For anyone looking for a relaxing space for a fantastic meal that is probably the best value in Phnom Penh , I can highly recommend Aussie XL Cafe. This place deserves an honest and decent rap.I have eaten there 3….no….4 times there in the last 6 weeks and every time has been pure joy.
The Staff; This aspect can make or break a noshery. AXL staff are wonderful, especially the main lass whose name I should really ask because she knows mine now! Well spoken and knowledgeable about the menu, she can help you pick out something and then will attend your needs in just the right manner (not too much, not too little).
The Premise; I never went to AXL when it used to be XXL Cafe (which also got good feedback from others) but Aussie XL is not a cafe at all. I don’t think the term cafe does it justice. Part fine dining / part living room (sounds odd I know) the natural thing to do as soon as you walk in is head for the lounge area and chill out in front of the telly with the current Australian broadsheet paper (SMH / Australian etc) with a cool drink before retiring back to the dining area. The girls will instantly turn on the AC so you get showered in coolness and it really is like sitting in someone’s (very comfy) living room. It would make for a great place to go to watch the footy too. The dining area is refined in that the walls are not plastered with tacky art or attempts at theming such as Kangaroo Ahead or VB signs. Just some simple free standing chalk boards with specials and wines. Fresh neutral linen and a comfortable, easy vibe. Behind the scenes is spic and span. You have to go out the back into the kitchen to get to the loo and everything is gleaming.
Accommodation; There are 5(? maybe more / less) rooms upstairs which are full service AC, Hot water,Laundry,WiFi etc and I think they go for $250-$300 a month. If I was coming here for an extended period I would stay here 100% because AXL is like a very discreet boutique B and B. Stay upstairs, eat downstairs, secure, clean and central and you also get a very healthy discount on the food.
The Food; Well here is where AXL leaves just about everywhere in this city for DEAD. I rarely if ever go back to the same (western) restaurant. In three years I really have had no favourites UNTIL NOW. The only place I really return to again and again are my favourite Vietnamese Pho restaurants but they are of course a different thing altogether. During my visits to AXL I have eaten;
First visit – The shrimp bisque. I was not very hungry when I went to AXL the first time but I needed something to line the stomach as we were half way through a drinking session. My mother used to serve prawn bisque at home in Australia and when my AXL plate came out it was almost identical so I was in heaven. Nice big hot plate, a nice swirl of sour cream in the middle and a basket of fresh crispy bread. And not just three measly pieces as is served in so many places that should stick to serving beer and give up on the food. The soup was delicious and really hit the spot. my wife had the chicken soup which she raved about and my mate had a beef burger which looked perfect and he could not finish it. All washed down with a bottle of red. The soup was about $4 from memory.
Second Visit – During the final days of the Water Festival I was starving and around 2pm one day I tried to get to the river front but of course it was packed out everywhere. I went past AXL and jammed on the brakes as it was open! I must have also been low on protein because I was craving a (decent) steak. As I approached the doors I noticed they were open and this particular day it was STINKING HOT. UH OH I thought …maybe no power and its going to be stinking hot inside. Not so – AXL was just conserving power and the moment I walked in ( I was the only one there ), the girls mobilised and doors were shut, multiple AC was turned on and a cold water was produced. I felt like a king. After mentioning I was craving a steak, I was directed to the 300g Cambodian Strip Loin with mushroom sauce. They actually have Australian Beef but at $17ish vs $10 for the Cambodian cow, I decided on being adventurous – Khmer beef can be notoriously chewy if you get the wrong cut. I was even shown a small chart with actual photos of the different colours – super rare, rare, medium rare, well done etc which I thought was sheer genius. Whilst my (medium rare) meal was prepared I had a cold San Miguel beer and watched some telly. My lunch arrived and I really had to sit back and just look at it for a while. I still wish I had taken a photo as it was pure art. The steak was thick and had just the right amount of mushroom sauce on it. It was neither swimming nor had they used a teaspoon AND there were plenty of small real champignons in the sauce. Next to the steak was the most glorious salad I have seen in some time. Fresh lettuce, tomato and …oh joy…..beetroot and plenty of it. THEN…ALSO INCLUDED…a small plate of steamed beans, broccoli and cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil AND….again…a basket of fresh bread. It was really the most amazing meal I have had in a restaurant for …well…..3 years. The steak was perfect.I was left alone to eat in peace and after a latte coffee I walked out a very content man.That cost me about $17 !
Third Visit – After a mid morning visit to the gym my training partner and I were both starving and we were actually on our way to the new California 2 but again we got as far as AXL and the magnet sucked us in. We both hit the lounge for a lime juice and we both ate the grilled chicken an salad on a very fresh black whole meal roll. Another latte and that cost me about $7 or so.
Fourth Visit – Repeat Above. Again Excellent
AussieXL is owned and operate by a chap named Carl who is, naturally, Australian. The interesting thing about Carl is that he tells me he does not have a hospitality background !! He is ex army. Struth. I cannot believe someone with no previous experience ( he did have XXL Cafe for a bit but that’s another story) in restaurants has come to Cambodia, taken a premise, gathered staff and is now offering such a great experience. AXL really deserves to succeed in a town where so many fail. I am sick of getting crap service, crap portions and crap quality food with long black hairs in it and I am sick of being charged near western prices for it. Carl serves up the freshest tucker in town and as the name implies, serves are XtraLarge and the prices are very fair.
With a great selection of Australian and foreign wines, an inclusive but not exhaustive menu an a relaxing, welcoming yet stylish feel, AXL is now my pick for the best restaurant in Phnom Penh in it’s “class”. It should be called Aussie eXcelLent !