Christmas is upon us. But if you're on Samui, you'll be hard-pressed to see much in the way of festive decorations. It’s definitely not Santa’s kind of place, it would seem, though you'll see a few Christmas trees up here and there. But perhaps they, too, are also hard to spot, as the background of palm trees and tropical foliage is permanently green. And of course there’s no snow at all.
No Christmas spirit, therefore? Not true. It turns out that in another way, Christmas is taken very seriously here. We’re talking about food and drink. Just because Samui doesn’t get into Christmas in a big way, it certainly doesn’t mean anyone goes short on treats. There are plenty of places hosting Christmas lunches, but more than that, food of every possible kind is on the agenda.
If you're on holiday, it’s time to treat yourself, and Samui will completely spoil you on that front, whether it’s Christmas or not. It’s easy to find all sorts of tempting restaurants, providing cuisines that cover the four corners of the earth and everything in-between. All of it is yours to enjoy.
Fun, Feasts, Fantastic Food!
Always amazing, Nora Beach Resort & Spa celebrates both Christmas and the New Year in true international style.
In December, when Samui winds down after a year of bringing all its guests wonderful holidays and great food, there’s no resting on their laurels for resorts such as Nora Beach. Exciting plans are afoot, and if you take a peek in the days coming up to Christmas, you'll see there’s a lot of intriguing things going on, with staff busy getting ready for the big festive occasion to come. Quite what they'll be is a secret till the last moment, so we can’t give too much away. But safe to say that the folks at Nora are on a mission to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a truly sumptuous fashion.
When it comes to Christmas, Samui may be thousands of miles distant from Europe, but the keeping of traditions that are centuries old is taken seriously here, and guests are amazed that resorts such as Nora Beach celebrate all the Christmas festivities. And it’s done on a gigantic scale here. Just drive past, and even from the road you'll see huge decorations. And inside the resort, you'll find a grand tree, that’s as expertly decorated as any in the west. Children are perhaps even more wowed than their parents. Santa’s definitely in town and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see airborne reindeer or hear a resounding ‘ho-ho-ho’ thundering down from above.
Make it yourself: pad ka-phrao or spicy stir-fry with chillies and holy basil.
Pad ka-phrao is a delicious dish that is one of the nation’s best-loved foods. I always eat it at a little place in Bangkok that’s niched into a lane near Baiyoke Tower. We eat perilously close to the traffic on small plastic stools. But the food’s too tempting to refuse, and there’s always a crowd here, no matter how hot the day is. The chef uses ka-phrao or holy basil, a plant that you'll find all over Thailand. It has dark green and purple leaves with jagged edges, and purple flowers.
Up and down the country, cooks with sizzling woks will stir-fry sliced or minced meat flavoured with Thai chillies, then round off the dish with holy basil. The recipe is one of those that have many variants. There’s definitely no one way of making this moreish dish, so experimentation is the key.
If you're back in your home country then you might not find holy basil, so you may need to make do with one of the other kinds – exactly as people do in Thailand. But try to get the real thing; holy basil has a delicious peppery taste, and perhaps is the type of basil that Thai people love the most. It’s used in various parts of Southeast Asia and has culinary, medicinal, and even religious purposes. It’s a sacred plant in the Hindu religion. It is used in ayurvedic remedies for colds, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, poisoning and malaria.
Making the most of a super family restaurant - The Beach Club at Buri Rasa.
What’s in a name? Say the words ‘beach’ and ‘club’ together; beach-club. You’ll no doubt get images of lots of beautiful young people being hip by the pool, while a DJ spins cool tunes. And 99 times out of 100, you’d be right. But not this time. Because if you add the word ‘restaurant’ to it, place it on the edge of the sand at one of the friendliest resorts on the island, and make it very laid-back and family-geared, then you’re actually looking at a restaurant. And it’s at Buri Rasa Village Koh Samui, right in the middle of Chaweng Beach Road.
Buri Rasa is one of those luxuriant and expansive resorts, built before everyone tried to cram as much accommodation into as little space as possible. It’s dotted with gigantic trees, and the two-storey villas are shady and cool beneath them. The clean white walls and the trellis work that adorn them are covered in lush tropical foliage and flowers, and it’s cool and quiet as you wander along the shady path between the villas towards the sea. It’s a delightful resort; quiet, picturesque and idyllic.
There are dishes that spend their entire culinary lives basking in the limelight. They seem to have caught the eye and hooked the tongue from the first day they were ever made, and gradually became famous throughout the world. Some are fairly easy to make, others are chancier. But for all of them, to make them taste truly exquisite requires practice. But no matter where you are in the world, not much globe-trotting is needed to secure orders for all six. Without further fanfare, here they are:-
Tiramisu The word tiramisu trips off the tongue, and few people stop to think what the word actually means. It’s Italian for ‘pull me up’, and many people assume the dish is so named because of the coffee it contains. More about that in a moment, but there are two definite misconceptions about tiramisu, the first being that due to its sophisticated taste it must be incredibly hard to make. But in fact it’s made of very few ingredients. Just ladyfingers dipped in coffee, then a mix of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese, flavoured with cocoa. Simple, but effective. And very, very sinful. Many people are so addicted to tiramisu that they choose Italian restaurants based on how good the chef’s tiramisu is.
The Siam Residence Boutique Resort offers casual dining right next to one of Samui’s best beaches.
Some beaches become famous simply because of the crowds who visit them and spread the word, while others are near-deserted yet have a pull that’s just as great. Lipa Noi bay is unknown to most holidaymakers, simply because there's so little development here, but it’s truly beautiful. Its long, sandy throughout and is an oasis of laid-back solitude. Sun-filled days and velvety evenings make it an amazing spot, whether you've come to get a tan or to eat here. About half way along the bay you'll find The Siam Residence Boutique Resort, which offers the perfect place for a relaxed lunch or dinner. Drop in and you'll be pleasantly surprised what they’re offering in the way of cuisine.
The dishes here reflect that you're on an island, with seafood a-plenty and in many varieties. Lobster, prawns, red and white snapper, squid and barracuda are all menu favourites. From the resort you can see something of the fishing fleet as it brings catches to the jetties in nearby Nathon, the island’s tiny capital. Ice trucks may do many a delivery to resorts on the island, but for The Siam Residence, a trip to the market to see what’s freshest pays off.
Love it or hate it – it’s Christmas time in Thailand again.
Which sort are you? I mean, when it comes to Christmas, there’s basically only two ways to go – you love it or you hate it. Yes, I know; it’s not that simple. But then Christmas itself is not that simple, not anymore. And the origins have been enthusiastically muddled anyway. Originally it was when a bunch of Druids collected a whole load of folks together because the sun was returning to the sky. Then, when the Romans were organising Europe, they changed it to Christ’s birthday instead – same celebration, different name. It was a long weekend involving thanksgiving and (lots of) mead, and it was pegged at 25th of December.
But today the kids have barely gone back to school after the long summer break when the adverts start up on TV. At which point you seriously start thinking about what to buy for your loved ones abroad – everyone knows about the mail at Christmas. And then you roll into October, and the level of residual panic starts to simmer. Turkeys and holly wreathes have to be ordered. Then you spend a week or so making lists. And, as it starts to loom, you flip into action-mode, straight out from work and around the stores, buying-in the seasonal supplies; alcohol, decorations, Hoover bags, toilet rolls, carpet cleaner, little bulbs for dead fairy lights and so on and so on. And that’s still with almost a month to go.
When it comes to super seafood, then Samui Seafood is superb!
It’s the same the world over. You’re walking with your tourist dollars (or Euros or Yen) and everyone wants some. And probably the most annoying of all of these are the pretty-looking restaurants. You know what I mean; they look so tempting from the street outside, but once inside, you wish you weren’t! Bland food, poor service, hidden extras, high prices. But they don’t care. Tomorrow there are another hundred like you, so what the heck!
But what if I told you that there’s one restaurant on Samui that’s totally and utterly the opposite? Meaning that it’s right out in full view. It’ll stop you in your tracks – that’s how attractive it is from outside. It says ‘seafood’ on the sign, but there’s also a full à la carte menu of International and Thai dishes, with tender beef and lamb imported from Australia. The seafood really is fresh each day, not in and out of the freezer for a week. And the staff are trained and educated to speak English, be aware of the needs of international diners, and be polite, friendly and attentive. It sounds 5-star, doesn’t it? Well it’s called ‘Samui Seafood’ and it’s right out on the main strip of Chaweng Beach Road.
Introducing a delightful ‘afternoon tea’ on the rocks, at RockPool.
Fancy a refined but fun afternoon in an exquisite location overlooking the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Siam? Then venture no further than RockPool, at Kanda Residences in Choeng Mon. They now serve a really rather splendid, ‘afternoon tea’.
RockPool is set high above the rocks and ocean, with stunning views all the way to the horizon. The interior has a high canopy ceiling, polished wood flooring and huge white tables and chairs, set off with turquoise cushions, reflecting both the colour of the sea below and the sky above. The open-plan design lends itself to a spacious and relaxed ambience, whilst still feeling very intimate and exclusive. Downwards and towards the sea, there is a large open-air terrace. Perfect for listening to the sound of the waves gently lapping or sometimes crashing against the rocks below, and feeling the sea breeze in your hair. It really is an exceptionally special, location.
Wherever you choose to position yourself, you are in for a real treat if you order the ‘afternoon tea’; it is truly a delight to behold! The bite size creations dreamed up by the exceptionally inventive Michelin star trained Executive Chef, Lucas Leonardi Varin, look almost too good to eat. The presentation is exquisite – the food arrives in a locally inspired and designed half bird-cage. You will want to grab your camera for some epic and memorable shots before even considering what delicacy to start with. The chef manages to combine subtle piquant flavours with other elegant and rounded tones, to perfection. Leaving you to consider, just how does he manage it?
This must be one of the easiest restaurants in the world to find; it sits under a massive statue that towers above it, that of Guan Yu, a former Chinese general who is now worshipped as a deity. When you drive through Ban Hua Thanon on the ring-road, heading away from Lamai, you'll pass the Guan Yu Koh Samui Shrine on your right. Even if you're not looking, your peripheral vision will automatically take in the giant statue. But rather than drive on by, it’s worth turning into the car park and spending some time looking around. There’s a lot to see, certainly enough to work up an appetite. And if you want to eat, then the small restaurant simply known as Phad Thai Mr. Kom is highly recommended.
It’s run by the eponymous Mr. Kom himself. He turns out to be a friendly and warm-hearted chef, who’ll welcome you into the restaurant. Or his share of it, to be accurate. It’s part of a collection of tiny restaurants that all share a communal space, a bit like a food court. There’s a line of eateries and you're welcome to buy dishes from any and all of them. Mr. Kom himself serves just three dishes, and each of them is exceptionally tasty. In fact they're so good that they wouldn’t be out of place in a sophisticated restaurant, but here they're to be found in this much humbler venue. Each dish is cooked within a few minutes, and is beautifully presented on a white square plate. There’s no menu, just the names and photos of the dishes affixed to the counter. The prices are incredibly cheap, and the portions substantial. Choose between phad Thai (79 Baht), papaya salad (79 Baht) and spring rolls (60 Baht).
Of Khun Chai at Olivio restaurant – at Baan Haad Ngam Resort.
Olivio isn’t just a restaurant. It’s a very good restaurant. In fact, it’s one of Samui’s longest-established places to eat. It specialises in Italian food. But, unlike some, the cuisine is just the same as you’d expect to find in Italy. To this end many of the hard-to-find but vital ingredients are regularly imported. And it has the reputation of being ‘the Italians’ Italian restaurant’ because the food is so authentic.
I’ve read a lot of reviews about Olivio. And mostly they just list the menu and describe the décor. But if you dig under the surface, there are a lot more interesting things to be found. Everybody has a story; every place, too. So this is the story of the restaurant and its food. But also of two people. Of the Italian master chef, Luigi, who put it all together. And of the young Thai man who spent half his working life as his student, driven by his passion to cook like an Italian.
Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort & Villas opened its doors in 2003. It’s an interesting place: from the little street outside there’s no indication of just how big it really is. The land here is on quite a steep slope as it makes its way down towards the shore. And the immediate frontage of the resort seems to be quite narrow, with an ascending water-featured centre surrounded by a U-shaped block of rooms. But what you can’t see are the villas at the rear, further up the hill. There’s quite a variety of these, hidden away, and also some right on the beachfront itself. And everything’s super-luxurious.
MP restaurant brings flair and panache to the table.
As soon as you enter the restaurant, you are aware that something is different, something is special. Is it the very substantial and sturdy hand-made bamboo furniture showing off excellent craftsmanship? Is it the matching bamboo décor? Maybe it’s the fresco painted on the rock wall, or possibly the tables laden with high-end cutlery crockery and glasses? Maybe you will just have to visit to decide! Whatever that something special is, it results in a cosy and intimate, but at the same time, cool and open environment, for up to 30 diners.
MP restaurant is located at Khwan Beach Resort in Maenam, and the chef and business partner is Thai born and Swiss trained Mattias Pawlik. He was adopted when he was three years old by an English father and Dutch mother, and they went to live in Switzerland. Mattias developed his love of cooking whilst still at school, and went on to study at École Hôtelière de Lausanne, a hospitality management school in Switzerland, which is consistently regarded as the best in the world. Mattias went on from there to work for many top chefs around the world, including Paul Bocuse, a French chef based in Lyon who is famous for his innovative approaches to cuisine. Eventually, a good friend of Mattias, who was the executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, suggested that he might want to come to Thailand to work, venture back to his original roots. Mattias acted on this suggestion and began by working at Zazen Boutique Resort and Spa, before taking the opportunity to be a part owner and chef at Khwan.
You’re here on holiday – but what are the rules when you go out to eat?
It’s a proper tangle. It’s all muddled up. In some places, yes – but in other ones, no. In fact, even with completely matching socks, and sober enough to stand, you can’t even get a cup of tea at The Ritz without hanging a strip of coloured silk around your neck. Back when your dad was a lad it was easy: a suit and a tie was ‘smart’, even for shopping. But now it’s changed. And every restaurant demands its own standard. Yes, I know; I’m still talking about back home, not here. But stay with me; there a point to all this.
It’s about social style and the class-divide. Working men used to wear denim all day and then wouldn’t go near it in their time off. But, sometime in the 1980s, celebrities did. The upper crust – rulers, rock stars, and royals – all started walking about in the new wave of designer denim that appeared. And then, somewhere between then and now, restaurants gave up. Their dress codes adjusted. Even the very best ones made concessions to modern style.
But not all. And not all in the same way or to the same degree. One UK journalist very recently proved just how crazy things still are when a wine bar refused him entry because he was wearing jeans; a new €200 pair of Armani denims. But the following week he was admitted wearing a €10 charity-shop suit that he’d poured a tin of tomato soup over. And that’s why, in just about every country, if you want to go out to a nice restaurant for a meal, you need to check with their website first. Each one has a different code for how they expect you to dress.
Introducing Sheraton Samui Resort’s Long Talay restaurant.
As you enter Sheraton Samui Resort’s expansive lobby, with its subtle Moroccan theme of decorative railings, high ceilings and coloured glass lampshades, your gaze cannot help but focus on the huge windows dramatically revealing the stunning view of the ocean down below.
After taking a leisurely stroll (or chauffeured buggy ride) down the resort’s gently sloping hillside and through native tropical gardens, you will find Long Talay restaurant. This relaxed venue resembles a very large beach house, and is open for all-day dining between 11:00 am and 11:00 pm. The location is idyllic, with views overlooking beautiful Chaweng Noi beach, the Gulf of Siam, and Sheraton Samui’s beachfront pool.
Swiss-born, a resident of Hong Kong, and widely travelled Executive Chef, Franz Estermann is the current inspiration and driving force behind Long Talay’s new restaurant menu. Due to the global popularity of the Sheraton brand, Chef Franz has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the best international cuisine. This allows him to get creative with his menu and introduce speciality dishes from Thailand, China, India and Indonesia, alongside other inspirational recipes that truly celebrate world cuisine. The illustrious chef has worked very hard on creating brand new signature dishes to welcome in the New Year. Available from mid-December, here is a sneak preview of what you can expect.
An absolute beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of wine.
Many people, new to wine, know they like it and want to drink it. But with a bewildering array on the shelves, simply don’t know which wines to choose. Which bottle to take to a party? What wine to order at a restaurant, without the fear that your fellow diners may scoff at the selection? Here is my summary of the basic wine knowledge you need to give you more confidence. And hopefully, get you started on your long journey as a wine lover.
Winemaking: As we all know, wine is made from grapes. After grapes are harvested they are crushed. Yeasts, which are necessary to produce alcohol, exist naturally in the vineyard and collect on the grape skins. Once the grapes have been crushed, these yeasts (or artificial ones added by the winemaker) interact with the sugar in the grape juice, a process known as fermentation. Wine can ferment for three days or three years, depending on the style of wine the winemaker is trying to produce. The winemaker must also decide which type of container to ferment the wine in. Oak or stainless steel barrels are today’s main choices. Each container will impart different factors into the wine’s maturation, and grapes from the same vineyard will produce vastly different wines depending on the type used.