Samui Wining & Dining
Lo Stile Italiano

Why Olivio is still one of the best Italian restaurants on the island.

 

17What makes any restaurant ‘good’? To be honest, there’s no real answer to that! However, in the case of Olivio Italian Cuisine, there are many reasons why it still continues to flourish after all this time. Olivio has earned itself a reputation for being ‘the Italian’s Italian restaurant’, a place where Italian families and groups go to make a night of it. And here an interesting fact pops up. Many people come to Thailand because they love Thai food. But there are some nationalities that cling to their own familiar food. Italy is one such country. And, every August, when all of Italy seems to take a holiday, a great many of them come here to Samui – and lots of these then head for Olivio.

      Olivio is the signature fine-dining restaurant at Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort, up at the very northern part of Chaweng Beach Road. Even the resort itself is a little echo of the Mediterranean, with a narrow cobbled street between the cool white buildings of the resort itself, and Olivio’s rustic entrance. The restaurant area is open on two sides and cool and shady in the day, but with a terraced area alongside that’s out under the stars at night. The décor is simple and fresh, with no pretensions, and the dining furniture solid, functional and comfortable. But probably the most notable thing is the view. Everyone seems to enthuse automatically about ‘the

seascape’ on Samui, but it’s really very dull, with just water and sky! However, here at Olivio, it’s almost Sicilian, with curving bars of white sand, little fishing boats all around, and islands in the background.

      But a restaurant is far more than just décor and ambiance. There needs to be a quality chef who uses quality ingredients. And the second part of this equation is the quality of what ends up on the table. Over the years, both the menu and the nature of the ingredients have been continually honed and perfected, and locally-found ingredients have been rejected in favour of the genuine items, which are regularly imported from Italy. You’ll find that delicacies such as St. Peter’s fish, sun-dried tomatoes, authentic Italian black truffles, herbs, spices, ricotta and several cheeses are all the real thing, along with the several sorts of cold cuts available. The menu, too, is modelled around the sort of presentation with which Italians will be familiar, with a big antipasti section that runs from seafood to imported steak, and 18 sorts of made-on-the-spot crispy-base pizzas.

      The pasta is made fresh each day, as you’d expect at this level, as are the pizza bases. Olivio places great emphasis on its pasta and it’s rightly proud of the fresh angel hair, fettuccini, gnocchi, tortellini and ravioli it makes, as well as the strips for the lasagne. All the prime ingredients are also imported, with the Angus beef coming from Australia, the mussels from New Zealand, the salmon from Norway plus, as mentioned, the butcher’s ham, bologna and salami being brought in from Italy. Olivio is certifiably a tip-top Italian eatery, and one of the most prominent on the island.

     But it’s more than this! Over the last four or five years there has been a far wider spread of nationalities coming here to eat, attracted by the fine Italian offerings. But requests have become more varied, leading to two innovations. It is said that Olivio was the first restaurant on the island to dedicate iPads solely to illustrate the menu. So every single menu item, plus all the current and previous ‘chef’s specials’, can be viewed in vivid high-resolution detail, for those who are not quite sure about what they want. And then there’s the daytime menu.

      Firstly, it has to be said that there’s an excellent Thai kitchen. But everyone serves Thai cuisine, so I’m not going into detail here, except to say that there’s a gentle hint of creative fusion running through it all. But, in the broad light of day, few people know just what a delightful spot this is for a visit or a change of scene – to have an hour or two away from your resort, catch up with your emails or Facebook (free Wi-Fi throughout) or watch the sunset with (happy hour, 2-for-1) beer or cocktails. Plus there’s a ‘snacks menu’ which is entirely mis-named – the servings are huge! Crispy mushroom with peppercorn. Tuna salsa with tortillas. Spicy Mexican home fries. Beef tenderloin quesadillas. Crab and corn spring rolls. And all for less than 200 baht. But if you’re up for something a bit more dramatic, you can also head for the ‘Seared Beef Rib Eye and Fois Gras’, but don’t expect to pay just a couple of hundred baht for this!

         But for real drama, and some would say the star of the show, there’s the ultimate killer snack (snack!?) – the ‘Burger Tower’, a 4-decker burger that’s so tall it needs scaffolding to hold it upright, with its layers of beef, pork, chicken and fish. The only way to eat it is to tip it over in its side and go at it with a knife and fork! It’s certainly enough for two people, although if you can manage it all by yourself you’ll then qualify for a prize!

         chalk-board specials which aren’t on the menu, either Italian, International or Thai, as well as the ongoing ‘Chef’s Recommendations’ on the front page of the menu. (Talking of which, the actual menu itself is a joy to scan through; big and solid and with loads of clear, colour photos to illustrate the dishes.) Olivio is stylish and full of flair. It has an outstanding international menu, too, but when it comes down to it, ‘lo stile Italiano’ is still the heart of this restaurant!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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