Samui Wining & Dining
Innovative Italian
The Italian cuisine at Olivio, Chaweng’s best beachside Italian restaurant,
is created by Thai chefs – and it’s as authentic as it comes.


Innovative ItalianDifferent cuisines require different types of chefs, right? So when you’re dining in a Thai restaurant in London you’d probably think it would be more authentic if there’s a Thai chef in charge. And if you’re in LA eating Japanese food, a chef from Tokyo would, presumably, be ‘better’ than a native American. Logically following this line of thought, if you’re eating Italian food anywhere in the world (read Samui), would you be right in assuming that only an Italian chef would know exactly how to make perfect Italian cuisine?


Well the answer to all of the above questions is not necessarily. Whilst it’s ridiculous to proclaim yourself a master of a particular cuisine after following just a few recipes of that type of food, a chef who knows what they’re doing and who has years of experience under their belt can eventually master the style of food from any other country. It’s completely reasonable to expect a highly trained Thai chef to become an expert Italian cuisine chef once they know what they’re doing inside out.


Or, in this case, a team of Thai chefs. Khun Mai, Khun Chay and Khun Doi are all chefs at Olivio, the beachside Italian restaurant at Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort in north Chaweng. Between them, they have an impressive 23 years’ experience in making the very best Italian food, from starters to salads to mains to desserts, all under the tutelage of one of South East Asia’s most renowned Italian chefs – Luigi Fadda


And although Luigi now works at the Chill@HIP Restaurant & Beach Bar at Punnpreeda Hip Resort in Bang Rak, he calls into Olivio regularly to see how things are going, and the chefs all say it’s like family, with the team still using Luigi’s original recipes.


There are around 15 staff in the kitchen at Olivio, with the two main chefs working on a rota basis so that customers are always served dishes cooked by an expert in Italian cuisine. Khun Mai, the Head Chef, is originally from Issan (or Thailand’s ‘Florence’, he says when asked) and has been working there for seven years; almost all of it under Luigi’s guidance.


His deputy, Khun Chay, has been at Baan Haad Ngam since it first opened for business some nine years ago. He’s the one who hand-makes the angel hair spaghetti with fresh squid ink (made from wheat rather than semolina to keep it light and with a softer texture). It takes a couple of hours to make and is prepared fresh every day, with several batches being made in high season – the angel hair spaghetti you order here on a busy day might have been made by Khun Chay only two or three hours before.


Khun Doi, who’s originally from Surat Thani but has lived on Samui for over 20 years, is the chef in charge of the Italian desserts and salads. Like her colleagues, she learned under Luigi’s guidance during her seven years at Olivio. She recommends the tiramisu to anyone dithering over the dessert menu, and here you’ll be in good company – tiramisu is the most popular dessert at Olivio with around 90 per cent of all customers opting for it. But there are plenty of other options, with the dessert menu covering two pages including favourites like crème brûlée with kiwi ice-cream, Swiss chocolate mousse served with strawberry sauce and the Olivio signature dessert, Torta di chocolato caldo, hot chocolate cake with vanilla sauce.


Olivio has two separate menus, one Italian and one Thai, which are each six to eight pages of fully described dishes, complete with photos. The Italian menu has classic starters, like antipasto with prawns and mussels, followed by the normal favourites like risotto (including black risotto), penne with gorgonzola or fettuccine with crab and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce. And, unusually for many restaurants, there’s a good vegetarian section here as well, with several imaginative dishes instead of the normal one or two. It’s the same with the salads. Most restaurants offer just a couple of choices, such as the standard garden salad and then maybe a Caesar if they’re being a bit more adventurous. At Olivio there are eight to choose from, with a 20 per cent discount on the salad bar for guests.


The Thai menu has as much on offer as the Italian one. “And not all of it here is spicy,” says Khun Sureepron Manitasawakul (informally known as Sunny), the Administrative Manager of Baan Haad Ngam. She adds, “All the waiting staff are happy to talk to customers who might be unsure what’s in a dish or what they’d like to try. And you can opt for classic favourites like pad Thai or papaya salad, or try a starter such as Tord Mun Goong (deep-fried prawn cakes served with plum sauce), followed by an Olivio favourite, Khoa Ob Sabparot, baked pineapple rice with chicken, raisins and vegetables.”


To wash it all down, there’s enough choice on the wine list to go for a different type with every meal, whether that’s Italian or Thai, and there’re also options of cocktails, liqueurs, Irish and Black Russian coffee, and a choice of a dozen different types of tea.


This is all served overlooking the beach, with a choice of tables inside or out, only a couple of metres from the water’s edge. You can come for a buffet breakfast – both American and Thai style – linger over a light lunch or really go to town with the dinner menus. The prices are very reasonable and the portions are big, two things that are always good to see in any restaurant – no matter what your budget.


The staff and chefs at Olivio Restaurant make up a friendly, attentive and lively team who’ll give you a proper (Italian) welcome. And you’d never guess they weren’t Italian once you’ve tasted the food.


Lisa Cunningham


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