Samui Wining & Dining
SIGNATURE DISH

Chaweng’s Drink Gallery is a very smooth experience – and not just with the drinks!

 

7Chaweng is a busy bustling dash-and-grab of a place – well, the beach road is, anyway. I suppose it just has to be. This is where everyone vies for your attention, from those tooting taxis to the eager eateries and the multi masseuses. So it can be a relief to turn away from this towards more tranquil climes. Generally, as soon as you’re down a side path, the buzz and the glitter dies away. And the closer to the beach you go, the more placid it all becomes.

      There are some bouncy beach bits. But usually you’ll pass through a series of pleasantly laid-back oases as you wander along the sand. Some are more tranquil than others – you can sense it as you stroll slowly past. One or two will cause you to pause. But probably the most placid pool of all will flow gently around you when you land outside The Library. No – nothing much to do with books, other than a book is a symbol of leisure and time to spare. But the wide-open spaces and bold clean lines will bring you to a halt.

      The Library is one of Samui’s most adventurous resorts. It’s semi-minimalist. But whereas others, with a less intuitive sense of style and flair, have adopted a formula (scrubbed concrete, bleached wood, natural

fabric, plants, lots of flashy PR), here they haven’t. It’s almost as if every single item and aspect has been considered from every angle, pondered over, and then given its own careful and specific whimsy. Their fine-dining restaurant, The Page, is a subtle essay in Bauhaus understatement (plus the food is fabulous). The library itself (yes, it actually does have one) is a futuristic cube of glass. The swimming pool is a startling red. And the latest addition to all of this is equally as full of flair. But you can’t see it - not from inside. You have to go back and onto the beach road for this. Because that’s where you’ll find ‘Drink Gallery’.

      Most unusually this strip of land between the beach road and the sea has been in the same family for generations – normally the family cashes-in and sells when the prices starts to rocket. Back in the 1980s it used to be a small and isolated beach restaurant named simply ‘Thai Restaurant’. The Sornsong family then added a few huts for the new generation of hippies that were appearing. And almost 40 years later, their son, Khun Pang, having graduated from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, decided to build a new vision of 21st century chic. The Library emerged in 2006, and then, only quite recently, another big cube of glass appeared, right on the front of the road, accompanied by 100 feet of raised decking. The sign outside, just a little way south of McDonald’s, declared ‘Drink Gallery’.

       It shared the same design vision as the rest of the resort – dramatic and simple, but with a myriad of intriguing quirks once you slowed down enough to notice. Inside the glass cube, the tables and chairs are a fascinating mismatch. The glasses behind the bar look like they belong in an alchemist’s laboratory with retort stands and mason jars full of cocktails. The cutlery stands vertically in little black rocks. The wall behind the bar is a 70-foot-high slab of concrete with the upper half being dominated by a Zen painting – this is so big that the only way you could get it in your house is by having the building demolished and then rebuilt around it. Here it looks quite modest.

       Even the shelves above the bar that are filled with bottles are an engineering feat: look closely and you’ll notice they are made of two-inch thick timber that was bedded into the concrete wall when it was cast into place.

      In Thailand – Bangkok in particular – there is a new fringe elite of young artists, pop stars, movie idols, musicians, architects and designers. We in the west don’t know about them. The Thai public does. And it’s no accident that you’ll find more than a few of them sunning themselves around the resort’s blazing red pool from time to time: several of them were actually instrumental in the construction of The Library and Drink Gallery.

       The name ‘Drink’ Gallery is enigmatic, as it does food also. In fact, the food is exquisite. It comes from the direction of renowned chef, Khun Nhoi Ouypornchai. It’s been designed to be just as 5-star as The Page, but more ‘homely’ – although that’s a design concept in its own right. “This is a meet-n-greet’ sort of place,” explained Khun Noi (Khun Chutima Chitpitak), General Manager of the resort. “So we’ve created a menu that goes with this. It ranges from tapas to mains, from snacks to substantial, from West to East. But all of it is unique. This is gourmet casual dining. And one of our most popular items is the Australian Veal”.

      Believe me – this is special. And it’s a big portion, too. Designer-chef Khun Nhoi commented confidentially that “. . . it’s a ‘meat ’n’ potato dish, LOL, but it’s so moist and succulent that it just doesn’t need vegetables too”. She’s right: Half way through I just couldn’t stop myself ploughing in for more – and not a legume in sight. The tender knot of veal came medium-rare, but you can ask for it anyway you want. The potatoes are described as ‘smashed’ but they are actually boiled ‘chippings’ which have been flash-fried – utterly gorgeous; super crisp outside and fluffy inside. The sauce is something you have to hold yourself back from licking off the plate at the end. And there is a whole boatload of caramelised onions to complement this. These are an art in themselves. Too much wine – sour. Too much sugar – yucky. These were exemplary – this is how to do it. They made me want to order a big bagful to talk home and add to a garlic mayo-tomato sourdough sandwich with toasted pecan nuts.

         Burger and fries you can get across the road. Here, at the roadside outpost of The Library, at Drink Gallery, it’s sophisticated. And all that’s missing is the chef’s signature on each and every plate!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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