Samui Wining & Dining
Mediterranean Magic

Dining in enigmatic ambiance at Le Jaroen.

 

17It’s something of a well-kept secret. It’s right on the beach at the edge of Bangrak. And it goes by the name of ‘The Scent’. Whatever the opposite of ‘blatant’ is, this is it – even the entrance is just an antique wooden doorway in a short, but high, grey wall. But push that door open and you’re into the time-warp – a French courtyard, complete with an ancient delivery bicycle, pot plants everywhere and shelves and sconces on the walls revealing all sorts of nostalgic period bric-á-brac. It’s as if you’ve wandered into somebody’s home.

      But a couple of steps more will dispel that feeling as you spot the big pool that fills the middle of the plot. The layout is compact and with the accommodation on two floors, forming a U-shape with the open end facing the sea. The Mediterranean feel is further enhanced by the balconies that run the length of the upper floors, with the paintwork carefully ‘antiqued’ to be bleached and faded. The rooms are similarly unique and manage to combine the old and the lushly-luxurious with style and flair. Art deco mirrors sit next to flat screen TVs, and you might be surprised to find that an antique sideboard houses the fridge and stereo.

      All of which is to set the unusual and atmospheric scene for the resorts excellent restaurant, Le Jaroen. Seen in the bright light of day, this is a pleasant enough spot - airy and shady, with an open-sided inner area and an outer wooden deck that perches above the edge of the sand. But it’s not until night falls that the magic here beams out. The low, warm lighting and the candles everywhere, the glimmering lights on the coast of Koh Pha-Ngan, the swish of the waves – the utterly romantic French provincial ambiance – this has to be one of the most intimate and relaxed places to eat anywhere on the island. It’s unique.

      But man cannot live by love alone, as the bard once observed. And you’ll be delighted to know that, along with the idyllic surroundings, the quality of the fare here is equally superb. The prime reason for this is the presence of award-winning Azizskandar Awang, the resort’s Group Executive Chef. This man is not only modest and unassuming, but he’s also something of a Samui legend. Right back at the start of his career he won the coveted Nestlé Golden Chef’s Hat Award, before eventually going on to work at such 5-star icons as the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel and the Singapore Marriott Hotel, amongst several other pinnacles of 5-star culinary excellence.

       “I suppose you could describe my approach as ‘contemporary French with a Mediterranean bias’,” Aziz told me. “It’s a much lighter, cleaner-tasting approach

compared with the heavy sauces and creams of classical French dishes. And, of course, I use up-to-date techniques – most of the meat dishes are cooked sous vide. Something like the signature dish of ‘Beef Rossini’ is already tender; it’s prime imported Australian beef that been grain-fed for 150 days. But I’ll vacuum-cook it for 15 minutes at just 45 degrees before it’s flash-seared to seal in the juices. I import a lot of the prime ingredients for my dishes – it’s important that diners here experience this level of quality.”

      Scallops from Japan, prime Australian beef and lamb, Canadian lobster, turbot brought in from France - Aziz is serious about his cuisine. The menus have been thoughtfully compiled. There’s a lighter and more accessible daytime lunch menu, many vegetarian items, and then a showpiece dinner offering. Even the ‘Thai’ section of the lunch menu includes such gems as ‘Yam Pla Salmon – Atlantic salmon with cashew nuts, watermelon and green mango salad, and tamarind dressing’, which makes my mouth water just writing about it!

       Aziz is both confident and experienced. This shows through in the options he presents in his menu. One of the mistakes that amateurs make is to load the menu with items (I remember a Thai eatery in Bangkok that had over 200 dishes – nobody could ever decide what to eat). And so he’s designed a simple menu layout that makes it all straightforward, but leaves you longing for another visit! You can opt for one of a dozen or so mains on the à la carte menu, or go for the set 5-course tasting option. A similar thing happens on the Thai side of things, which features a superb 4-course Thai lunch (although Aziz shuns the credit for this – that belongs to the very capable Thai Sous Chef, Khun Ying.)

         There’s also a separate section for the vegetarians amongst us – and some of these offerings are just so yummy that I’d even go so far as to say that they really don’t need meat at all! And then there’s the ‘gold standard’ hallmark of a superb chef - desserts to kill for. All too often an otherwise promising menu ends up with ice-cream or fresh fruit. This is, of course, available. But few people take it up after they’ve seen the other options, beginning with the Truffle Cream Brûlée . . .

         But life’s not just all about love or cake. This is a sunshine island and basking in the fading rays reveals the ‘High Tea’ option – très gentile in every respect. If you stop-in to soak up the vibes around sunset, maybe to check your email or wet your whistle awhile, you’ll find several temptations. These come in the form of 2-for-1 cocktails, or perhaps the connoisseur range of TWG teas (such as Royal Darjeeling or Morocco Mint). Or you can really hit the caffeine jag via Cafés Richard’s Bolivian, Colombian or Ethiopian coffees.

         It’s a little slice of somewhere else on Samui; another time and place, far removed from the mainstream of the usual sun-oil and sand. It has a magic all of its own; a scent of forgotten France, one might even say. Certainly there’s nothing else like it!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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