Review: Sichuan Impression restaurant, Phnom Penh

I have been meaning to go to the Chinese restaurant on Sisowath Quay for years. Apparently I missed the boat, because it’s closed, but a new boat pulled up almost immediately in the form of a new Chinese restaurant in the same location. Even better, it’s serving Sichuan food.

Sichuan restaurant Phnom Penh

Imposing and grand, just like a Chinese restaurant should be.

The building itself is worth mentioning — on the corner of Sisowath and 246, the restaurant is very grand, featuring tall picture windows covered with silk draperies, and outside, a giant cement arch that you must pass through to enter, with a sign in Chinese and Khmer, no English. The place is impressive and unsettling, much like China itself.

I noticed that the place had changed ownership when I saw the female staff outside doing a syncopated dance routine. If it was designed to catch my attention, it worked, and my eyes were then drawn to the poster-sized photos in the restaurant of fiery Sichuan dishes. They had me at facing-heaven chilies and I vowed to return for a meal in the next 48 hours.

Sichuan Phnom Penh

Cold sesame chicken. Delish!

I cannot pretend to be an expert on Sichuan cuisine, although I did read Fuschia Dunlop’s excellent food memoir ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’ and I’ve eaten a bunch of food in Chengdu. So I’m not an expert, but I also feel confident when I say that this place is good.

The menu offers a selection of Sichuan dishes but also sashimi — the latter, I assume is for rich Chinese businessmen to impress other Chinese businessmen with, so we didn’t order any. One of the key items on the menu were hotpots, but they looked suspiciously suki-soup-ish on the menu, so we didn’t order one. Everyone else in the place was having them, though, and later I wished I had just ordered one.

Everything we tried was delicious, from the cold sesame chicken, to the wood ear mushroom salad, to the small bowls of spicy dan dan noodles, to dumplings doused in chili oil, to the piece de resistance, a whole fish with pickled chili peppers, lotus root, and wood ear mushrooms, all smothered in garlic and spring onions and then steamed at the table in paper.

Sichuan Flavor Phnom Penh

Note the chandeliers.

I’ve eaten Sichuan pepper before, I’ve even cooked with it, but this fish was revelatory. Eating a large quantity of Sichuan pepper is impossible to explain. Yes, your mouth goes numb and you wonder if you keep eating it if you will hallucinate, yes, the taste is uniquely addictive, and yes, it’s a confusing yet exhilarating sensation. And though I’ve eaten it before, it’s never been so intense as with this fish — there were dozens and dozens of peppercorns, possibly pickled, scattered over the dish.

Main dishes cost between $12 and $15, and side orders were between $1 and $4. It’s not the cheapest Chinese food in Phnom Penh, but it was worth the price.

I’m not 100% clear what the name of the restaurant is. Their business card says Sichuan Flavour Restaurant, the sign on the door says Sichuan Impression, and the receipt we were given says PP Beijing Restaurant (but that appears to be the last incarnation of the place). Personally, I like Sichuan Impression best, so that’s what I’m going with.

Sichuan Impression

339 Sisowath Quay (at corner of Street 246), Phnom Penh
T: 069 528 555; 069 528 666

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