Spanish tapas and wine restaurant, with views of the Mekong and Royal Palace. 389 E1 Sisowath Quay (entrance on Street 184), Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
If the raucous sneak-preview party was an accurate indicator, than a new hot spot appears ready to hit the Phnom Penh culinary scene.
Offering a delectable array of regional treats, an exhaustive roster of fine wine, and all the frantic flurry of a Flamenco guitar, Pacharan — the first authentic Spanish restaurant in the Kingdom of Cambodia — opened its doors February 25 and provided patrons a peek at some full-blown sketches of Spain.
Well-heeled businessmen and over-served journalists rubbed shoulders with diplomats and local restaurateurs at a vibrant fete presided over coolly by General Manager Andres Arias, who was born in Brazil and raised in Barcelona.
"This is a real Spanish atmosphere," said Arias. "In Spain people go to bars and stand up drinking and chatting with their friends. It's a fun, informal way to have active social interaction. There's no schedule. Your night is always a work in progress."
Twenty-six-year-old Arias most recently worked for Robert DeNiro ("He's a nice fella, a character") at Nobu, the actor's Japanese-South American fusion restaurant in London. Just prior to arriving in Cambodia, Arias hosted a private function for music-diva Madonna.
"My idea is to make everybody feel like a star. We're aiming to provide a new way of approaching the customer," Arias said. "We know what serving famous people is like, and how demanding they are, so hopefully our customers will have a memorable time and come back."
Pacharan, named after a berry-based liquor from northern Spain, is the brainchild of Arias, his longtime colleague Roberto Mata, and a management team led by FCC Operations Director Anthony Alderson and company president Steve Haywood.
The 65-seat restaurant, resplendent in tile, hammered copper and gleaming, polished hardwood, received its curvilinear design from Jerry Swaffield. Handling Pacharan's dizzying selection of tapas, or Spanish "bar snacks," and assorted main courses is 30-year-old Catalonian head chef Fernando Ballesteros.
"Everything is really remarkable," said Arias, who admitted that most of those involved are working nearly around the clock to prepare for the restaurant's upcoming launch. "As soon as people come in they'll hear the music, see the art and the movements of the shakers behind the bar and they'll see it's pretty unique. All the effort and detail and innovation that's gone into this is pretty amazing."
Located prominently on the bustling riverfront corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 184, Pacharan doesn't just offer views of the Mekong and the Royal Palace — it commands them. The casual outside seating, on a second-storey balcony, rivals any watering hole in the country for romantic relaxation.
"You really feel like you're some place else rather than Phnom Penh," said Mata, whose El Pirita restaurant is a mainstay of London's Mayfair District. "The customer is surrounded by great wine and great service, and it really reminds you of places in Spain. We have that really great atmosphere."
The simple elegance of Pacharan's décor is mirrored by its menu. The dozens of tapas feature imported Spanish cheeses, like manchego, and illustrious Iberian hams, like serrano. Seafood dishes range from Galician-style octopus to an assortment of paellas. Available among the segundos platos, or main courses, are roasted suckling pig, sea bass and fillet of veal. Most tapas come in well below $4, with main dishes a bit more.
"It's going to work," said Mata, a native of Madrid. "Anywhere in the US or England it would make money. I'm sure about that. I just wish it was twice as big."