Samui Wining & Dining
Hidden the Gems

We look at a super restaurant that 's hidden away - Chef’s Table at Sareeraya.

 

Page10-11I reckon we ought to start a new series. Here, at Wining & Dining, we take the whole business of food very seriously. Samui’s now become something of a gourmet’s paradise. But, they tell me, there really is life outside of Chaweng! Lots of it, in fact! And that means that there are countless numbers of really tip-top eateries that most people don’t even know exist. Even Chaweng itself is filled with side streets and big beach resorts; there are dozens of great restaurants that you just can’t see from the road. And one such hidden gem is to be found at Sareeraya.

      ‘Sareeraya Villas & Suites’, to give it its full title, has become well-establish during the five years that it’s been on the island. It was part of the first wave of cleanly-design resorts to appear here. A low-key approach is part and parcel of this resort, including its understated and gentile frontage. Indeed, if you drive northwards up Chaweng Beach Road, you might not even notice the high grey-panelled walls of Sareeraya, with the elegant gold signage. But if you slow-down when you get to the Samui International Hospital, you won’t fail to spot the resort, almost directly opposite.

      It’s not accurate to describe the resort as ‘minimalist’ in concept. The whole place is more subtle than that – more exciting, even. But whereas some resorts seem to have embraced the idea of minimalism with unthinking abandon, Sareeraya’s done it with verve. Everywhere there’s a contrast between the smooth and the textured, the bland and the complex, and the

architecture of space has been effortlessly blended with cameos of traditional Thai design. This, but combined with the added motif of a water theme that’s reflected throughout the whole resort.

      There are actually 49 five-star suites and pool villas here, but the layout is so subtle that you’ll only get hints of these as you make your way through and towards the beach. Even the water theme is gently presented, as you’ll see as soon as you enter the resort: just take a moment to appreciate the spatial dynamics of what almost amounts to a huge walk-through water-linked sculpture as you enter. The name itself, Sareeraya, means ‘Princess of the Ocean’. Lily ponds sit quietly and cascades tinkle melodically, almost unseen. And, following the path to the beach, you’ll emerge almost alongside the resort’s signature restaurant, Chef’s Table.

      The same consistent design harmonies are to be found here also, with the big free-flow motif on the wall being interspersed with plain scrubbed panels, and the geometry of the furniture contrasting with the myriad of embryonic rattan ceiling fans. Like many restaurants in Thailand, this isn’t a ‘room’, but rather a large covered space, in this case open on two sides. It’s cool, shady, comfortable and immediately relaxing, and the ambiance is lovely. But here’s the thing. This isn’t what you’d call a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. It adopts no airs or graces. And despite the gracious style and décor of the resort, the prices here are startlingly affordable. The management policy at this resort is realistic when it comes to this sort of thing, which is even more surprising when you discover who is running the kitchen.

      The executive chef here is New Zealander, Steven van Duyn. He’s been on the island, on and off, for quite a while now. Steven previously worked in a variety of prestigious 5-star establishments, and was one of the several international chefs who were selected to contribute to the prestigious worldwide Unilever’s ‘The Signature’ coffee-table cookbook, in 2009. And his unique approach and skills have been solely responsible for forming the outstanding menu that’s offered. Steven avoids the now-clichéd concept of ‘fusion cuisine’ – it was a popular buzzword for a while but became so misused as to become more or less meaningless. A quality menu means quality imported meats and produce – but here we are in Asia. And any chef who’s worth his salt will instinctively embrace elements of local cuisine; herbs, spices, vegetables and sauces. Meaning that, here, you’ll see items like grass-fed Australian tenderloin, New Zealand mussels and American scallops on the table with lobsters from Phuket, simply because each of these represents the best that’s available.

       And as for elements of natural ‘fusion’, witness the ‘Asian Nashi Pear, Marinated Shitake Mushrooms, Carrot, Coriander and Peanuts’ in the starters section. Or the scrumptious ‘Grilled Miso-glazed Sea Bass Fillets with Seafood, Tortellini, Cucumber Ribbons, Tomato and Saffron Sauce’. Another hallmark of a quality chef it that he will lovingly create real desserts, not merely offer the ice-cream and fruit that you’ll encounter on many menus. And here the sticky toffee pudding or the coconut cream brûlée will blow your gastro socks off.

         But the most popular choices are in a different direction. There are two set-menus of Euro-style ‘tasting’ options with main courses that feature NZ/Australian meat dishes. And a sumptuous ‘Seafood Basket for Two’, where you’ll be hard pushed to finish the whole sea bass, the king prawns, cuttlefish, mussels and king crabs. And then there’s a super Thai section, the highlight of which is also the ‘Set Menus’. Headed ‘Love for Thailand’, there are two different options which feature combinations of the most popular Thai dishes, laid-out in the form of four different courses with a multiple-dish choice for the main course.

         If this is what appeals to you, then you’ll look forward to coming here on a Wednesday evening. That’s when Sareeraya hold its ‘Khantoke Night’ on the beach, offering a basket with multiple Thai mini-dishes to savour. And they also have similar style beach BBQ evenings on each Monday (Thai) and Thursday (Asian), with the added incentive that children under 11 are half price and children under six are free. These events really are super, at the edge of the sea and with a huge selection of all-you-can-eat offerings. And, with those reductions for kids, a great many families have returned more than once during their stay, to this ‘hidden gem’ at Sareeraya Villas & Suites!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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