Samui Wining & Dining
On a Theme

The ‘Thai Theme Night’ at Poppies promises a culinary experience to remember.

 

21If you travel around the various resorts and their restaurants you’ll notice all sorts of things going on. For a start you can always find discounts and promotions designed to lure you in. There’re specials on wines or discounts for couples. You’ll often see barbecues on the beach. At least once a week you’ll come across an all-you-can-eat buffet; and super value these are, too. But every now and again you’ll discover a gem of a restaurant. One that doesn’t need a gimmick or a promo. One where the food is superb, and that’s what draws the crowds. You’ll have to book, as it’s always busy. And you may have to hunt for it as the best ones are usually tucked away somewhere. And, if you’re lucky, it might even be pretty, too.

Poppies Samui is not only one of the prettiest boutique resorts on the island but it also has a restaurant to match. It was the vision of John Taylor who’d already owned and run the original Poppies resort in Bali for several years. He went into partnership here with David Hill in 1985 spending four years planning and building the sister version on Samui. Since then, Poppies has firmly established itself as an island landmark. It was one of the first ‘boutique’ resorts, and quickly made its mark with the quality of its accommodation, service and cuisine.

The aim from the start was to include a top-quality fine-dining restaurant, and this was quickly realised. Over the years Poppies Restaurant has showpieced the creative talents of no fewer than four internationally-renowned chefs and their legacy is still very much apparent today.

One of the best things about the menu here is that it’s balanced. You’ll often hear laments that there isn’t much for vegetarians on the island, for instance, or there’re no small portions for children. Or perhaps the selection is too narrow. Well, you might hear this sort of thing elsewhere but not at Poppies. Although the restaurant is popular just about every night there’s one special evening that seems to be the favourite. And that’s on a Saturday. Because that’s when Poppies hangs loose and allows itself a cultural distraction in addition to a gourmet blast – it’s when they host their Thai Theme Night.

Everything at Poppies is about leisure and relaxation. Whilst other resorts make do with less than one hour of entertainment on a show night, at Poppies it goes on for about two hours. A special over-water stage appears for the occasion, allowing the diners both inside the (open-sided) restaurant, and also on the outer terrace, an unobstructed view. And the musicians begin playing 20 minutes or so before the first dancers appear, making a pleasant backdrop for the diners.

Each week the content changes: the robust and contemporary ‘Pong Lang’ folk-style alternates weekly with pieces taken from traditional folklore or Courtly Classics. The five dancers perform between 7:45 pm and 9:45 pm, allowing for leisurely musical interludes between costume changes. And the costumes really are elaborate: if some of them aren’t real antiques, they certainly seem like it. You’ll have a photo opportunity at the end when they’ll obligingly pose for/with you, so don’t forget your camera!

There’s a small craft market, too. Check out the exquisite handmade bangles and baubles and some delicate examples of the soap carver’s art. And take a close look at the craftsman making the buffalo-skin carvings. You’ll see this sort of thing at other places but these are some of the most elaborate and ornate you’re likely to find. Usually, these ‘carvings’ are machine-made – punched-out to appeal to the casual shopper. But these are the real things all right and you can watch him as he laboriously and patiently works on each new piece.

But, no matter how alluring the distractions are, the heart of the evening is the cuisine. It’s not uncommon, from time to time, for a good restaurant to suddenly and completely overhaul its menu. But Poppies has tended to make very gradual changes over the years. “We now have what we think is the best menu anywhere,” says John Ens, the resort’s General Manager, before grinning. “But that doesn’t stop our chef fine-tuning it from time to time!”

Poppies has resisted the ‘buffet’ trend and stands resolutely by its à la carte offerings. There are actually two different menus; the lunch menu and a more extensive one for dinner. But I’ll let you into a secret. Poppies make one of the best crispy pizzas on the island – but it’s on the daytime menu. So check the dinner menu first and then see if anything in the lunch menu that also catches your eye.

Speaking of eyes, yours will probably widen as you scan through the offerings. Vegetarians have actually been known to break into a spontaneous jig when they see a whole page of lacto/ovo and vegan dishes. A further attraction is that there’s a substantial section of Thai-vegetarian dishes. These are established favourites that have been carefully adapted (no meat juices or animal fats) to fit the veggie mould.

But when it comes to meat – prime imported cuts of New Zealand veal or sirloin – then it’s all drop-off-the-bone tender. Executive Chef, Khun Suwit Suwan, is a marvel. For example, he makes a lemon-grass and bean-shoot Thai version of carpaccio that will leave you moaning with delight. In fact, there’re half a dozen whimsical-yet-mouth-watering ‘fusion’ items sitting all by themselves in a corner of the menu. Hidden treasure indeed.

There’s a huge seafood section; eight gourmet salads; a pasta menu that includes spaghetti, fettuccini linguine, and penne; an extensive children’s section, and bread to die for! Poppies bake their own bread and the multi-grain slices they dish-out carelessly on the tables with the meals simply cry out for dedicated loaf-shaped doggie-bags; as is the case with all the breads here. And when humble bread alone makes your mouth water then you know you’re dining somewhere special!

 


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