Gourmet dining on Samui costs a fraction of the price back home!
It’s all about perspective. What does a pub meal cost? And what can you get for a couple of Euros? Exactly! That’s why you eat-in every night, and go out once a week. But you’re now on Samui. You can eat a full Thai meal for a couple of Euros. And you can go 5-star for next to nothing – compared to the costs back home.
The temptation is to play it by ear. To just go out and see what happens each night. You’re on holiday, so who wants to make a plan for each day? But that’s not the way to do it. Sure, yes, it’s fun now and then. But for every street-side venue with bright lights and warm tempting glows, there are ten you can’t see which are better all round. So be wise; take a look through our pages and then think again.
Certainly some of the 5-star venues still price things way-high. But many of them have now caught on that it’s more welcoming for you, the guest, to come along and eat well and affordably: they get far more guests that way!
And so, for the same price as a take-away back home, you can enjoy tip-top cuisine from a 5-star chef right here. But you need to know where to go; the bright lights on the main streets might disappoint. Why eat on the cheap because you’re not sure what’s what? Take a look inside – your Euros and Dollars will buy so much more!
In the Mood for Food
Impiana Resort Chaweng Noi’s two restaurants offer excellent international and Thai delicacies at exceptionally good prices.
Impiana is the creation of Impiana Hotels & Resorts Management, a Malaysian-owned company and a highly-respected brand in Southeast Asia’s luxury hotel market. On Samui they’ve put together this luxurious masterpiece, with dining facilities that attract more than just the resort’s guests. It was built just over a decade ago, and the restaurants have been upgraded in that time and have always kept their reputation for extremely good food and all-round professionalism.
Just coming to Impiana to eat is an experience in itself. As you step through the lobby, you'll see the sea right in front of you, framed by the resort’s atrium. From there, it’s a short walk to the restaurants. On your right you'll see Tamarind Bar and Lounge which offers a select Thai menu. Highly recommended here are the two set dinners. Both consist of Thai favourites, for example, Gaeng Phed Ped Yang or Grilled Duck Breast in Thai Red Curry Paste & Sweet Basil Leaf and Goong Nam Ma Kham or Deep-fried Prawns in Tamarind Sauce. Naturally, you can also order à la carte and then treat yourself to a dessert that’s too tempting to refuse. Try, for example, the Water Chestnuts in Coconut Jasmine Syrup or the Mango Panna Cotta, which comes with a coconut sorbet. Both are equally delicious.
There are some weird tropical fruits, but there’s nothing as strange, or dangerous, as the humble cashew nut!
You’d never guess. I mean, they come in packets, in a shop, on the shelf, in a bag. You munch them happily and without thought. They’re a TV snack, or something you pop in a Thai dish with chicken. But, in a world full of sensible, pleasant, nuts, this one’s out on a limb. Yes, cashew nuts might seem quite ordinary. But if a peanut is the Forrest Gump of the nut world, then the cashew is Hannibal Lecter. Just looking at it in the bag, it appears quite normal. But there’s far, far more to cashew nuts than meets the eye.
And that goes for the whole deal, too, including the way it grows. Different nuts grow in different ways. Some, like peanuts, grow in the ground. But the others grow on trees and, in reality, are seeds and not ‘nuts’. Chestnuts grow on huge and majestic trees. Walnuts grow in neat upright lines like soldiers. Pecans are gigantic and graceful, yet delicate, too. But the cashew is a gnarly old witch! Bent and twisted and low to the ground. The only other thing like it in the tree world is an apple tree, which is also knobbly and twisty. But, whereas the apple tree is light, the cashew is dark – dark bark and dark glossy leaves. And then things just get stranger still.
Supattra Thai Dining offers authentic dishes in an exquisite setting.
In the hush of the night air, time seems to slow, and in the restaurant a very relaxed vibe is palpable. Built from tropical hardwoods and open-sided, Supattra Thai Dining faces not the sea, but a heady grove of mangrove trees that cluster round the restaurant’s terrace, as if they too are intent on dining here. It’s a beautiful setting, and an original one; plenty of people venture in, drawn by the postcard-pretty architecture, but the food and drink turns out to be an even finer lure here.
The newly-opened restaurant is the brain child of Khun Supattra and her husband Thomas, a couple who provide excellence at very reasonable prices, and are in the gastronomy business out of sheer passion and a devotion to hospitality. This shows in all that they do, from the welcome you'll receive when you arrive all the way through to the moreish desserts that they offer.
Supattra Thai Dining is definitely a place to linger, and the best way to start off an evening here is with a drink in hand. You’ll find a cosy bar along one wall of the restaurant, offering a wide range of wines and cocktails.
An army of food vendors brings hard-to-resist delights to Samui’s beaches.
Imagine being wrapped from head-to-shorts in chequered clothing. This is to keep you cool, and to make you stand out. Because people have to recognize who you are, or more importantly, what you are. If they don’t, you'll be invisible in the blinding sun. And invisible is the worst thing possible; you won’t make any money.
Now look down at your feet. You're wearing flip-flops. Old ones. Not the most comfortable footwear – and you'll be walking miles and miles in them. Same as you did yesterday, and the day before that. As you've done for years.
OK. Cap pulled down, sunglasses tight against your face; you now crouch down and get ready for your day’s work. Which means positioning the carrying pole over whichever shoulder hurts the least. Then you stand. And as you do so, you pull up the two baskets at each end of the pole. Together they must weigh – and you've been through this countless times – surely as much as one of the suitcases that holidaymakers bring with them to Samui. You wish your baskets had wheels on them, just like those suitcases do, but no such luck. And not even possible given all the sand.
One of the most magnificent restaurant panoramas is at the Santiburi Samui Country Club in Maenam.
Take a look around as you come through Maenam. It’s a fact that 80% of people only look around at head height. They don’t look up or down. But pull your eye away from the shops and eateries, and look up. It seems a long way up the mountain, doesn’t it? It’s high. Keep on driving, along the ring-road through Maenam, heading away from Chaweng, west in the direction of Nathon. Not so far – just a few kilometres until you get to where the road seems to get busier. There are orange cones in the middle of the road, just at the entrance of Soi 7 where the market is. Turn left into Soi 7 and take the second turn on the right (it’s a short distance). And then follow the signs for ‘Santiburi Golf’.
But here’s an odd thing. Apart from the last few hundred metres as you head up a slight incline towards the clubhouse, there’s almost no sensation at all of going up. And if you’ve ever explored up and over the mountain before, you’ll know what I mean! It’s only 600 metres to the highest point of Samui, but in some places you need a ski-lift!
Make it yourself: red and green Thai curry pastes.
Curries are a staple of the Thai diet, and if you're like me and love to eat Thai food, you'll probably want to make your own. If you go into any supermarket you'll find ready-made pastes for everything from tom yam to massaman. Those packets of quick simple curry pastes are very appealing, promising quick and easy meals. But making your own curry paste needn't be as hard as you think, and it will be much healthier for you and your family.
Also it is something you can still make and enjoy eating once your holiday is over. The beauty of the pastes is that they all keep for about one and a half weeks in the fridge, so you can use them whenever you want – they'll also keep well in the freezer. So time to get out your food processor or the more traditional pestle and mortar, and whip up some delicious curry pastes.
Mulligans Irish Pub stands out for great food, convivial evenings and sheer friendliness.
The Irish were never colonists, and weren’t into annexing other countries, and yet you can find their culture pretty much everywhere you go. The Irish, over the centuries, migrated to many different places in the world, and have left their mark in lots of ways, particularly their pubs and bars, which in turn have been enthusiastically copied. There can be few countries today that don’t boast a few Irish watering holes. On Samui you can now find quite a few established Irish pubs, and all attract lots of visitors out for a laid-back time.
Mulligans is one of the newer additions to the Irish scene here on the island. You'll find it in Lamai, where it forms part of Manathai Koh Samui, a unique resort with louvered shutters that looks like it might have been modelled on Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Both the resort and the pub are easy to find: as you drive along the ring-road from Chaweng to Lamai, you'll see Manathai on your right about a half kilometre after the IT Building, and just after the turning for Tamarind Springs. If you're coming by car, there's plenty of parking space in the courtyard at Manathai, right in front of Mulligans itself.
A chef who once served royalty, now offers the very best of French-Mediterranean and Thai cuisine at Hansar Samui’s H Bistro.
What’s in a word? ‘Bistro’ turns out to be Russian for ‘quickly’ and is thought to have evolved from impatient diners in Moscow who urged the waiting staff to be quick with the food. Eateries where the food reached the table in the minimum of time became popular, and they were called by that single, catchy word, bistro.
However, not all bistros are created equal, and the one that you'll find at Hansar Samui, a luxury resort in Fisherman’s Village, Bophut, is surprisingly chic. It’s called H Bistro, but behind the disarmingly simple name, you'll find one of the island’s most sophisticated restaurants.
For a start, the chef here, Stephen Jean Dion, used to be the private chef to the King and Queen of Jordan. Obviously, he’s used to working at the very pinnacle of dining, and as his guest at H Bistro, you'll enjoy some of the most sumptuous tastes to be had anywhere. Then there’s the setting. The restaurant has a panoramic view of the bay of Maenam. Right in front of you, just across the water, you can see the entire southern coast of neighbouring Koh Pha-Ngan. From your seat you'll be able to watch the sun set and the evening stars coming out all along the bay.
H Bistro is easy to find, by the way. In Fisherman’s Village, simply head along the beach road westwards and you'll soon come to it. If you're approaching from the ring-road, take the small turning just next to the Anantara Bophut Resort, some 600 metres after the traffic lights at Bophut as you head towards Nathon. Follow the road till you get to the resort. You'll need to make a reservation, especially if you'd like one of the tables closest to the beach, as these are limited.
Ahhhh! You’ve planned for almost a year. You’ve gritted your teeth and suffered 30 hours of long-haul cramps. You’ve been happy to pay the taxi man on Samui anything he asks to get to your resort. You’ve signed-in and crashed-out by the pool. But now, at last, you’re here and you’re chilling! It’s holiday time on the isle of Samui. And that means food; lots of it. Cocktails, too. And, naturally, being an island, you just can’t wait to get stuck into all that luscious seafood. And so off you go, out at night, exploring, with crustaceans in mind.
For those who are new, there are three stages to this. The first is that you wander around the nearest town centre. Every one place out of four is an eatery, so you go for the prettiest. Or, if you are hyped-up on seafood, you’ll head to the one with its frontage filled with ice-boats and every kind of sea-stuff known to man. This first stage goes several ways – none good! The best case is that you eat lots of seafood and are impressed by the price, but not by the food. The worst case is that you spend the next three days in your room not straying far from the part with white tiles.
Exquisite cliffside dining at Dr Frogs Bar & Grill.
Nestled high up on the cliffs of Chaweng Noi, the ever popular Dr Frogs Bar & Grill commands breath-taking views of the turquoise blue ocean below, and the whole stretch of Chaweng beach to the north. The restaurant itself consists of two covered, open sided balconies with wooden decking and fans throughout. The gorgeous view, complete with a welcome ocean breeze weaving its way through the tables, is available throughout the entire dining area. It really is an idyllic spot to sample some of their renowned, authentic Italian or Thai cuisine. And despite its name, Dr Frogs now has an even stronger Italian connection.
To complement the exceptionally experienced and talented Italian chef Massimo Mariani, Dr Frogs now has a new restaurant manager. Simoné Marchiori is young, enthusiastic and energetic, with a passion for exceptional hospitality and customer service.
Simoné and Massimo actually hail from the same Italian city of Sarrono (best known for its almond liqueur DiSaronno Originale Amaretto and its Amaretti biscuits), near Milan. Simoné’s father and Massimo were best friends, so Simoné grew up with Massimo around. Now they are both in the same restaurant on Samui, and the partnership is working exceptionally well. They have found that they share not just the same language, but the same ideas and passions about food, menus and hospitality. The Dr Frogs dining experience and reputation is going from strength to strength.
The parcel is the size of a massive brick but seems to weigh no more than a proverbial feather. It’s wrapped in brown paper that has neither stamp nor address on it, just some Chinese characters on one side, and a supplier’s name translated into English. It looks mysterious. A corner has been broken open; a glimpse inside reveals a myriad of tiny white and yellow petals, perfectly dried and preserved. They look vaguely familiar yet hard to place.
“Dried chrysanthemums,” says the owner of the restaurant. “Shipped straight from China and imported via Bangkok. Like some?” The petals are turned into an appealing cold juice that’s surprisingly refreshing. Just how Khun Pongsak Rojanapenkul, the owner of Imchalerm Restaurant, makes it is just one of the skills that he’s gathered over the years.
Once he had a completely different life. He used to be in shipping, and controlled a large warehouse with over 200 staff working for him, as well as a hundred trucks. “It was a 24 hour job,” he says. “Stuff would be happening all the time. Every day, some new problem would come up. It was a headache.” He dismisses the memory with a smile. “I got away from all of that. I came here, to Samui. I liked the island and began looking for a business that I could start, and eventually found it.”
Why do people post more food pictures on social media when on holiday?
Picture this scene; you have arrived at your gorgeous Samui holiday destination, unpacked, had a leisurely swim in the glistening turquoise sea or the relaxing hotel pool, maybe enjoyed a massage or a pre-dinner cocktail and you are headed for a local restaurant. The waiter or waitress has helped you and your partner, family or friends select from their varied menu offering local Thai and/or western delights, and now you're sitting at a table waiting to be served. One by one each dish is placed on your table. It all looks stunningly inviting and smells great. You mentally select the dish that looks the most appealing to you and as you reach out to it, someone yells “WAIT!”
They then proceed to take a picture of each dish, getting the angle and lighting just right, taking various different shots. And you have to sit back and wait until they get the perfect shot, smiling as if they are on the cusp of greatness, doing some sort of worldly service for the good of all human beings. Then they ask the waiter to take a shot of all of you together, and wait, it now needs to be posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. After all this, you finally get to try some of the delicious looking food that on your table. Ah, but now it’s not quite as hot, fresh and tasty as it would have been! And some people have even been known to then complain that the food is cold!
The Tongsai Bay resort is a part of Samui’s history – but the only thing that’s old-fashioned about it is the food!
Everyone has heard the tales about the way Samui emerged. The influx of hippies in the 70s. The little wooden beach huts. Then the airport. More visitors, more investment and finally the influx of 5-star resorts. Of course today it’s all settled down a bit, and new players talk loudly about preservation, conservation and the new ‘green Samui’. But for some this is no new thing at all. In fact there’s one resort here that will see its 30th birthday next year, and was the island’s first 5-star resort. It was decades ahead of its time, with all today’s conservation principles inherent in its conception. It’s up at the tip of Samui’s north-east coast. And its name is The Tongsai Bay.
Even the tale of how it came into being is bedded into Samui folklore. Back in the 1980s, the late Akorn Hoontrakul was the chairman of Thailand’s Imperial Hotel Group. His work took him all over the world, although his self-confessed favourite country was Italy, which he returned to as often as he could. In 1985, he visited Samui and happened to catch sight of Tongsai Bay from the sea. He instantly fell in love with it, and seven days later bought the land. He set up camp on the beach, and spent months walking the hillside, thinking, sketching, and planning the layout and location of the buildings – because he was determined to preserve its natural beauty, and achieve his dream-resort without cutting a single tree or destroying any of the location’s massive rocks.
The old rule of drinking red wine with cheese is as revered as the one dictating wearing black leather shoes with a dark business suit. But in a country where chilled white wine seems so appealing, and business suits are incongruous, both those rules demand to be broken, and not just as a sign of surrender to the hot weather.
The notion of red wine with cheese could be a vestige of the good old sexist, Victorian days. In 19th century England, the consumption of red wine and cheese was not considered ladylike. At the end of dinner, the women retired to the parlour so that the men could get on with serious drinking and poignant discussions, often consuming claret and port with Stilton, of course. Whilst in France, the habit evolved from a custom of saving the best (red) wines for the end of the meal. And the custom persists, for practical reasons. Usually, there is enough red wine left over from the main course, so people continue drinking it with the cheese. My problem with this is that although many strong cheeses would flatter a light, simple red wine, most people would not follow the big red wine of the main course with a simpler one.
Today, my personal preference is for white wines to accompany nearly all cheeses. White wine is livelier and has more acidity, which balances the fattiness of cheese. I started drinking white wine with cheeses because many of the times with red wine, it was a disappointment. Cheeses kill the nuances in a complex red wine. Most cheeses taste of salt and fat (as well as being delicious). Many are also creamy and pungent. These characteristics often deaden full-bodied, tannic red wines. But refreshing, fruity but dry whites can handle them. Some sweet white wines make for brilliant matches, like the classic combination of Sauternes and Roquefort.