Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Arun@Samui, a rather unique
roadside Thai restaurant in Maenam.

 

21Our recommended local Thai restaurant this month is rather special. And since it opened three years ago, Arun@Samui restaurant has proved to be a huge hit with locals and expats in Maenam. Not only is the food fantastic, the owner and chef, Sue, is incredibly knowledgeable about Thai cuisine and a pleasure to chat with.

 

She’s originally from Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country. And after graduating from university, she returned home to help her parents manage their industrial business. Later, she worked with a government agency that promoted Thai businesses around Asia and the Pacific region. And it was on a visit to Australia in the late 1980s that her culinary journey really began in earnest. She’d always had a keen interest in Thai cuisine and when she was in Sydney she met up with her uncle and nephew who lived there. They’d been talking about opening a Thai restaurant in Sydney but didn’t have the necessary management and culinary skills. And it was a city that was crying out for authentic Thai cuisine.

 

One thing led to another and before long she was the owner and head chef of Arun Thai restaurant in the Elizabeth Bay area of the city. It won the prestigious ‘Bent Fork’ award for best new restaurant in Sydney in 1991 and over the years has gained numerous other awards, including the 2007 ‘Thai Restaurant of the Year’ presented by the Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence in Australia. In the mid 1990s, they moved location to nearby Potts Point and built a new 250-seat restaurant that attracted local and international celebrities. “We would often have artists like Elton John and Phil Collins and their friends in to dine and in the end we had to create a reserved area for the celebrities as they just wanted to eat in peace after playing a concert. A lot of famous faces passed through the doors but they would have exactly the same food and standard of service as every other guest. That was part of our success, I think.

 

After neatly 20 years at the helm she finally handed over the reins to her nephew and returned to Thailand a few years ago. And it was when she was visiting Samui that she decided to set up a small restaurant and cooking class on the island. “Samui was the perfect place for me and, after running such a huge restaurant in Sydney for so long, I wanted somewhere much smaller and more intimate where I could still cook all my favourite recipes and have time to chat with people.”

 

Arun@Samui restaurant is certainly more manageable. There’re just two tables, one which can seat 4-6 diners and another that can seat around 8-10. “

However, that doesn’t tell you anything about the preparation techniques, subtle aromas and balanced flavours of each recipe. And even though you’ll probably be familiar with the names of many of the dishes, you won’t come across Sue’s interpretations of them in any other small roadside restaurant. These are Royal Thai Cuisine inspired recipes and of a standard that you would only expect to find in the very best resort restaurants on Samui, but at a fraction of the price. Our photographer, Khun Krit, and I left it up to Sue to order for us, I enjoy being surprised and letting chefs do what they do best. We started with a selection of starters and a couple of them really stood out. Her marinated chicken fillet wrapped in pandan leaves didn’t need the accompanying dip; it was hot, moist and packed full of flavour. Lots of the meats are marinated and tenderized in advance and it makes a huge difference. And she also served a light curry puff in a very light pastry that was brilliant and not the sweet kind of pastry either that many places on the island tend to favour. It’s not on the menu but you can ask if it’s one of the specials she has on when you go.

 

We followed that with another special, a banana blossom salad, which she only makes when the flowers are in season. It takes a bit of time to prepare and includes garlic, onion, chicken and prawns and it’s the first time I’ve had this dish in all the years I’ve been here. Again, I would definitely ask about it. And we also tucked into duck in green curry. Medium spicy this is usually a red curry but Sue has put her own twist on it and the duck just melted in the mouth.

Her restaurant in Sydney was also noted for its huge wine list and she also has some decent wines here (starting from 790 baht). And as well as some Australian she also has German, French, South African, Chilean and Argentine wines. Beers, such as Chang, are just 45 baht, Tiger is 50 baht and she has a good selection of fresh juices.

 

Arun@Samui is open every day except Wednesday from 11:00 am until 10:00 pm and it’s easy to find. Coming from the Chaweng/Bophut direction, go through the traffic lights in Maenam and it’s about 200 metres along on the right. There’s a side road just past it on the right that leads to a parking area behind the restaurant.

 

If you are out and about exploring the island it’s a great place to stop off for a bite to eat. Especially on Thursdays when, from late afternoon until the early hours, there’s a ‘walking street’ in Soi 4 Maenam (which is the side road by the traffic lights and that also leads down to the beach). I can’t speak highly enough about how much I enjoyed the food and Sue’s company, and it’s a restaurant that’s more than worth a special trip to dine in.

 

Johnny Paterson

 


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