Samui Wining & Dining
The Meaning of Style

Samui’s best kept secret at The Tongsai Bay’s Po-Lad Bistro.


The Meaning of StyleStyle. There are two sides to this. You can do things in style. And that usually means making a splash, showing off the newest trends or jumping on the latest bandwagon. Often the result’s all a bit showy and vulgar. Or you can do things with style. And this is smooth. It’s achieved quietly, effortlessly, and with confidence and flair. It’s what all the others scurry about trying to copy. It’s not easy to do things with style, and few can manage to pull this off successfully. But one place that can and does is The Tongsai Bay.


It may be because The Tongsai Bay was Samui’s first 5-star resort. Or perhaps it’s to do with the sumptuous scale of things there – there’s an immaculately-landscaped 25 acres of garden in which you barely notice the 83 suites, villas and cottages. Or it might simply be down to awareness. Even though the resort was built back in 1987, not one single tree was sacrificed and the resort has always been at the forefront of Samui’s conservation movement. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that The Tongsai Bay is one of the most elegant and stylish resorts around.


And the same can be said for its delightful beachside restaurant, Po-Lad Beach Bistro & Bar. Walking in at moonrise, first impressions are of warmly-glowing pools of light that highlight the natural fabrics and timbers. The light tone of the scrubbed wooden flooring forms a striking contrast to the elaborately-wrought dark latticework of the furniture; a motif which is echoed in the slatted timber of the ceiling and the decorative screens. And the sense of delicacy and space is further heightened by the plain calico pavilion canopy that boldly frames the glimmering seascape.


But a restaurant is nothing without its fare. And a menu is only as good as the chef behind it. And that brings us firmly back to the idea of style again, as at Po-Lad both the cuisine and its creator are packed full of fare-flair. Australian-born Executive Chef, Mark Krueger, has for several years been raising both eyebrows and standards within the local culinary scene. Having run his first kitchen in Victoria’s famous Maryland’s Country House, he spent a number of years establishing his menus courtesy of different venues in the Six Senses Resorts and Spas Group, most recently at Six Senses Hideaway Samui. And it was there that his intriguing and innovative cuisine brought him to the notice of the international community.


Sometimes chefs get a bit carried away with how they choose to describe their cuisine,” he smilingly told me. “But I don’t like to be too flowery. There’s a whole new menu here at The Tongsai Bay now and with the emphasis hugely on local ingredients. Items like seafood are no problem. But Parmesan or saffron? Well, we’ve found ways of using Thai ingredients. Even our lamb is sourced from the North East of Thailand. The less we import exotic items then the lower our carbon footprint is. The secret is in how these things are prepared and cooked. If I have to put a name to my approach then it would be ‘international cuisine with a local edge’. We’re at the edge of the sea, and our approach is at the cutting edge of ecologically-aware cuisine!


It’s easy to nod along with what Mark says but it’s harder to visualise quite what it means when it comes to what’s on your plate. Until you look through the menu, that is! Take the blandly-named Fish ’n Chips. The sole is caught locally, naturally. But how about combining onion, garlic, boiled fresh peas and lime juice, all puréed together for the ‘mushy peas’? The fish is a sandwich of two slices between parsley butter. And the batter is made with (Thai) sparkling wine, the chips are crunchy and home-made and it comes with a nutty sprinkling of taro chips on the top.


Mark enjoys taking everyday eats and re-styling them, that’s for sure. His tiramisu features Thai Monsoon Valley Shiraz, with Thai Sang Som rum, Magic Alambic coconut rum (produced here on Samui), Thai coffee courtesy of Bon Café and, dare I say it, Thai . . . mascarpone! But that’s not to say that Mark’s leery of imported produce. It’s just that it has to conform to his exacting ecological standards, as reflected in the succulent cuts of Tasmanian grass-fed tenderloin and strip loin that took him quite a while to find.


But much of my time now is spent experimenting with what can be done with natural and sometimes very ordinary ingredients,” he explained. “Palm oils can be refined and infusions of wheatgrass or lemongrass give rise to excellent substitutes for olive oil. Most things can be deconstructed, enhanced or deployed in some way. It’s a challenge hunting down new ingredients – I’ve even discovered vanilla and coco beans in the northern regions (of Thailand) but things like this are not easy to come by!


During the day Po-Lad is a picture-postcard haven on the edge of a huge and utterly private beach with not a beach-vendor or jet ski to be seen. Lite-bites and snacks are in steady demand and there’s a full daytime luncheon menu of Thai and international dishes, as well as complementary WiFi throughout. But, as the sun begins to set, a transformation occurs. All the tables are elegantly re-set and even the waiting-staff change into new and stylishly-different uniforms. “This is probably Samui’s best-kept secret,Michael Holehouse, the resort’s affable and highly-experienced General Manager, told me, with a twinkle in his eye. “We don’t like to shout about things and sometimes people passing-by think we’re ‘private’. We’re not. Our international and Thai cuisine is world-class, the atmosphere is superb and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better location anywhere in the world.


Samui has a number 5-star establishments and nearly all of them pride themselves in being remote: it’s a part of their ethos and a desirable quality. Until you want to go there! The Tongsai Bay is exclusive and secluded but without needing a caravan of native guides to find it. It’s the next small bay to Choeng Mon, just ten minutes or so away from Chaweng, with the entrance marked on the road outside. The styling is discreet and unobtrusive. But the style is all its own– and that’s no secret at all!


Rob De Wet


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