The Chinese Lantern Under a Bushel
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”
The Vattanac Capital Tower rises over Phnom Penh like a dragon’s tail, standing at 187.3 meters, it soars above the city as the country’s tallest and most prestigious address.
Completed in 2014, the building has stood as a beacon, lighting the way for a new era in Cambodia, signalling a new wave of investment, development and confidence in the future of the kingdom. Since 2018, the top 14 floors of this impressive, (39 storey) structure have housed the five-star, Rosewood Hotel.
Rosewood are renowned for their distinctive collection of highly individual, luxurious, residential-style hotels, which are inspired by the culture, history and geography of each locale. The Rosewood Hotel Group’s decision to enter the Cambodian market –and here in Phnom Penh, was another significant indication of the opportunities and enormous potential the rest of the world now sees in the kingdom of wonder.
The hotel is a vision of contemporary elegance and tranquil luxury, with impressive art installations, modern, stylish aesthetics and its soothing, put-you-at-ease refinement. And always, throughout each room, bar and restaurant in the hotel, there are those views: 360 degrees, looking out over three mighty rivers, the Mekong, the Tonle and the Bassac; the sprawling pastiche of an Asian capital city and beyond, out into the countryside. Out across the plains and onto the shimmering horizon of a people born of the Naga, in a land risen from the sea by gods.
From up here, the rivers stretch out across the landscape like life-giving veins wrapped tightly around a lean, hungry torso, feeding it in the wet season, choking it in the dry. This land is a shimmering apparition when viewed from above, a view that communes with your soul and represents the history, culture and legends of an ancient civilization.
Down below, the city looks up at you with all of the wide eyed promise of a generation full of dreams and desires, connected to the world and living on hope. Out on the very edges of your vision are the fields, softly whispering on the wind of a dark past, as the dharma wheel turns another rotation. There is nothing quite like elevation to put geography into perspective, give it meaning; the universe, the earth and humanity bind and flow harmoniously from up here, in Chinese it is called qi, (chi).
Feng shui was incorporated into the structure from the very beginning, qi flows smoothly here, the ‘dragon’ tower faces the river, the mall and cube structure above it represent the dragon’s ‘pearl’. All signs point to good fortune and prosperity. Sitting high above this land, in a place of such refinement, one can rightfully expect to be uplifted -not just physically but spiritually; pack your bags accordingly.
At street level, these modern megaliths must put out their stalls, which are part attraction, part lamprey; malls full of brand names that are global, iconic and intentionally expensive; positioning statements as universal signposts-of-aspiration and external badges-of-wealth. The world of red carpets, flashing lights and limousines, all yours if you can afford it.
Yet here at Vattanac Tower, way down beneath the bright shiny views from the top of the town, below the glitz and glamour of the ground-floor spotlights -under the very ground itself- here you will find Rosewood’s brightest shining star, a place to elevate all of your senses, especially your sense of taste.
A World Beneath Us
Zhan Liang restaurant is in the basement, beneath Vattanac Mall at 66, Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh; many find it curious that a hotel, with such remarkable height and views at its disposal, would choose to place its flagship Chinese restaurant in a subterranean section of its structure. Many who book by phone ask for a table with a ‘nice view of the city or, facing the river’. However, one does not come here to gaze off into the distance or affirm one’s position from on high, one comes here to be transported, to suspend time and place and to bathe in the brilliant light emanating from the chu-fang-chi. (厨房 气) of chef David Pang.
Many of the grand cities of China are beehives below the surface, full of tunnels, enclaves –warrens of commerce, camaraderie, collusion, conviviality and culinaria. They are bustling, cackling, smoky, smelly and noisy. Life laid bare; teashops, sweatshops, traders, dealers, cooks, crooks, artists, calligraphers, masseuse and more. The clacking of mah-jong tiles ever in the background, hidden from view, crouching fortune tellers at low tables, with darting eyes and soft voices. The scents of joss, unguents and ointments wafting from behind a curtain. Steam, spice, smoke, the smells of cooking permeate more than every nook and cranny down here, they seep through one’s pores, feeding one’s imagination.
In modern cities like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and others, there are whole villages of malls, food courts and centers of commerce and community below the ground. Points of convergence; a city’s synapses connected by tunnels of electric trains. No distractions down here, just the animation of pulsating life. In places of high-density-living, such modernized subterranean spaces move us around the city but, in isolation they also take us on little journeys through our senses; sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, allowing -or even forcing- one to focus on the smaller, more human scenes in front of us, life’s minutiae; not to be distracted by climate and the broad vistas above ground. Dining in these spaces allows us to pay more attention to the meal, the food, the service, the company, the wine, the art and the whole dining experience, with more sensitivity, appreciation and so, ultimately -in the moment- we may experience more enjoyment.
Brilliant and Shining
Zhan Liang translates as ‘shining and brilliant’ (as in light) in English. Intriguingly, I am reminded of the name Zhang Liang, a name synonymous with one of the ‘Three Heroes of the Han Dynasty’, who rebelled against the Qin emperor and spent much of his life as a fugitive in hiding. However, it is perhaps more famous today for being the pseudonym employed to protect the identity of the anonymous compiler of The Tiananmen Papers, published in 2001; which shed light on a significant moment in China’s modern history, (1989).
Of their publication Zhang Liang said, ““what I did, I did for history and for the people.” His true identity has never been revealed and his light has always been kept secret, hidden from view as it were, as if under a bushel.
At Zhan Liang Chinese restaurant, somewhat hidden itself, down beneath Vattanac Tower, the space indeed reminds me of a modern version of the underground warrens and dining halls of great Asian cities, spaces that I have been visiting and dining in for the past 30 years.
Smaller nooks and recesses of this dining space house a bar and a tea library, then you walk through, turn a corner and an alcove opens up as a long, narrow dining area, turn right and this leads onto a larger dining area, which you walk through to get to the private dining rooms of varying sizes, concealed somewhat, on the other side. Visually, with its art and design each space is a revelation, walking through it for the first time is like unwrapping presents.
Melbourne based designers BAR and Tokyo’s Bond Design Studio collaborated on the dining spaces of the hotel and Zhan Liang is a sensitively realized space. The contemporary artworks make a statement; the overall ambience, contemporary Pan-Asian with specific accents on China and Cambodia, but there are also hints of Japan and beyond. Modern, elegant, refined, one is soon charmed, at ease and sitting in excited anticipation.
There are suggestions of classical China everywhere, but no clichés or kitsch; this is modern creativity with respect for its traditions; jade coloured tiles reminiscent of matted bamboo, lattice touches, striking paintings that remind one of a Shanghai cigarette girl print or an ancient Cambodian temple mural, but these works are unmistakably fresh; new interpretations of ancient cultures, through the eyes of a new generation of young artists. Cheeky brass pigs are littered playfully throughout the restaurant, a gentle reminder of the lunar year and to not take the refined atmosphere too seriously –you are meant to relax and enjoy yourself here.
‘The Way is ever without action, yet nothing is left undone.’
Tao Te Ching chapter 37
Entry to the restaurant is through the small bar, high stools facing rows of whiskies, cognacs and Chinese distillations impresses. Turn left and you enter the tea library, this is like a little apothecary, there are rows of small shelves and a myriad of jars containing dozens and dozens of different teas; from the Chinese classics such as Pu’er, to modern infusions from TWG. The tea library, like the hotel itself, pays respect to the traditions of the past, with its eye fixed firmly on the possibilities of the future.
In traditional Chinese culture, serving tea is a way to show respect and appreciation, the Gongfu-cha is strong at Zhan Liang; allowing the resident tea-sommelier to help you select the perfect tea brings new and delightful joys to your cup.
The spaces in the dining areas are all wood and steel and the furniture low and stylish, made for comfort, not cultural appropriation. The ceilings of the dining annex and private rooms are white, with a subtle pattern of Chinese lattice. The art hanging in these rooms is stunning, impacting your senses and your sense of expectation. The large, 20 plus seat, round dining tables in the private rooms, with their huge, motorized Lazy-Susan’s, are inspirational spaces, the imagination quickly soars to organizing an event, just to dine in one.
The main dining area is an art instillation unto itself and there is more than a hint of designer Joyce Wang’s, Mok 32 in Hong Kong. A large and impressive glass wine cabinet dominates one wall, jade coloured tiles the other, at one end of the space is the open kitchen, all steam and steel, racks hung with roast duck and BBQ pork; a touch of Jacques Derrida-esque deconstructivism, reminiscent of a Chinese chop-shop.
The main area is framed by two large dining bulkheads, each wrapped in a weave of wire-cable tie downs, like hot air balloon gondolas, suspended under a black glass roof that could be the cosmos or the abyss; enchanting. With a little imagination I can see myself in the courtyard of a Siheyuan under a night sky, a sense of wu-wei washes over me and I am excited by the possibilities, by the culinary journey to come.
“Man who stand on hill with mouth open will wait long time for roast duck to drop in.”
Yin & Yang
China’s cuisine is an integral part of its culture and has influenced many others throughout Asia and the rest of the world. China’s gastronomy is as broad and diverse as its geography, its different climates and its many tribes and peoples.
An old saying to describe Chinese cuisine went something like; ‘The East is sweet, the South’s salty, the West is sour, the North is hot’. Another said, ‘Eat in Guangzhou, play in Suzhou, live in Hangzhou, die in Liuzhou’.
Suzhou is famous for its traditional gardens, its silk fashions and the beauty of its women, Hangzhou is famous for its scenery and the Liuzhou forests were the place to take timber to make your coffin. There are several playful variations on this saying, involving different cities for different activities however, always Guangzhou, with its Cantonese food, remains the place to eat.
Cantonese cooking is one of the ‘Eight Culinary Traditions’ of Chinese cuisine. It is the most prominent Chinese cuisine outside of China and Guangdong Chefs trained in Cantonese cuisine are highly sought after throughout all China and Chinese restaurants around the world.
Traditionally, the most acclaimed ‘Four Major Cuisines’ of China have been the Chaun, Lu, Yue and Huaiyang; which represent the West North, South and East of the country. Then there are the so called, ‘Modern Eight’ cuisines:
Anhui (徽菜; Huīcài), Cantonese (粤菜; Yuècài), Fujian (闽菜; Mǐncài), Hunan (湘菜; Xiāngcài), Jiangsu (苏菜; Sūcài), Shandong (鲁菜; Lǔcài), Sichuan (川菜; Chuāncài), and Zhejiang (浙菜; Zhècài).
Since antiquity, Chinese society has placed great importance on food and cooking and the benefits of a healthy diet; closely tied to their beliefs on traditional medicine and their ancient philosophies on well-being.
Confucius (551–479 BCE), considered food to be one of the three fundamental elements of founding a state. In the ‘Analects’, he discussed the principles of dining: ‘The rice should never be too white, the meat never be too finely cut and use the right sauce for the right dish’, the sage had many practical thoughts on food quality, preparation, hygiene and diet.
Lao Tzu was believed to have lived sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, and was the author of the Tao Te Ching; he is considered the father of Taoist philosophy. Taoism emphasizes the need to live in harmony with ‘The Way’, which is to say that each of us must strive to live as one with the all prevailing and interconnected rhythms of the universe.
Diet was very important to the Taoist priests, who regarded food not only as a source of the energy qi, (chi) but also as a means to balance one’s Yin and Yang.
The ancient concept of Yin and Yang, which translates as dark and bright or negative and positive, is a philosophy on cosmology. The principle of the philosophy is that the universe is governed by a cosmic dualism, two opposing and complementing principle energies, that can be observed in nature.
Yin and Yang is all prevailing and complex, opposite elements, always in conflict, always in harmony, reliant on each other, part of each other and apart from each other.
Just as a wave rises and crashes on the beach, so it must fall and recede back into the ocean. As grain grows and rises to the skies, so it sprouts seeds, withers and falls back to the earth. These forces complement each other even as they sometimes compete with each other. to live well we must seek to have balance and harmony with and among these forces.
The great communicator and Zen scholar, Alan Watts said, “Everything is of course fundamentally yang and yin, and if you understand that you really don’t need to understand anything else.”
In the Western Canon one thinks of ‘The Apollonian and Dionysian’, a philosophical concept represented by a dichotomy between the figures of Apollo and Dionysus from Greek mythology. In particular, its use as a dialectic device in the ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Where Nietzsche argued that we all had two sides to ourselves, the ‘Rational, Conscious, Responsible –Apollonian’ side and the ‘Instinctual, Sub-conscious, emotional –Dionysian’ side. In Nietzsche’s view, the way to achieve greatness, a ‘harmonious totality’ is to balance the two parts of yourself, Apollo being the god of sun and knowledge, Dionysus being the opposite, the god of wine and madness!
This could be likened to the duality of Yin, (Dionysus) and Yang (Apollo).
However, in the Tao these forces of Yin and Yang are not struggles between man nor gods, they are the very fabric of all the life-force and the energy of all the universe and everything in it, connecting us and driving us, at this very moment, stretching back beyond the very beginnings of all our ancestors and on ahead into infinite time.
Watts concludes that to live well, “We must seek to have balance and harmony with and among these two forces, for they are in fact one. Everything is either manifest or un-manifest as two sides of the same coin.”
In Taoist thought, food is not only a source of ‘qi’ energy, our diet is also a means to maintain a harmonious balance between our Yin and Yang. Rooted in the canonical text, the ‘I Ching’ and the principles of Chinese Traditional Medicine, food was judged for colour, aroma, taste, and texture and a fine repast was expected to balance the Four Natures: hot, warm, cool, cold; as well as the Five Tastes: pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, salty.
Southern migration during the Five Dynasties-Ten Kingdoms period, (907–979) and the later Song Dynasty, (980–1279) increased the relative place of Southern Chinese staples into the Chinese diet. Whilst the Yuan and Qing dynasties brought Mongolian and Manchurian cuisine to the table, warm, northern dishes that popularized hot pot cooking. Muslim cuisine and the cuisines of India and Tibet had an influence on Yunnan cuisine, which in turn had a broader influence across greater China.
China was the last leg of Christopher Columbus’ epic journey to the Americas in 1492. The resultant mass exchange of food crops, animals, people, disease and ideas between the old world and the new would become known as the ‘Columbian Exchange’.
Traders from Spain and Portugal soon began introducing new foods, condiments and spices, (such as Mexican Chilies that would become an integral part of Szechuan cooking) through the ports of Canton and Macau. Through Imperial kitchens and courts at formal ceremonies and festive occasions, chefs became highly skilled, dishes and meals elaborate.
The notion of a healthy balance of Yin and Yang has prevailed, dishes and ingredients are categorized as being either Yin foods or Yang and in order to get the right balance between natures, tastes and Yin & Yang, meals are usually served as multiple courses at once and shared in groups, so that one can regulate the right intake and balance of Yin and Yang in their own diets.
For a great many centuries, the small morsels of delicious food known as ‘Dim Sum’ have been as much about the art of attraction as they have about sustenance; ever since their origins on the silk road as a snack to go with Yum Cha, (literally drinking tea).
Competing vendors, who had begun offering small snacks to go with their tea, were soon coming up with ever more varieties of Dim Sum to tempt weary travellers inside their tea houses. The little morsels, that can be translated from Cantonese as ‘a little touch on the heart’ have ever since become more intricate, complex, tantalizing and absolutely delicious.
Pairing wine with food is a very old and classical part of European dining and there are many similarities between the evolution of dim sum and tea in China with the evolution of tapas and wine in Spain. In Andalusia, tavern owners would cover glasses of sherry with a tapa (literally, to cover) of bread or cured meat to keep dust, flies and other insects out of their customer’s glasses.
Eventually inn keepers would top these ‘covers’ with ever more elaborate food, the tapa becoming a miniature billboard to show off their establishment’s kitchen fare, again in order to lure a, (mostly illiterate it must be said) customer base to their inns. Whilst tea is seen to aid digestion and cleanse the palate in dim sum, the same can be said for the ancient practice of drinking wine with food.
Dim Sum has evolved from being a lure to go with tea to becoming a full meal and a culinary ritual, with little steamers piled high, laden with steamed or fried dumplings that resemble little packages of magical deliciousness and bite sized morsels of the most tender treats -in fact, it is now very much the tea which is seen as the accompaniment and not the other way around.
The unique culinary art of making dim sum has long been regarded as a demanding and exceptional profession within the realm of Cantonese and Chinese cooking, taking years to perfect and decades to master.
Dining on Dim Sum has become a fun and happy occasion, shared with friends and family, a leisurely affair that can take many hours and today, all over the world, grazing over great dim sum is one of life’s simple joys.
The first clues come from Chef David Pang’s neanimorphic appearance, a chef for over twenty years the cherub-esque innocence on his face renders this quadragenarian almost ageless. However, let there be no mistake dear reader, for here is a chef that has been down to the crossroads and entered into a Faustian pact with the devil himself. Cooking his way up through the fires of hell.
Head chef at Zhan Liang, Pang’s wok now sizzles just below Phnom Penh’s surface.
David Pang was destined to become a chef, his mother and his grandmother cooked street food in Malaysia he had an uncle that specialized in Malacca, Nyonya and Peranakan cuisine. His was not a career choice, it always felt more like a natural progression.
Soon, the young chef found himself cooking with the Hakkasan Group, originally founded by British, Chinese restaurateur Alan Yau. The emphasis at Hakkasan restaurants has always been on fine Chinese cuisine with western styled up-scaling of their dishes, along with an elevation of the entire dining experience.
This role took him to Dubai, where chef honed his skills at the highly regarded ‘Yuan’ in the world-renowned Atlantis, The Palm resort. The restaurant was awarded “Best Chinese Restaurant in Dubai” by Time Out, recognized for its modern take on Sichuanese cuisine.
Such was Pang’s growing reputation that he soon found himself cooking as a private chef for a Saudi Royal Family, which gave him the chance to push the boundaries even further, as he continued to develop his own signature style.
Next stop was a stint at the award winning Lebua, in the ultra-exclusive State Tower in Bangkok, which bills itself as the ‘the world’s first vertical destination’, David Pang it seemed, was reaching for the heavens.
And then the Devil came calling….
“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”
Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Alvin Leung is Chinese; he was born in England and raised in Canada, nothing is as it seems with the man who calls himself the ‘Demon Chef’. After earning an engineering degree he then decided to learn how to cook, (mostly self-taught) before moving to Hong Kong and buying a cheap and nasty, un-licensed ‘speak easy’ called “Bo Inosaki” for just £3,000, back in 2003.
By 2005, the business was licensed, legal and under the new name of Bo Innovation, set in Wan Chai district of Hong Kong Island. Just four years later the restaurant would be awarded two Michelin Stars, in 2012 it would be awarded a third.
Leung branded himself the Demon Chef and the moniker was picked up by the media, his cuisine he calls ‘X-treme’ Chinese cuisine, it is largely a molecular take on traditional Chinese dishes, challenging perceptions and traditionalists, whilst exciting others who interpret his food as a form of modern art.
In 2019, the Demon came calling and David Pang went to work for Alvin Leung for the opening of his new restaurant in Malaysia, ‘Fuhu’, (lucky tiger). This was a unique opportunity and a wonderful experience, one that further enhanced chef’s skills, his innovative flair and taught him to have greater confidence in his own culinary creativity.
Pang’s reputation grew to the point where he was then head-hunted to open Zhan Liang for Rosewwod, agreeing to come over in October of 2019.
“Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s tradition.”
At Zhan Liang, the research into locally sourced produce has been impeccable, and emphasized wherever it is not merely possible, but worthy. Proteins from Soma Farm and La Ferme de Bassac, vegetables from Japan Farm, Pepper from Kampot, as well as local salt, palm sugar and more. Freshness and seasonal ingredients are a key foundation of Pang’s kitchen, as is a deep respect for the traditional methods of preparing and cooking Chinese food.
The Taoist Trinity of David Pang’s kitchen is: Fresh, local produce: authenticity and respect for the origins of each dish: and his own contemporary interpretations of this classic cuisine. His openly stated aim is to fill every dish with not only his knowledge and skill -learned cooking in some of the finest contemporary Chinese restaurants in the world- he wants to infuse each dish with his passion, a passion for cooking great food and sharing it with his guests.
Pang is given free rein here to showcase his dedication to the cuisines of North Eastern China, Szechuan and Yue, (Cantonese). There are many classics on the menu, mouth-watering ingredients with eye-watering prices to match, which is to be expected at a five star establishment such as this. Boston Lobster, Abalone, Bird’s Nest, Star Garouper, Dragon Tiger Garouper, Razor Clams, a bit like a who’s who of Chinese classic fine dining.
If you don’t mind paying $50 to $98 for a main, these are stunning dishes of exceptionally high quality and skill. The crisply fried Garouper can be served infused with Hangzhou’s ‘Longjing Tea’, the famously aromatic, mellow and faintly sweet ‘Dragon Well’ tea which is a highlight of any trip to Hangzhou, the city of poets.
However, there are also surprisingly good value, signature dishes that are some of the true highlights of the menu and show chef Pang’s creativity at its best. Dishes such as: Steamed Wild Prawns, Green Ginger, Garlic Sauce $24, Stir-Fried Duck with a Shanghai Spiced Yellow Bean Sauce $19, Australian MBS 6 Wagyu Beef Tenderloin with a Kampot Black Pepper Sauce $41, Scallops Stuffed with Prawns in Supreme Broth $29. The delicate, creamy texture and subtle, sweet flavours of the scallops, stuffed with prawns in a richly flavoured supreme stock is incredible, a must try.
There is also a long list of well-crafted small-plates, sides and soups at very reasonable prices for a five-star hotel. The mushroom salad, marinated cherry tomatoes and sour plums in sweet vinegar, Golden Pumpkin, Salted Egg, Jelly Fish, Aged Vinegar Sauce and Fried Soft Shell Crab, Chili, Curry Leaf being some of my favourite snacks; whilst the Hot and Sour soup is exceptional as is the sweet corn and chicken soup. Prices for these appetizers range from about four and a half to eight dollars apart form a pricier exception involving abalone.
From the BBQ the pork belly and the roast duck are favourites and prices here are more than reasonable. The Pork belly with crispy skin is magnificent, tender juicy pork with a generous layer of crackling, blistered, crunchy skin, perfectly prepared and cooked.
The seafood menu is pricey, with plenty of bird’s nest, abalone and sea cucumber, the braised abalone with truffle a particular delicacy for $88. Outside of China Abalone is not everyone’s go to menu item but, when it is highest quality, handled and cooked with exceptional skill, then it is sublime, melt in your mouth and worthy of a place on any fine dining table.
The Meat & Poultry section includes: Sweet & Sour Pork with Lychee and Pineapple; Chicken with Dried Chili and Szechuan Red Pepper; Jasmine Tea-Smoked Beef Rib; Wok-Fried Lamb Chops with Gui Huang Sauce and Black Vinegar-Marinated Pork Ribs.
The Szechuan Chicken is another favourite, with the requisite, subtle numbing of the lips a welcome ‘tell’ of the authenticity of the peppers, created by the hydroxy-alpha sanshool component of these unique peppers. The combination of Chilli and Szechuan peppers creates a unique flavour sensation, known in Chinese as Mala.
The Mapo Tofu is also very well done with a delightful, silky texture, a balance of spices, heat, aromatics and that delightful, tingling numbness around the lips. This is a perfect interpretation of an ancient Chinese classic, the name of this dish can loosely be translated as ‘pock-marked grandma’s beancurd’ and originated in Chengdu. The dish is thought to have first been created in the 1800’s, during the Qing dynasty; whilst tofu has been a part of the Chinese diet for at least 2000 years.
The dim sum at Xang Liang is of a very high quality, prepared with a great deal of expertize, it is creative and it is wonderfully, absolutely, irresistibly delicious! Prices range from reasonable to slightly on the expensive side, just as the offerings range from riffs on the classics to unique and exquisite designer dim sum.
There is siu mai with black truffle, wagyu beef bao buns, roast duck and truffle pumpkin puffs, Har Gow with Mekong Lobster and Yunnan Ham, Wagyu puff pastry rolls, Abalone and Dried Scallop Xiao Long Bao, Garouper Chopped Chili Chinese Cabbage Dumpling, Kampot Crab Soup Dumpling, Squid Ink King Crab Seafood Dumpling and more.
This list alone is enough to have Dim Sum lover’s drooling; there are ten or so dim sum offerings served at lunch and dinner and it is the most creative and finest in the entire country. Baskets range from $4.50 to $12 and one can either indulge their dim sum degustation fantasies or, take a lunch time sample of some of the less expensive items and still walk away from the table deeply satisfied and filled with joy.
There are also three impressive rice dishes including the classic ‘Yeung Chow Style’ and three wonderful noodle dishes including Hand-Pulled Hakka Noodles and Beijing Style “Zha Jiang” Noodles.
There is also an inspired dessert menu here that consists of the simple, classic ‘baked egg tart’ to the sublime, Cardamom Crème Brûlée with Osmanthus Caramel Oranges an Almond Crumble and Pistachio Ice Cream or, a Green Tea Tiramisu with Tofu Whipped Ganache Lychees and a Green Tea Biscuit.
There are also special banquet menus available for the private rooms.
The restaurant is managed by Eden Gnean who, apart from being one of the brightest rising stars in Cambodia’s hospitality industry, is also its foremost sommelier and one of its finest palates. Eden has represented her country admirably in competition overseas. Indeed, Gnean has a wide and respected knowledge and an appreciation for great wine and as one would expect, her wine list at Zhan Liang is extensive, impressive and littered with some of the finest wines in the world.
However, what delights me here is that Eden has a number of eclectic and curiously interesting wines to share with the those -like me- who have an insatiable thirst for all things wine and in particular, an appreciation for wines made with a sense of place, with minimal interference in the natural process of winemaking and with a respect and predilection towards indigenous varieties.
A case in point being the magnificent white Godello from Valdeorras (Valley of Gold) in Galicia, Spain. I enjoyed this wine immensely on my most recent visit. The whites of Galicia are the trendy new darlings of the wine world at the moment, mostly Albarino from the Rias Biaxas and Verdejo from nearby Rueda. However, here is a white wine from Telmo Rodriguez, who trained in Bordeaux and the Rhone, before taking over an abandon 200-year-old estate in Spain, that is most worthy of our attention. Available by the glass this a crisp, aromatic white that is elegant and refined, with notes of citrus, fruit pastels, white flowers and a lingering minerality.
It is always an absolute joy to catch up with Eden and find out what she is drinking and what wines have her interest at the moment.
Overall this is an ambitious, creative and incredibly impressive menu, I have now eaten at Zhan Liang several times and have enjoyed every visit, every dish and I still get excited at the prospect of dining there again: for the space, for the interesting, quality wine options, for the service and of course, for the magnificent food.
The man who was perhaps Chef David Pang’s most famous mentor, Alvin Leung once said, “A dish should have flavor, texture, appearance and smell, but I’m doing it differently. We take Chinese food, play with your sentiments, memories of it, and then take you to the border; you won’t fall over the edge, but you do get excitement.”
Pang is a very experienced, capable, talented, confident and creative chef and like all great chefs, he is sharing with you his love, (elements of the food he and his family grew up with) and his journey, (elements of the people who have inspired him, taught him, the ingredients he loves and the cuisine he is most passionate about) and he is interpreting it his way, sharing something personal on the plate, that he dearly wants you to love in return.
This is a jewel of a restaurant that –whilst it may challenge the allegiances of some Cantonese purists- is a magnificent gift to the people of Phnom Penh and all those who travel here. I can’t wait to return, to be bathed once more in its light.