Samui Wining & Dining
Puppy Love


It’s Chinese New Year, and love is in the air!


It’s Chinese New Year, and love is in the air!A warm welcome – particularly to those of you who are in love! We’ve not long had all the joy and fun of Christmas and the New Year. But now we’re bouncing into another cycle of celebration. And on the 14th of this month, on beaches and in resorts and restaurants everywhere, couples will be gazing into each other’s eyes and declaring their love.

And boy will you be spoiled for choice! Samui is nothing if not famous for its little romantic hideaways, and just about every restaurant will be doing its utmost to woo you by putting on a special meal in a lovely setting.

Happily, also, the weather has now changed, the rainy season has passed, and the oppressive heat of the ‘summer’ months of May and June are still far away. And that makes it probably one of the best times of year to come to enjoy all that a tropical island has to offer – daytime lazing by the pool and evening dining under a sky full of stars.

Plus, everywhere you look you’ll see signs that the Chinese New Year is almost upon us. And on the 16th, it’ll all erupt onto the streets in a word-wide event that’ll mark the Year of the Dog. Keep a look out – it’s not to be missed!

 
Very Cool Indeed

When it comes to dining with flair, Lamai’s Seventy Fahrenheit is really quite a hot spot!

When it comes to dining with flair, Lamai’s Seventy Fahrenheit is really quite a hot spot!You can put two restaurants next to each other, and one works and the other doesn’t. It’s not about price or what’s on the menu. It’s not about location. It’s not even about how nice it looks – although it’s possibly all those things wrapped up together. But as soon as you see Seventy Fahrenheit, you’ll stop and stare. It’s instantly alluring.

There’s a buzz to it. The wait-staff are busy, the diners animated-but-relaxed on the front deck that’s raised up and open to the street. The bright green and red lights make pools onto the deck, and splash cheerfully against the clean white back wall. But both side walls are vibrant with living green plants, and there are two full-size palm trees there also.

These visuals all come together with an effortless excess of flair. This extends to the overall layout, too. There are two areas: the front deck, as mentioned – and this also has an electric roof which will slowly hum closed at the first hint of rain. And then there’s the rear enclosed area, although there’s a wall of sheer glass between the two. This is blissfully air-conditioned. Again, a lot of thought has gone into the lighting, playing off cool, daylight spots against rows of warm, antique bulbs, combining to provide a subdued glow, discreet and relaxed, but good enough to easily read the menu without straining.

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Tempting Trio

Sabienglae’s three restaurants all offer authentic Thai food at great prices.

Sabienglae’s three restaurants all offer authentic Thai food at great prices.The old ways often work best – traditional cuisine is the way forward for the three restaurants simply and collectively known as Sabienglae. They're the brainchild of Khun Amnart Chotchoung, a quietly-spoken figure who comes from the most traditional part of Samui, Ban Taling Ngam on the island’s west coast. He grew up with fishing as the area’s main industry, and says that watching the daily catch being unloaded put him in mind of opening a restaurant. He started with seven tables, wondering if he would break even. His wife, Khun Ying, was the chef – an expert one – and the diners found themselves in good hands. They loved her food, and still do. The couple had to add progressively more tables and chairs as word-of-mouth drove the business forward at a pace that surprised them. A decade later, those seven chairs have become 800, and range across three separate restaurants. But Khun Amnart and Khun Ying still hold to very traditional values and cuisine – this approach they say is largely responsible for their success.

The Sabienglae restaurants are very well-known on the island, but if you're on holiday you may not be familiar with them. If you're at The Wharf in Fisherman’s Village, Bophut, then you'll come across Sabienglae right on the promenade, housed in a very contemporary building. The original restaurant is in Lamai (just past Hinta-Hinyai on the ring-road heading toward Nathon) in a more rustic looking setting. Both command beautiful sea views. The remaining restaurant is in Chaweng, just off the ring-road, south of Tesco-Lotus. They all have similar menus and the same excellent prices. The opening hours are generously long, and each restaurant operates seven days a week. The Wharf and Chaweng restaurants are open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm, while the Lamai branch operates from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.

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Exquisite Events & More

Fine food and spectacular themed evenings at The Beach House at Santiburi Samui Beach Resort.

Fine food and spectacular themed evenings at The Beach House at Santiburi Samui Beach Resort.Santiburi Samui Beach Resort commands centre stage on a magnificent stretch of Maenam Beach, with endless idyllic sand in either direction. It was one of the first top class resorts to establish itself on Samui. And after 25 years, it continues to delight the discerning guest who appreciates a fine blend of beauty and sophistication amidst an ambiance of romantic seclusion. The accommodation and the restaurant facilities are equally exquisite, and everyone, not only hotel guests, are welcome to enjoy the mystique and culinary delights of The Beach House restaurant.

The Beach House is not merely a culinary experience; it has also become a hotbed of themed night festivities. At the recent New Year’s Eve gala and Russian Orthodox Christmas celebration, guests were thrilled by a fire show, traditional dance and other dynamic, eclectic performances. The Carnival de Samui on the 10th of February, Valentine’s Day on the 14th, Chinese New Year on the 16th, International Women’s Day (March 8th), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) and Easter are but a few of the spectacular evenings and events being planned. Romance, costumes, a carnival, an egg hunt, a Russian dance troupe, poolside fireworks, Chinese acrobats, dancing dragons and a lion show … well, that’s just some of what The Beach House has in store, as colour, energy, culture, and fun will surely abound. Experience it all while savouring a buffet of delectable Chinese fare, oysters, chilli and chocolate ‘aphrodisiacs’ for the romantic or any of the countless other special culinary delights The Beach House will have on the menu.

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Spice Alert !

How to get just the right amount of chilli in Thai restaurants.

How to get just the right amount of chilli in Thai restaurants.Usually at the kitchen table, the complaint is that things need to be spiced up. The dinner is too bland! Something's missing! Here in Thailand it's just the opposite. Nothing's missing, but there’s definitely too much of something else – chilli!

Many people who come to Thailand are attracted by the thought of the cuisine here. After all, it's ranked amongst the world's finest. But as keen as some are to try it, they draw back because of one factor: the fieriness. The good news is the Thai chefs can and will tone down the spiciness of dishes to suit their guests from abroad.

The obvious way that they do this is to reduce the number of chillies that they use. Since most Thai food is made from scratch, and is prepared only when the order is taken, this is quite easy to do.

But is Thai food without chillies (or even so many) even Thai at all? It most certainly is. Food historians point out that the chilli isn’t even native to Thailand. Blame Christopher Columbus, who started so much ferrying of foodstuffs across the globe in the 16th century. Chillies went down into many a ships’ hold and made their way eastwards, gathering brand new admirers wherever they were incorporated into local diets. Black peppercorns were the original source of fire in Thai food, long before chillies made their appearance. Today peppercorns are still a big part of various marinades for grilled chicken and beef. But hey're definitely not as spicy as their newer post-Columbus counterparts.

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Thai Recipe

Lemongrass Salad - Yam Takhrai.

Lemongrass Salad - Yam Takhrai.Ask almost anyone from the west to define what a salad is and they’ll come up with a list of raw vegetables, usually featuring lettuce and finally some sort of dressing to make everything tasty. It’s a staple that many of us have grown up with, and which many of us feel we should eat for health reasons. Rarely cited as a favourite dish by anyone, a salad is usually an accompaniment to a main course; salad, at least in the west, seems to be forever doomed to playing second fiddle.

However, in Thailand, a salad is a very different proposition. It may not even faintly resemble its western counterpart, with looks and flavours that are worlds apart. Raw food aficionados may well even feel a bit let down, as many Thai salads get their main tastes from cooked ingredients. Perhaps there should even be a different, less misleading word to describe these dishes – are they really salads at all? But it’s too late for that; Thai cuisine is famed throughout the world, and already all names are set in culinary stone, and the word ‘salad’ is used to describe food that’s made in four different ways. ‘Yam’ is one of them. Not to be confused with the vegetable of the same name, ‘yam’ simply means ‘mixed’. This month’s recipe features a mix using ‘takhrai’ or lemongrass. Yam however can be made with a huge variety of ingredients, and many different combinations of protein, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices can be used. The main ingredient or ingredients can be raw, fermented, sun-dried, smoked, steamed, boiled, grilled, baked or fried. A basic yam recipe also tends to rely on sliced fresh shallots or onions, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chillies.

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Sublime Sanctuary

The Beach Club at Buri Rasa Village, Samui, offers wonderful food in romantic surrounds.

The Beach Club at Buri Rasa Village, Samui, offers wonderful food in romantic surrounds.The approach to this relaxed and highly professional restaurant is, to say the least, unexpected. Step straight out of the hubbub of central Chaweng, enter an amazing oasis of tranquillity, then take a scenic stroll through the ‘village’ itself, past the villas that lead down towards the sea. Finally, you'll come to an old-fashioned set of doors, the colour of verdigris, which opens out onto the restaurant, The Beach Club.

It’s an open-sided dining room, which looks out onto a beautiful lawn with frangipani trees, and the sea itself. The restaurant is completed by a beach bar, which serves both traditional and creative cocktails. Guests can opt for the dining room, a small terrace by the sea, or perhaps best of all, gazebo-style tables on the beach, each a private world of its own. Calm reigns. People love it.

It has to be said that the words, ‘beach club’ tend to evoke some busy, on-going pool-party with stomping music. But here it’s the very opposite kind of affair; it’s laid-back, restful and very romantic. And no crowds at all, revving it up. There’s a single evening, Tuesdays, when an excellent seafood buffet with live cooking takes place on the beach front, but no more than this.

Buri Rasa doesn’t belong to a big, anonymous hotel chain, but to a very niche group known as Rasa Hospitality. They run selected resorts, with Buri Rasa Village, Phangan, being the next closest. The teams who run the properties are of crucial importance, and are a big part of the reason why guests love returning to stay and to eat at them.

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Brunch Bonanza

A selection of Samui’s must try brunches.

 A selection of Samui’s must try brunches.Make your weekend even better by indulging in a spectacular addition to the island’s gastronomic treats – brunches. Samui excels in them. Select from menus featuring all-time brunch favourites along with modern takes on traditional dishes. Everything is made using ingredients fresh from the sea and local markets, with meats that are invariably brought in from prime locations – think New Zealand lamb, best-grade Australian beef.

If you're used to brunching in urban locations, then you're in for a further treat. Samui’s brunches are set in some amazingly idyllic locations, no more than a stone’s throw from the beach. Feasting outdoors on decking or a terrace (naturally there’s plenty of shade in the form of canopies) or in some of the island’s most sumptuous dining rooms, these settings are as luxurious as they are relaxed.

For drink there may be bubbles, wine, cocktails and all manner of soft drinks. Very often there are different price tiers, depending on what you would like in the way of beverages. Children are invariably welcome and enjoy the food and atmosphere as much as adults do. Typical brunch times tend to be between midday and 3:00 pm, though you're welcome to linger after that.

Without further ado, we showcase some of the best of Samui’s brunches. These are just some examples – there are more venues still, offering wonderful cuisine. Expect to be wowed. Ensure you come as hungry as possible – don’t even think about nibbling beforehand – as brunches have so many dishes and possibilities that you definitely won’t be able to try everything. Not unless you can limit yourself to a teaspoon of each dish. And you won’t be able to – the food is way too tempting for that.

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Superbly Supattra

If you think you enjoy Thai food, just wait until you’ve paid a visit to Supattra Thai Dining!

If you think you enjoy Thai food, just wait until you’ve paid a visit to Supattra Thai Dining!Did you realise that there’s actually no such thing as ‘Thai cuisine’? Certainly there are typical Thai ingredients. But how they’re used to make a dish is a different matter. The Thai food you’ll get in Boston will taste completely different to that which you’ll get in Birmingham, and not at all the same as you’ll find on the Samui coast, here in Bangrak. Every city makes Thai food the way their people want it. And every chef has a different approach. Which brings me right away to Supattra Thai Dining.

This is the name of the restaurant run by Khun Supattra, (interestingly enough, on the edge of Bangrak Beach) just a little way away from Big Buddha. It’s a Thai restaurant, serving only Thai dishes, with no attempt to include fries or burgers to keep the kids happy – although it has to be said that when youngsters get a taste of what Khun Supattra is offering, they’ve been known to squeak with delight.

But I think, to explain more fully, we also need to look closely at the sorts of ‘Thai’ food you’ll get in Thailand. Look at where the Thai people themselves go to eat – the big food courts and markets. The food is basic, the ingredients cut-price; the cheapest cuts of chicken, pork and beef. Everything’s full of MSG and sugar, and slathered in fish sauce and ground chillies. This is not the fare you’ll find in the resorts!

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Cocktail Conundrums

Sometimes the strange names are half the fun of cocktails.

Sometimes the strange names are half the fun of cocktails.Barking Spider, Salty Chihuahua, Blood & Sand, Dr Sinister, Inspector Gadget and Satan’s Whiskers – these demented cocktail names show that mixologists are as busy with words as they are with ingredients. Even Hemingway came up with a cocktail name – Death in the Gulfstream. No encouragement ever seems needed when it comes to giving a weird name to new concoctions. Why bother with Scrabble and crosswords when cocktail names provide so much fun?.

There are some cocktail names that are simply so obscene that most people, even when highly drunk, might not want to order them. In a family-style publication like ours, we dare not even think of mentioning them. You would definitely not ask any bartender if they had them on the menu – he or she might think they were being propositioned. These cocktails probably aren’t going to make any international favourites list anywhere – simply because they require nerves of steel simply to order. Are we talking along the lines of that classic vacation cocktail, Sex on the Beach, born in Florida and which has fuelled almost a half century of mayhem for Spring Break students? No, we are not. The names seem so obscene that they can only herald the downfall of the drink itself – people are wary enough of embarrassing themselves in bars as it is!

With weird, laughable, offensive and even completely meaningless names, cocktails seem to be in a linguistic, if not alcoholic, class of their own. Some drinks never really make it to the light of day or at least fame; a good many can only be drunk in the bar where they were invented – and should the bar go bankrupt, the cocktail ceases to exist, while others go on to become famous, still carrying their strange name with them. A fishing club in Philadelphia, otherwise obscure, invents Fish House Punch with its peach brandy, cognac and rum; 1920’s Paris comes up with Burnt Fuselage, made of cognac and Grand Marnier, still drunk today; a Toronto hotel puts together martini and crème de cacao and produces a drink that seems just right for wayward children at an illicit moonlight feast – the Chocolate Martini.

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Breakfast with the Gods

A surprise awaits you at Santiburi Samui Country Club!

 A surprise awaits you at Santiburi Samui Country Club!Samui is an interesting place. There’s lots of new development, but it’s still mostly rustic. And there’s no hi-rise construction – that’s because we’re basically a small mountain with a flat bit around the edge. That means that nearly all the restaurants we talk about have great sea views. But, no matter how you look at it, a view of the sea is . . . a view of the sea. With one exception maybe – Santiburi Samui Country Club.

Ah but yes, you may say, what about all those fabulous viewpoints up the mountain? Most of them do food! To which we’ll reply, sure! But it’s pretty basic grub: and just you try to explain to someone how to get to one of these! It’s all fine and dandy having smart phones and Google Maps, but just you try it: you’ll spend half the time turning round and going back again because your little blue dot is suddenly going in the opposite direction. Again. For the fifth time!

But Santiburi is a different matter entirely. This is one place where you don’t even need a map; although it helps if you can navigate your way to Maenam, on the island’s north coast. Soi (street) 7 is the last of Maenam’s side-roads that head away from the sea, and it’s the last one you’ll see (heading towards Nathon) before the landmark of the sharp bend with the arch and the signpost for Lomprayah Ferry. Soi 7 is where the big Thai food market sits on the corner – along with a signpost for Santiburi Samui Country Club.

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Local Flavour, Global Impact

Poppies Samui connects the past with the future and always wows its diners.

 Poppies Samui connects the past with the future and always wows its diners.Poppies promises a lot more than a relaxing stay in its deluxe cottages; guests can do more than unwind in some of the lushest gardens on Samui (think huge old trees, buckets of foliage and a stream that splashes through all of it). It’s also home to the island’s original luxury international restaurant, and the food here remains absolutely top-notch. Even if both restaurant and resort have been operating for almost a quarter of a century – history by Samui’s standards – that doesn’t mean to say that Poppies Samui has become a stuffy institution. On the contrary, the vibe here, though decidedly elegant, is also cutting edge.

Poppies succeeds in presenting both heritage Thai food and an international menu at one and the same time. The entire concept of the restaurant is all about professionalism. Word-of-mouth was once all that the resort had in the way of advertising, but people quickly heard about it, liked what they saw and passed on the message. They're still doing that – when they're not actually returning to sample Poppies all over again.

Even with today’s fierce competition, Poppies is still wowing its guests, and manages to do this with some original approaches (some are literal, as we will shortly see) and by looking ahead to the future. All this translates as: there’s nothing quite like Poppies, anywhere on the island. For a start, the approach to the restaurant is unique. Guests can get there through a secret door, camouflaged by a faux bookcase, which swings back to reveal an enigmatic tunnel that meanders away into the distance. It’s actually a service passageway by day, but is definitely a great way to arrive at the restaurant in the evening, all the more so as the chef interrupts your journey with an amuse-bouche.

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Chop Chop Chop

The use of chopsticks is something of a puzzle – just exactly why do so many Asian people use them?

The use of chopsticks is something of a puzzle – just exactly why do so many Asian people use them?Stone-age men used pointed sticks to eat their food. It wasn’t until the time of the early Egyptians that spoons began to appear; made of wood, bone, ivory or gold, as utensils made of ordinary metals tarnished or rusted. And, by the time of the Roman Empire – say about 3,000 years ago, eating-utensils consisted of a metal knife to cut your food and to spear the lumps up into your mouth, and a spoon for smaller bits and liquids like soup. And as the Romans expanded their empire, so other nations benefitted from their culture and habits.

Meanwhile, in the mountains of northern China and in the rest of Asia, people were still sticking pointed sticks into their food. For some strange reason, this part of the world had never given spoons or forks the thumbs up. The cultural subtlety of tableware, knives and forks and spoons, never spread out of the Western world into Asia.

Well, not until the 17th century that is, and The Age of Discovery, when all of Europe hopped into little sailing ships and realised they wouldn’t drop off the edge of the world, after all. But by the time they got to China and Japan, Korea, too, they discovered that those pointed sticks had already evolved into a long-established culinary art form. They were now being made out of slender, tapered wood or ivory and being called chopsticks – well, that was the common name given to them by explorers.

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Inflaming the Senses

A light-hearted look at the ups and downs of aphrodisiacs over the ages.

A light-hearted look at the ups and downs of aphrodisiacs over the ages.Don’t let’s be coy here: this is the age of honesty and straight-speaking. And it’s no longer taboo to talk about sex – even in a magazine that’s all about food. Anyway, when it comes to things like love, ecstasy and heightened pleasure, there’s probably been just as much written about this in the context of restaurant reviews than in all of those TV reality shows combined.

And so, to get down and dirty, aphrodisiacs come in three forms, and the search for such stimulants go back for millennia. First there are the ones that increase libido in both genders. Then (a male thing) boosted potency. Finally (the one where everyone benefits) substances which enhance sexual enjoyment. And whereas there most certainly are chemical stimulants, the most popular (and many would say the most effective) aphrodisiac of all is an intimate evening spent wining, dining and wooing!

It’s a togetherness thing. Even the preparations – getting ready for the evening together – play a part in the slow build-up to the evening’s climax. Take something as simple as perfume. Ambergris is a substance vomited out by sperm whales. It’s also highly-prized for its ability to inflame the male senses; hence its inclusion in fragrances such as Chanel ‘Number 5’, Balmain, Givenchy ‘Amarige’, and Gucci ‘Guilty’ etc.. And while there appears to be some chemical reality in this assertion, I’m not even going to approach the realms of powdered unicorn, rhinoceros horns or narwhal tusks!

That kind of thing carries over from a medieval outlook and, other than a charming reminder of years gone by, doesn’t fit with what today’s science tells us. It’s like the mystique surrounding oysters. They are not an aphrodisiac in any way. But if you try to think back to a bygone age when the glimpse of a female ankle drove men insane with lust, then it becomes conceivable that that passing resemblance of an oyster to the female genitals could well have had a similar effect. (Although quite what oysters are supposed to do for women is harder to speculate about.)

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