The first thing that strikes you when entering Eleven One Kitchen in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Keng Kang district is its lush green eating area, with plants taking centre stage.
But it’s not just the surroundings that are green – the owner, Srun Soklim, insists on being environmentally conscious in the running of her restaurant.
Eleven One Kitchen has for five years been attracting mostly expats with adventurous taste buds who want to enjoy Khmer dishes prepared with the freshest ingredients.
Claiming to be 99 per cent plastic-free, Eleven One Kitchen now has two branches, one serving Khmer food and the other offering Western dishes.
But the two locations – the other is in Tuol Tompoung – hold to the same values of offering quality food made from fresh ingredients to the highest standards of hygiene.
Opened in 2014, the restaurant’s concept was inspired by its owner’s experiences working with an environmentally aware previous employer.
Before owning a restaurant, Srun Soklim, an accounting and finance graduate, was working at a foreign-owned eatery where green issues were high on the agenda.
“I worked in a restaurant owned by a Belgian for 11 years. He was very conscious of environmental issues, as well as hygiene, quality and service. He chose only biodegradable sugarcane packaging that he said was good for the planet,” the 37-year-old owner recalls at her Boeung Keng Kang branch.
Impressed by such passion for the environment when running a business, Soklim was motivated to do the same.
“I remember whenever the staff went somewhere with him, we’d get scolded if we carelessly threw away rubbish. He would be very angry if we did that. It was my first job and one that I stayed at for a long time, and I adopted his way of thinking and his habits, and I applied them when I opened my own restaurant,” she says.
The mother of three also wants to be a role model for her children and her customers. With her mission to reduce the use of plastic and insistence on healthy food free of MSG, Soklim wants to make an impact on society.
“I started the business as a small place that offered only takeaway food, but I was very clear from the beginning that my business must be plastic-free,” she says.
Although regularly complimented on its food from the outset, some local customers complained about the prices.
“They said it was expensive. But I had a lot of expats coming in and they help spread word of my little eatery. It gradually grew into a restaurant, and it still attracts a lot of foreign patrons,” Soklim says.
At the Eleven One Kitchen in Boeung Keng Kang, the Khmer dishes are prepared in a way suitable for Western palates. Stir-fried short noodles and fried rice with a selection of meats – pork, beef, chicken and seafood – are served for breakfast, with prices ranging from $3 to $4.75.
The popular starters are fried sweet potatoes ($2.75), fresh avocado spring rolls ($4) and crispy shrimp in wonton wrappers ($4.5). A variety of salads include banana flower and beef salad ($4.50), and Kampot shrimp and crispy noodle salad ($5.50).
The mains include stir-fried chicken with mango and cashew nuts ($4.25), and Siem Reap lemongrass sour soup with beef or seafood ($4.75).
There also choices for vegetarians, with dishes mainly cooked with tofu, mushrooms and homegrown vegetables.
The signature dishes – which customers should not miss – are the fish amok ($4.50) and the Khmer beef steak with prahok and green pepper sauce ($6.75).
For those with a sweet tooth, there are desserts to savour, from chocolate and banana spring rolls ($4.25) to pumpkin cake ($3.75).
Besides the praise for serving delicious Khmer food, support from the expat community has grown thanks to Soklim’s focus on the planet and her commitment to high standards of cleanliness.
“The reason that most of my patrons are foreigners is the green surroundings with fresh air and the environmentally friendly practices. Another reason is that foreigners like to experience new tastes – it is problems with hygiene that often puts them off doing this.
“My kitchen door is always open for our customers to come in and see how we prepare their food. We’re very careful, not even placing the rubbish bin near our kitchen. To see the chef making food near dirty waste is unpleasant. We think of every detail, and we try to take care of the environment as much as we can,” Soklim says.
The green concept goes beyond the first impressions of the restaurant. With Soklim’s passion for the environment, Eleven One Kitchen uses biodegradable sugarcane packaging and reusable straws. There are also crocheted multi-use bags for sale.
She has turned the restaurant’s rooftop into a vegetable garden to supply her kitchen. There they grows organic vegetables using permaculture practices.
Salad vegetables are gown in recycled styrofoam boxes, while coconut husks are used to grow small leafy vegetables. The hanging wooden boxes are used to grow micro salad.
“The organic vegetable garden on the rooftop is tended to by one local staff and one technical foreign staff. We brought in fertile organic river soil from Koh Dach [Silk Island]. We also raise worms to make compost.
“We totally practise organic growing for our vegetable garden. We select the seeds to sow the vegetables and do not buy plants from the market that depend on commercial fertilisers.”
“The green surroundings with trees and plants is down to my preference. I like it that way. I want to offer our clients the experience of enjoying a meal in a farm-like atmosphere. I want them to feel comfortable, like they are dining at home so they can relax. Customers shouldn’t behave like they are in a five-star hotel or something!” Soklim says.
She is hoping in the near future to expand the natural vegetable garden on her plot of land on Koh Dach and add some small bungalows on the banks of the river.
Customers will then be able to enjoy fresh air away from the big city. They will also be able to see how natural the vegetables that end up on their plate are.
“Customers will be sure that what they eat is healthy food. I’m more than happy to open the door for people to see my vegetable garden. Hopefully, I will also be able to raise chickens and pigs for direct supply to my restaurant in addition to my organic vegetables,” Soklim says.
For people who enjoy Khmer food, Eleven One Kitchen BBK is located at #20, Street 334 (between Street 51 and Street 57), Boeung Keng Kang 1.
For Western food, Eleven One Kitchen TTP is located at #37 Street 123 (corner of 460), Tuol Tompoung.
Both open from Monday to Sunday from 7am to 9pm. Contact Soklim by email: [email protected] or phone: 086 516 111.