Samui Wining & Dining
What It Takes

Just why is it that Po-Lad Beach Bistro at The Tongsai Bay is so popular?



It’s a tricky business. Running a restaurant. On Samui they’re forever popping up – and then closing down after just a short run. Seems it’s difficult to keep the cash-flow going during the off-peak season unless they’re offering something extra-special

         Michael Holehouse is the Managing Director at The Tongsai Bay, currently TripAdvisor’s number one hotel on Samui. The Tongsai Bay is a hillside beach resort about ten minutes from Chaweng. And yes, admittedly, a ‘hillside beach’ sounds oxymoronic, but it’s true! Because the resort spans the hill down to its very own private beach. With TripAdvisor users writing veritable essays on the joys of their experiences at the hotel, it seems The Tongsai Bay is doing something right. The rooms, staff, pools and, of course, Po-Lad Beach Bistro are all getting rave reviews. And with words like ‘idyllic’, ‘heavenly’ and ‘paradise’ knocking about, you’d be hard pressed to find fault. So what’s The Tongsai Bay’s secret? And how did they get to be so damned good?

       Michael reckons it’s a lot to do with vibe. “We really wanted to create a relaxed environment, and have value-for-money too, so that guests would want to come here every day.” And that makes sense because people like to be comfortable when they’re on holiday. Sure, it’s nice to go out to a fancy restaurant now and again, but for everyday dining? People just want great food in a place where they feel at ease. And that’s how you get them coming back on a regular basis. Whilst fancy restaurants might get holidaymakers coming, perhaps, once on their trip, an affordable venue can get them in on multiple nights. Sometimes even several nights in a row.

       Pricing the food well is another key factor. “I want the guests that come to The Tongsai Bay to feel they can dine at Po-Lad Beach Bistro every night and not feel they’re being ripped off,” Executive Chef, Mark Krueger, says. “Because, let’s face it, if you’re coming from Europe you’ll get foie gras cheaper there than you will if you import it all the way to Thailand. So the whole essence of what we do here’s actually to create Western dishes, but to replace imported products with similar locally sourced ones.” For example, instead of shipping in truffle oil, Mark uses coconut oil. He also utilises local seafood. “This way we can create international cuisine and use international cooking methods, but still price our food reasonably. And reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.”

       Which brings us to the next component of a top restaurant on Samui. Keeping up with trends. Using fresh, locally sourced produce is now a worldwide trend. “I think what you need to ascertain firstly is clientele demand,” Mark explains. “It’s about doing your research and keeping up with trends. The number one restaurant in the world is Noma, in Denmark, and there it’s all about foraging local ingredients. And that’s something that’s quintessential to Po-Lad Beach Bistro.”

       It’s worth noting, however, that keeping your eye on trends does not entail implementing them at the expense of the chef’s philosophy. One might think of the cooking style at Po-Lad Beach Bistro as fusion. But you’d be wrong. “No fusion here,” Mark asserts emphatically. “Fusion is confusion!” Michael adds, before Mark clarifies. “I try to stay away from the term ‘fusion’ because I don’t want to do, sort of … a rib-eye fillet steak with a massaman curry … beurre blanc. I’m just trying to replicate modern international cuisine using local ingredients.” So that’s the end of that.

        Both men feel that another important thing to understand is that your clientele will have different needs at different times of the day. You’ve got to be able to adapt to the moods of your guests. “The challenge with Po-Lad Beach Bistro was to orchestrate the changeover between daytime and evening,” Michael reveals. “At lunchtime it’s very informal and relaxed. When people are at the beach or by the pool they don’t want heavy, heavy food. For that reason, during the day Po-Lad Beach Bistro serves mainly salads, wraps and other light fare, but also some fuller options for those particularly hungry mouths. Then at night, it’s like we turn a switch and it becomes a new restaurant. The lighting’s different, the décor’s tweaked. And we’ve got a totally separate menu which is very much ‘East meets West’. No more snacks or quick food. It becomes a very sexy, bistro-type operation.” It’s literally two restaurants in one; each with a totally different feel about it. That way, it’s always just right.

         Repeat custom is always testament to the quality of a restaurant or resort. Because if it ain’t no good, they won’t be coming back! And at The Tongsai Bay, Michael estimates that about 30% of their customers are repeat guests. Whilst the food, vibe and pricing may by perfectly pitched, there’s also the added bonus of that stunning private beach. Dining at Po-Lad Beach Bistro you’ve got a fantastic backdrop of the surrounding lush greenery and open sea and, as Michael concludes, “The Tongsai Bay is 25 years old this year and it’s seen many guises come and go. But at the end of the day, we’ve basically got the best location in the world for enjoying an outstanding dining experience.”



Christina Wylie


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