Samui Wining & Dining
Rum & Repast

Now you can dine as well as tipple – at Samui’s Magic Alambic Distillery.

12-13-(1)Like many Asian nations, Thailand has a rice-based economy and culture. And so, when it comes to the hard stuff, then a glass or two of ‘lao khao’ (rice spirit – something like a harsh Japanese sake’) is the cheapest and most common place to start. And you’ll find rice-based alcohol appearing on the shelves in all sorts of guises. But the Thais are big on well-known brands and names. Whisky, for example, is a Scottish thing and everyone over here has heard of it. But they don’t know about rum. And so, because of this, the two leading brands of Thai ‘whisky’ (Mekong and Sang Som) are marketed as being ‘whisky’, even though they are made from molasses and actually have ‘rum’ written on the bottle.

Yes, much like that other suspicious foreign tipple, wine, there’s no market for rum in Thailand. Along with cows and ‘spuds’, the Thai people don’t know or care much about either of these things. But, as it happens, millions of other people do. Every year Thailand sees well over a million visitors coming here for a holiday break. And there must be hundreds of thousands of ‘farangs’

(foreigners) living here full time, too. Plus the climate of Thailand is ideal for the production of sugar cane. If you put these two things together, then it’s hardly surprising that a full-featured rum distillery has emerged. It’s been in existence since 2003, originally set-up and run by a husband and wife team from France. It’s the only one in Thailand. It’s called the ‘Magic Alambic Rum Distillery’. And it’s on the island of Koh Samui.

This little distillery isn’t actually so small. It’s in a delightful garden setting with cropped lawns, blazingly colourful borders and rustic-yet modern Thai-style buildings. It’s wide and spacious, with the distillery building discreetly over to one side, the thatched and open-sided restaurant and bar in the middle, and the living quarters to the right. It’s perfectly pretty – and should be a must for every visitor to the island. The only small snag is that it really is off the beaten track, way down in the very south of the island. But that alone should be incentive enough. This entire lower section of the island is the last of the truly unspoiled Samui, 12-13-(2)with lonely coasts and deserted beaches. It’s just perfect for an afternoon out exploring. Oh – and you can add a take-home bottle of Samui rum to that. Plus a superb meal, too.

This venture changed hands at the beginning of 2014, and today is owned and managed by Frenchman Ludovic Trantoul and his business partner and chef, Martial Leplatois. A newer and bigger still has already been brought in from France, and the previous rum-making season has been virtually doubled, with plans on the table not only to add to the range of rums produced, but to begin exporting part of the increased production, too. Right now, though, you can enjoy the traditional selection of natural, lime, pineapple, tangerine and coconut rums. And all of these are made by putting the fruit in with the cane juice, not by adding flavourings at the end – plus there is a whole year of settling and maturing before they are finally bottled and sold. This rum is smooth, smooth, smooth!

There are three things about the restaurant here, ‘La Route du Rhum’, that are uniquely outstanding – and that’s apart from the picture-perfect décor and amiable company. The first is that this little restaurant is presided over by Chef Martial, a veteran of more than 30 years’ experience, which includes previously working in two Michelin-starred restaurants. The cuisine is French. It’s not nouveau French and it’s not classical French. It’s ‘traditional’ French, and the nearest thing to quality French-based cooking that you’ll find here. For example, I’ve not come across the ‘duck stuffed with blue cheese and honey sauce’ before. And that goes for a number of other menu items. Oh – there’s also a Thai section, too.

And then there is the rum. You are cheerfully invited to come, sit and sample any or all of the different rums. You can do this as a testing session, with or without the accompanying benefit of the small-but-excellent tapas menu. Or you can sit and eat a meal, and sample the rums that way, too. Although, as Ludovic pointed out, there is an excellent wine list, and Chef Martial is a connoisseur of such, and more than happy to advise you on your selection.

Thirdly, there’s the price of it all. It’s surprisingly inexpensive. The rum samplers are 60 baht a go, the meals work out on average to about 300 baht, (much less for the Thai offerings) and there are quite a few wines at around 800 or 900 baht.12-13-(3) And that’s real wine, not ‘house wine’ that’s been decanted out of a cheap five litre vacuum box. And to this you can add that Martial is a dedicated foodie, and will cheerfully create something that’s not on the menu, if you talk to him first and allow him time to buy-in the ingredients – and this applies particularly to several seafood items that are not ordinarily stocked, as they need to be fresh.

And so, all you need to do now is to go there, relax, spend a few hours, and soak in the restaurant and the beauty of all of its surroundings – if you can find it! Alas, the website is currently under construction, and beware of looking it up on Google Maps – there are two listings, both of them in totally the wrong places. It’s not on the ring-road (road 4169). You need to come off this onto the 4170 that loops all the way along the lower third of the island. If coming from the direction of Lamai, head out on the ring-road quite a long way until you see the very clear signs on the sharp left turn for the 4170 and the Butterfly Garden and Tiger Zoo. Turn left here and continue on this road for another 10 minutes or so. You’ll see the imposing arched entrance on the left. Or you can always call Ludovic and tell him you’re lost – he’s a most obliging fellow!

It’s updated every three months, with spring, summer, autumn and winter editions, so that the information remains current and includes the very latest ‘must-visit’ eateries to hit the Samui dining scene. And the positive feedback is tremendous, from both diners and restaurants alike. (If you come across a fabulous place during your stay here, that isn’t already in the guide and that you feel would be worthy of recommendation, just send Steve an email ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

So, by using Samui Dining Guide, you've got every justification in having great expectations!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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