Samui Wining & Dining
Cards on the Table

What’s new at Sareeraya’s Chef’s Table.


17It’s a long and winding road. Mostly it’s hot. Sometimes it’s dusty, too. And it’s lined with lures. I mean – there’s so much to make you look. To make you stop. Sometimes it’s just a string of huts, open at the front, filled with glittering prizes – watches, DVDs, baubles, bangles and beads, like Aladdin’s cave. Other times it’s the promise of a meal fit for a king, with or without DJs or private dancers. Or a side street full of bouncy bars. Or a pizza place. Or a cool coffee shop on the boardwalk. It’s utterly alluring. So much so in fact that, when there’s nothing there to see, your unthinking response is that there’s nothing there at all.

    It’s Chaweng Beach Road. And you’d be wrong about ‘no place to go’. A little-realised fact about Chaweng is that many of the best things are hidden away out of sight, particularly when it comes to wining and dining. And that brings us straight to Sareeraya Villas & Suites, and their laid-back restaurant, Chef’s Table.

      Sareeraya isn’t exactly the newest kid on the block; it’s actually well established, but is fresh enough to have first opened its doors just in time to catch New Year’s Eve, a touch over three years ago. In this time it has established, and maintained, a reputation for quality and service that’s become the envy of many. In an era when minimalism threatens to reduce things down to ‘virtually nothing there’, this resort sets a clear standard in this genre for elegance, style and understatement. In fact, if you cruise past on wheels you might not even notice it. However, if you stop outside the Samui International Hospital in North Chaweng and glance across the road, you’ll instantly become aware of the crisp, grey-walled frontage of Sareeraya.

       There are actually almost fifty 5-star suites and pool villas crafted behind these walls – but you won’t get much idea about these as you make your way through reception towards the beach. The name ‘Sareeraya’ means ‘Princess of the Ocean’. And this water-theme is in evidence everywhere, from the huge, shady twin sculptures at the entrance, to the terraced layers of cascading lily ponds that peep shyly out at you, overhung by greenery. Anywhere else these would be highlighted and dramatised. But the entire atmosphere here is so wonderfully unassuming that these unusual features are content to sit and smile.

There’s a constant interplay of opposites throughout – rough-smooth, light-dark, geometric and free-flow. This also runs through into their beachside restaurant, Chef’s Table. The far wall is of pale stone but with free flow curves on its surface. Tables and chairs are dark, strong, and geometric. It’s cool, shady, and open on two sides, with a whirling battalion of overhead rattan fans making silent poetry in motion. It’s refined, understated and instantly relaxing. And, actually, it’s all very realistic, too.

      “This isn’t fine dining, with silver service, evening dress and big ideas about itself,” the resort’s General Manager, Pius Luechinger, explained. “It’s a restaurant. People come here to eat. And I think that the reason they choose to come here is because we have a great environment – ambiance, if you like – and an excellent menu with 5-star-quality cuisine, friendly and attentive service and sensible pricing. Plus we have a chef who is something of a legend on the island.”

      Steven van Duyn is the man in question and, after a star-studded culinary career in hotels in his native New Zealand, he came here to live and work several years ago. He’s been actively involved in the local orbit, including the Samui Culinary Circle (SCC) and was one of the international chefs who were invited to contribute to the prestigious Unilever coffee-table cookbook, ‘The Signature’, in 2009. Having started at Sareeraya at the very end of 2012, he nonchalantly worked his way through the demise of the Mayan Calendar, and set about re-defining the culinary calendar for Chef’s Table.

      “There are a lot of restaurants on our island,” he told me, “and we need to distinguish ourselves to make any sort of impact. The daytime (lunch) menu is as good as it gets. But the evening dinner menu is even better. It’s all too easy to go over the top with the idea of fusion – we’re in Asia, after all. But my menu uses hints and reminders of Asian cuisine – herbs, spices and sauces – blended together with international dishes. Nothing is heavy or over-classical, and sauces are reduced to almost juices. I can’t see the point of importing all sorts of expensive exotic meat and seafood just for the sake of it. So I use New Zealand mussels because the quality is top-notch and consistent. Beef, too. Scallops come from America for the same reason. But quality lobsters and king prawns come from the Andaman region around Phuket, as they are super. Anyhow, it’s not the shopping list that should make you want to shout. It’s what you do with it that counts.”

      In outline, this means a variety of starters (not so big that they will over-fill you and spoil what’s to follow), an intriguing set of mains or seafood dishes (but no so many that you can’t make a choice) and a selection of gourmet desserts that you just can’t say no to. Such as chocolate fondant, or brown sugar sticky toffee pudding – fresh fruit is an option, naturally. And in particular, it means dishes with a WOW factor. A blend of contrasts, textures, and lingering after-flavours which make you dream, dream, dream. And Steven is an established master of this medium. Just check out his grilled miso-glazed sea bass fillets with seafood, tortellini, cucumber ribbons, tomato and saffron sauce, for instance!

     The location is unassuming. The decor is minimalist yet refined. The style throughout is subtle and understated, yet distinctive. The quality is consistently high. And the cuisine at Chef’s Table is a perfect combination of all of these things, except for the occasional and pleasantly unexpected taste bud explosion. There’s even a private table right on the sand if you want something romantic and exclusive. And twice a week there’s an all-you-can-eat beach buffet.

      It’s Chef’s Table. It’s only 24 seconds from Chaweng. And it’s at Sareeraya Villas & Suites. End of story! 


Rob De Wet


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