Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

We talk to Luigi Fadda at il Salotto Italian Bistro & Beach Bar.

 

16Usually they don’t last so long. As a rule it’s a year or two – sometimes more. They come here with a contract for a year. Then it’s either renewed or they move to another resort. Then they’ll do it all again a year or so later. Or this time they’ll leave Samui for good. Whatever their reasons, the top staff in Samui’s resorts tend to move on after a few years. But there’re quite a few that don’t. Familiar faces that you’ll come across again and again. And one among this number is chef Luigi Fadda.

    Over the years he’s been described as ‘the Italians’ Italian chef’. Or his restaurant’s been referred to as ‘the Italians’ Italian restaurant’. Whatever the epithet, you’ll get the picture. A Sicilian by birth, Luigi has long-since established himself as a respected contributor to Samui’s culinary scene. He’s been working at top hotels all over Asia for the last 25 years, and in addition is a member of the Chain De Rotisserie, an elite group of fine wine and food connoisseurs. A sizeable chunk of his time here was spent running the well-respected Olivio restaurant, in Chaweng. But, over the last year and a half, Luigi’s branched out. After a long stint managing hotel and resort restaurants, he’s opened ‘il Salotto Italian Bistro & Beach Bar’ in Fisherman’s Village. And that’s where I went to meet him and talk about the changes that have happened over the last few years.

      Luigi is a striking individual, both in terms of his physical presence and also his personality. In some ways he’s the archetypal chef; brilliant, artistically creative, irascible, and yet with a ready smile and a gentle sense of humour. There are some chefs to whom their work is a job; an occupation, albeit a skilful one. But Luigi falls firmly into the category of those for whom food, in all its aspects, has been a lifelong obsession.

 

 For a very long time
after its appearance, the
alien brew of bia (beer)
was not accepted by
the local people.

 

      Food is his life and he’s continually improving and refining both his technique and his menus and also the quality of the ingredients. Disillusioned with the quality of the local ‘Italian’ produce available, he now imports substantial amounts of herbs, spices and comestibles each month directly from Italy. “Things like authentic black truffles,” he told me, “St. Peter’s fish, Parma ham, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta and cheeses – it’s why Italian people love to come here to eat!”

       Fisherman’s Village is one of the very few spots on the island where it’s virtually guaranteed that every single visitor to Samui will turn up at least once (often several times) during their stay. Effectively the ‘village’ is a long strip of narrow beachside road which naturally divides itself into two. One half runs to the left of the small entrance avenue, the other to the right. Il Salotto is to the right, with a pleasantly rustic frontage that you’ll come across after about a hundred metres or so.

      There’s a small outer terrace with tables and chairs. Inside there’s lots of scrubbed and bleached wood texturing the walls, warm subdued lighting, and an open-sided rear platform that can seat 30, overlooking the sand. Between the two is a cosy bar area lined with half a dozen stools, with a well-stocked, temperature controlled wine cabinet opposite. And, if you’re in the party mood, there’s also an upper floor that’s perfect for private groups. It’s a restaurant-cum-bistro bar in one of the most attractive and popular strips on the island. And it fits-in like a charm; warm, cosy and inviting. It’s in an excellent location and it has a great atmosphere and terrific food. But what I wanted to know was; is it working? And if so, what’s Luigi’s recipe for success?

      “Well,” Luigi explained, “this is actually one part, one half, of my life. It’s too complex to go into details but what it amounts to is that my partner owns Punnpreeda HIP Resort, not far away in Bang Rak. When I left Olivio I was initially working there as the Executive Chef. I still do work there. But I now split my time between the two locations. I’ve set everything up at Punnpreeda and have staff working there under my direction. But il Salotto caters for the evening trade; we open here from mid-afternoon until around 10:30 pm. And that allows me to oversee the breakfast and lunch trade at Punnpreeda and keep an eye on the running of it all.”

      il Salotto opened in December 2010 and it was an instant success. “I have complete freedom,” he expounded. “I’m not confined by budget allocations or cost-related problems. It makes things simpler. It means that I can firstly offer a menu of what I know people like and want. If a diner asks about something that’s not on the menu, I’ll make it. And if it’s popular, it’ll stay on the menu. In a way it’s a lot more spontaneous and personal.”

      But the other (and very important) element is the cost of it all. And I have to say that I was most impressed when I looked through the menus. There are a wide range of ‘International’ dishes – what Luigi describes as ‘traditional regional Italian food’ – with a good choice of appetizers, salads, mains and seafood, plus of course lots of pasta and a selection of the most wonderful home-made crispy-base pizzas that I’ve ever tasted. And also a page or so of the most popular Thai dishes. But it’s affordable! Not only is the priciest item just 550 baht (the imported steak) but the wines and cocktails are terrific, too. With a solid selection of new world and classic labels on offer, there’re ten that come-in at less than 1,000 baht, and each is also available by the glass.

      Which leaves me with only one thing left to say – ‘Friday’. Because that’s the night when the whole strip takes on the party atmosphere of ‘Walking Street’ with several live bands and everyone putting tables out on the street. It’s a sight to be seen and one of the island’s main attractions. But, on the other hand, why limit yourself? Il Salotto, complete with the affable Luigi, is there all the time – and it looks like they’re set to last for more than just the usual year or two!

 

Rob De Wet


 


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