Samui Wining & Dining
Treats on Trays

Traditional treats in Thailand are often served on trays, but Poppies restaurant takes the idea a step further.

Traditional treats in Thailand are often served on trays, but Poppies restaurant takes the idea a step further.When the word tray is combined with the word food, what picture comes to mind? If you’re a westerner, that is? No doubt there are all kinds of answers, but many are going to have a few things in common: a cafeteria, perhaps, or the canteen at work, or a tray of food if you’re in bed and sick. But I’ll warrant this particular word association isn’t a particularly exciting one. In most cases, either the food will be mediocre, or your health will be. Odds are you won’t come up with the following association: tray + food = fine dining.

But here in Thailand things are quite a bit different, of course. Let’s take a seat at Poppies, one of Samui’s finest restaurants, and see exactly what happens when you ask for a tray of food.

The tray, when it arrives, isn’t a rectangle of aluminium, but an old-style circle of rattan; it contains beautifully decorated china bowls, each with a different Thai treat. This kind of dinner is known as ‘kantoke’ - the Thai word simply

meaning, yes, ‘tray’. Dinner in Thailand doesn’t get more traditional than this. A kantoke is always for more than one guest; this is food to be shared, the idea being that you and your partner, or friends or family each take from the pots and enjoy what amounts to a hearty dinner. It’s synonymous with great times, conviviality and of course wonderful food. Naturally, it’s an award-winning formula, repeated with success the kingdom over – for restaurants that are able to provide the required quality, that is. Poppies are certainly able to do this; they’ve been established now for over two decades. Their restaurant quickly gained a name for its great food, and has become an institution, but not of the faded kind; the chefs here are always seeking to improve in quality and creativity.

Traditional treats in Thailand are often served on trays, but Poppies restaurant takes the idea a step further.Poppies overlooks the sea, making it a romantic place to dine out, and if you take one of the front tables, you'll be virtually on the beach. (You’ll find Poppies, by the way, at the southern end of the beach road, in Chaweng, a minute’s drive from Centara Grand Beach Resort.) Dine in the main pavilion – it’s built of Burmese teak – or a smaller sala close to the sea, or right outside on the terrace right by the beach. Whatever your choice, you’re guaranteed a relaxing, laid-back experience.

The staff are brilliant at giving their guests a wonderful evening. They’re a dedicated team and the majority of them have been at Poppies for years. In fact, next year will mark Thai Executive Chef, Wantanee Panplum’s, twentieth here. That’s a substantial track record and means that you're in very capable hands. She exudes calm, as do all the staff. If you pass by the kitchens, you won’t see any stressed-out behaviour; only a quiet ballet, where everyone knows what they're doing and does it well, gracefully moving around each other while they prepare all manner of dishes.

General Manager, John Ens, says, “You never know just how many guests are going to walk in at any given moment – whole parties can arrive, requiring a dozen seats. The staff are an amazing team and can work with situations that in many restaurants might spell total overload.”

If you're ordering Thai, then they’ll naturally ask you just how spicy you'd like your dishes to be. Khun Wantanee and her staff are adept at cooking all these dishes to the guests’ satisfaction and getting everything ready in the minimum of time. “The dishes are all different in their requirements,” she says, “Some are quick to make, others take much longer, so it’s very important we keep to the right order of cooking.” Complicated? Undoubtedly so, when so many tables are all order kantokes, and there’s a handful of variations. Each averages half a dozen dishes, too.

The traditional set kantoke has – just to give you an idea – a starter of spicy prawn soup with lime leaves, stir-fried morning glory, stir-fried chicken with ginger, charcoal-roast duck in red curry with grape and pineapple, deep-fried prawn cakes with plum sauce. These are served with either steamed Jasmine rice or brown rice. It’s followed by a delicious dessert of Thai style banana fritters with coconut ice cream.

You can also opt for the four regions, vegetarian, Royal Thai or seafood kantoke. These contain, variously, delicacies such as Northern spicy sausage and chilli pepper dip, penang red curry, sea prawns with garlic sauce and steamed curry crab meat soufflé with coconut milk. (To make it easier for diners to make a choice, each kantoke has been expertly captured by professional photographer Claudio Cerquetti.)

So far, so tasty. The kantoke idea proved so popular that Poppies wanted to take it further. But even with all the variations possible, there’s only so much you can do with these favourite Thai dishes. Right? Maybe not… Khun Wantanee approached Khun Suwit Suwan, Poppies chef for International cuisine. And under his guidance, the traditional Thai fare acquired a western counterpart. For some die-hard chefs that might seem anathema, but the results are highly tasty and the international selection is another of Poppies’ success stories. The western kantoke contains soft shell crab tempura with green mango salad, green lip mussels from New Zealand in white wine, and as mains, sea prawns sautéed in tomato basil sauce with rocket salad, char-grilled snow fish, poached rock lobster with a light green curry sauce and to round it all off, a sumptuous dessert of warm chocolate lava cake with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream.

So far, so tasty. The kantoke idea proved so popular that Poppies wanted to take it further. But even with all the variations possible, there’s only so much you can do with these favourite Thai dishes. Right? Maybe not… Khun Wantanee approached Khun Suwit Suwan, Poppies chef for International cuisine. And under his guidance, the traditional Thai fare acquired a western counterpart. For some die-hard chefs that might seem anathema, but the results are highly tasty and the international selection is another of Poppies’ success stories. The western kantoke contains soft shell crab tempura with green mango salad, green lip mussels from New Zealand in white wine, and as mains, sea prawns sautéed in tomato basil sauce with rocket salad, char-grilled snow fish, poached rock lobster with a light green curry sauce and to round it all off, a sumptuous dessert of warm chocolate lava cake with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream.

If you come on a Saturday evening, you'll find there’s a further treat in store for you. On Saturdays only a stage is built over the swimming pool, and guests can watch a series of traditional Thai dances with live music. The performances evoke the highly exotic past of Siam, more so with the bright colours and traditional clothing of the dancers. It’s definitely something that’s worth catching. Dancing isn’t the only event; at the same time, there’s a handicraft fair, with products such as carved soaps.

The entire Saturday evening is a symphony for eyes, ears and of course the palate. You're advised to book ahead, as it’s proving very popular. Aim to arrive between 7:00 pm and 7:30 pm to make sure you catch everything. With a selection of kantokes like this, you’re sure to return a few times in order to try them all!

Dimitri Waring


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