Samui Wining & Dining
High Thai

Fine Thai dining at ra Nor Buri’s Rice Barge & Terrace.

 

10-11One of the best things about Thailand is the super food. Back in Europe, the Thai food tastes different. Thai restaurants either don’t use the same ingredients, or they tone it down to the way they think their customers want it. Here on Samui (not surprisingly!) you can expect to find the real tastes of Thailand. But not everywhere. However, one place you’ll be delighted by in every respect, is the Rice Barge & Terrace at Nora Buri Resort & Spa, just a few minutes’ drive north of Chaweng.

    It’s worth mentioning that the ‘Nora Group’ started off in Chaweng with the original and excellent Nora Beach Resort & Spa, and have since added three other resorts in the area, with Nora Buri appearing on the scene in the early part of 2009. This is a very successful group, but the point is they’re local. They’re not part of a multi-national chain. But they are big and experienced enough to provide excellent service and, more to the point, have created a design-award-winning restaurant that serves some of the finest authentic Thai cuisine anywhere.

      The building is really quite something, it’s a local landmark, and it’s worth going there just to marvel at its architecture and styling. You can’t miss it: firstly, you’ll spot the huge area of the main resort stretching away up the hillside. And, on the opposite side of the road, partly hidden by the greenery but perched up high and overlooking the sea, there’s the main body of the restaurant, shaped like a gigantic, futuristic wooden ship.

       It’s actually on three levels, with the ground area being one of the resort’s other excellent eateries. Rice Barge takes up the whole upper floor, and is the most dramatic, as it’s able to fully feature the the spiralling roof-space, all hand-sculpted from rich, dark wood. The restaurant is in two sections, with this inner area being pleasantly air-conditioned and lined with floor-to-ceiling walls of glass. The floor space here has been cleverly broken-up into different levels, with the triangular cushions, known as ‘mon Thai’, around the edges, and with a unique walk-in wine cellar at the far end.

       The enclosed walkway alongside leads into the adjoining open dining terrace, with its panoramic view over the whole of Chaweng Bay. It’s a difficult decision: do you sit in the cosily crafted inner sanctum and dine Thai-style with low tables and floor cushions (there are several matching conventional tables and chairs too) or do you enjoy your meal under the stars, surrounded by utterly breathtaking views? It’s something you’ll have to decide when you get there!

      Traditional Thai cuisine tends varies across the four main regions of the country. The northeast is where the fieriest dishes are found, in contrast to the central region where garlic, fish sauce and black pepper tend to predominate. The north is cooler and hosts the mildest dishes of all, deploying a lot of ginger, turmeric and tamarind. And the south boasts possibly the most varied cuisine of all, drawing heavily on the plentiful seafood and coconuts, but also with influences of Malaysian and Chinese ingredients and flavourings. And the varied menu at the Rice Barge offers a selection of not just traditional dishes, but also a number of unusual ones, from all four regions of Thailand.

      The menu is organised into the familiar sections of appetisers, salads, soups, curries and noodle dishes, ‘general Thai’ dishes and desserts. There are also two exceptionally good set-menus, which I’ll cover in just a moment. It’s impossible to discuss all the dishes in detail, but one thing will strike you immediately. The architecture, design and styling here is outstandingly attractive, but this doesn’t stop with the décor. The food also is carefully and lovingly arranged with similar aesthetic awareness. The plates are decorated with ‘food arrangements’ and, more often than not, vegetables and fruits are presented to you after having been elaborately carved. This is the type of Thai cuisine you usually see illustrated in the expensive coffee-table books and up-market travel guides. This is one of the reasons you came to Thailand, and when you come to this restaurant it’s imperative you don’t forget your camera. And that also goes for the traditional music played each night on an antique kim, a kind of bamboo xylophone.

      Some of the dishes that really stand out are the ones where the southern influences are most apparent. Coconuts are used for their milk and their tender moist flesh, and when you combine this with Chinese hints, you end up with something like ‘Roasted and Marinated Duck Curry with Fruits’. This is a succulent breast of duck that’s been double-cooked, firstly by marinating it in herbs and spices, then slow-roasting it in its juices and presenting it in combination with raisins, lychees and grapes. Or perhaps the ‘Pla Salmon Rad’. Tender salmon in a mild and richly creamy coconut milk curry sauce and comes presented with tiny leaf cups containing supplementary relishes. Another thoughtful element is that there are also photos of all these dishes – a must if you’re not sure quite what to order.

      And so to the set menu for two people, which is equally impressive. There are two appetisers each, three main courses each (including rice), desserts, then coffee or tea. There are two different sets to choose from. (And these include the two dishes described above.) And it’s priced at just 499 baht for two. Everything at the Rice Barge is ‘High Thai’ – the elevated location, the quality, he service, the cuisine – except for one thing. When it’s time to reach for your wallet, then that’s the exception. But then sheer value for money is one reason why Nora Buri Resort & Spa has become so successful!

    
Rob De Wet


 


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