hard liquor and warm hearted, comfort food the place became something of a local legend to the passing NGO’s and diplomats that made up the expat populace of the time.
Fast forward to 2012 and Wendy wanted to do something a little more sophisticated and experimental with her next business, something more focused food and dining hospitality. Once she saw the unobtrusive little space in Abdul Carime Lane she knew she’d found a home for her ambitions.
The Lost Room is small and intimate in every sense of the word, the space is a long shop-house, with a small courtyard in front that accommodates smokers and a small bar down the back for cocktails. The interior is minimalist with a touch of Derridaesque deconstruction, white washed walls with spatula pock marks and bare distressed brick. The room is dimly lit, comfortable and relaxed; seating is for around 8 at the bar, 30 inside and another dozen out front.
Her dedicated team headed by Tee in the kitchen and Channy out front are loyal and work hard; they have been here from day one and are proud of what they have created, just as Wendy is proud of them.
The food at The Lost Room has always been the draw card, eclectic and intriguing, exhibiting a well-travelled palate and communion with spice and seasoning. The menu is sort of Australian outback with forays into the Mediterranean and South East Asia.
Kangaroo is always on the menu here and remains one of the most popular dishes, as is lamb. Pork Belly is also popular here and Beef and Duck dishes are also staples on the menu, for seafood there is tuna, swordfish and crab cake dishes and entrees.
Vegetarians get a very good selection at The Lost Room, dishes are creative, flavourful and definitely not boring; as a carnivore, it is one of the few restaurants where I can eat an entirely vegetarian dinner and be left thoroughly content.
The most intriguing culinary aspect here is the use of ‘bush tucker’ spices, Wendy has them hand carried in from Australia and they are not available anywhere else in the country to my knowledge. Native Australian ingredients such as bush tomato, kutjera, sea celery, salt bush and lemon myrtle add distinctive flavours and aromatics to many of the dishes.
The dishes are served as small, sharing plates; a perfectly sensible way to eat here as it gives diners the opportunity to try several dishes in one sitting; it’s a friendly way of eating that encourages discussion and intimacy.
The bar is worth a visit alone listing around 20 specialty cocktails and stocking a selection of rare and boutique spirits; Wendy also gives the wine list a great deal of attention with four sparkling, eight white, one rose and sixteen red wines from the world’s major producers it’s a knowledgeable selection with plenty to offer at the lower to mid-range price points.
As The Lost Room enters its fifth year of business, Wendy Lucas is now the sole owner. The restaurant has become even more popular and is now a favourite amongst tourists. She still finds herself on the phone most nights explaining to tuk tuk drivers how to find the place. Wendy isn’t concerned, it’s taking guests on a culinary journey once they arrive that interests her now days and it’s a detour in flavour well worth taking.
The Lost Room
#42 Street 21 (Abdul Carime)