Phillpe and Emeline met in Vanuatu a few years back. They were both working with NGOs and development agencies, dabbled in the private sector, and it was really only a matter of time before they made their way to Phnom Penh. They arrived just under three years ago, and we are so glad they did.
The initial goal was to create a place with homemade pasta, using local ingredients. Both have French backgrounds, and miss the food from home. They wanted to make a warm, friendly place for people to grab a healthy, and delicious, lunch, packaged in eco-friendly biodegradable containers. The Lemon Tree has a small, get menu, tacked high with French favorites, and as far as we can tell, they have blown past their initial goal.
The restaurant has only opened it’s doors recently, but we were lucky to use the space for our photo shoot a few months ago and check out the operation, and now we come back regularly. They are doing well, but not without a bit of a struggle from the neighborhood. Apparently, to some people, “quiet cafe that closes at 10pm” is the same as “all night sexy rave parties drugs and music and fornication and sin.” They are back on track now after managing some particularly feisty neighbors.
These two really care about their food, bringing in locally cured meats, organic fruit and veg, and importing all of their (delicious) dairy products from small vendors. They care immensely about the quality of the food and the atmosphere where it is eaten. They wax poetic about the complexities involved in making a quiche or the labor of love that goes into a duck confit or cassoulet.
The neighborhood community is supportive and encouraging of new businesses and new kids on the block. (The people, not the band; no one is encouraging of that.) The 308 Alley community is hip and delicious, making great company for this sweet little spot. The friendly crew down the road at Chez Flo often sends happy hour patrons to the Lemon Tree for dinner, and the love is sent right back.
The front garden of the traditional wooden house (that serves as both their home and the restaurant) is scattered with tables and chairs and plants and jungle bits right in the middle of town. A majority of the furniture in the place is from a local artist who works with reclaimed wood. The Lemon Tree is located on 308, just down the road from Mama Wongs and Chez Flo, and they put in a lot of hours to make the place look and feel as cozy as it is. After striking out with a few contractors, they enlisted the help of their visiting guests and went to work to create a beautiful and unique space. Five months later, things are running smoothly.
Though both have a vested interest in development and have worked in the field, the restaurant is not a training cafe, like many are in town. This is a place that works hard to employ good people and help develop their skills, and it is not charity. The restaurant brings in a variety of customers including the expat community that huddles around 308, but also the burgeoning community of young local professionals. During our interview, they mentioned more than once how impressed they were with their local staff and how have been lucky to have a great team full of young Cambodians, eager to learn and share knowledge.
And now, very important facts.
Restaurant family favorites: Duck confit and the quiche
Most popular menu items: La Plancha, Flammkuche, and a goat cheese and bacon salad.
Things to come: The team will be taking on brunch, bringing in new pasta recipes and trying their hand at falafel. Emeline will also be bringing some favourites from her mother’s home of the Reunion Islands. Can’t wait.
The Lemon Tree is located at #8b, Street 308 in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Look for the twinkle lights as you pass street 21.
Photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.