Samui Wining & Dining
Love is All You Need

Samui is a romantic little island anyway – but this month everything will be extra special!

Samui is a romantic little island anyway – but this month everything will be extra special!The stars above, the whispering sea, a table for two on the beach, low lights, soft music . . . and that’s every night! It’s normal on Samui. There are just so many lovely little restaurants that it’s impossible to list them all. But we try! And we do our very best to look for those places which are off the beaten track. Those tucked-away gems that you’d otherwise never get to see or enjoy. But this month is even more special!

This month is the month of love, celebrated across world, and all of it’s centred on one day; St Valentine’s Day. Love knows no limits. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 80; this is the one day every year when you look forward to pulling out all the stops and showing your partner that they mean the world to you.

Breakfast in bed. Strolls along deserted beaches. Flowers, chocolate and lingering glances. And then the highlight; that super-special meal at night. The weather will be blissful, with a sky full of stars and the waves whispering on the beach. And you can be sure that every restaurant, particularly the best ones, will have made an extra-special effort to create something even more romantic than ever, just for you.

This will be the one night of your stay that you don’t just go exploring. You’ll need to plan ahead and book the best, the most memorable, place you can find. And here, happily, we can help you choose!

Pizas with Panache

Ciccio Ristorante Pizzeria at Royal Muang Samui Villas stands out from the crowd when it comes to great taste.

Ciccio Ristorante & Pizzeria at Royal Muang Samui Villas stands out from the crowd when it comes to great taste.One of the first things you notice when you come to Samui is just how many Italian restaurants there are. OK, so they may be outnumbered by Thai places, but there's so much Italian food on offer that Samui might be a part of Italy itself, at least from a culinary point of view. If you're eating Italian, then you're definitely spoiled for choice. Ciccio, however, can offer two things that make it the first choice for many diners: it has both an Italian chef, who focuses on just pizzas, and a special brick-built pizza oven.

Ciccio Ristorante & Pizzeria, on the main road in Choeng Mon, provides a setting that’s casual but well-thought-out; you'll find a terrace where you can sit under the shade of trees overlooking a small pond. Your food is prepared just a few steps away in the kitchen, and from your table you'll be able to see Chef Lorenzo Belloni at work. A glance inside the fiery depths of the pizza oven reveals a traditional design that hasn’t changed in much in hundreds of years, except that this one is equipped with gas jets as well as the usual hearty stock of wood. The pizzas are placed on the floor of the oven, while the rounded ceiling focuses the heat evenly. It’s obviously the best way to make pizzas and Chef Lorenzo is an ideal choice for making them. He’s Italian himself, grew up around the same kind of food that he makes for his guests, and underwent rigorous training to become a chef, including doing a separate cookery course on – guess what? How to make the perfect pizza!

Spicing Things Up

Sidelined for centuries, mankind’s search for aphrodisiacs gets back on track.

Sidelined for centuries, mankind’s search for aphrodisiacs gets back on track.When you start looking into aphrodisiacs, it feels like you are opening up old history books. It’s a natural reaction; a lot of early research was done on aphrodisiacs of every kind, and by early, I mean very early. As in some thousand or so years ago. And since then, relatively little has been done. It’s as if hard conclusions were reached many centuries ago and the topic has gone off the boil. The Ancients certainly had a passion for discovering what foods would stimulate the libido, and put together whole lists of plants, spices and foodstuffs that were guaranteed to promote desire. They had other lists for fertility, and even black lists for items that would diminish libido. Eat this they proclaimed, and your desire will be boosted; eat that and you'll feel drained of energy. Did people take heed? Some did and said they’d got the results they’d been promised.

If so, one wonders why this knowledge is barely known today, even though the problem of low libido still fills many a doctor’s surgery: 43% of women and 31% of men report having at least one symptom of sexual dysfunction. The Ancients, it seems, never found much that would conclusively and instantly stimulate sex drive. The good news is that some serious research is still being done on aphrodisiacs, and it shows indications that some foodstuffs may indeed be aphrodisiacs. In 2015, a study published in the journal of the International Society for Sexual Medicine detailed how research done on popular aphrodisiacs showed which items simply didn’t work and which ones showed promise. Alas, most so-called aphrodisiacs brought no benefits at all; no evidence had ever been found to support their claims. At best, it could be said that healthy foodstuffs aided the body generally, and thereby in turn the sex functions. The researchers did, however, come across some items that they said might well boost the human libido in one way or another.

Weekend Treat

Saturday Brunch reaches new culinary heights at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui.

Saturday Brunch reaches new culinary heights at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui.What’s the best way to spend a luxurious Saturday on the island? With so much choice available, it’s an on-going debate. However, whether you're recovering from an exciting Friday night spent in the hot-spots of Chaweng, have just arrived at the airport, or are simply in a languid mood, then you might want to reward yourself with Saturday Brunch at Vana Belle. And it definitely is a reward, if you're thinking of a reward as being something that’s unusually good. It all starts long before you even come within touching distance of any food or drink. It all starts with the setting.

At Vana Belle, located right on the serene coast of Chaweng Noi there stands an exquisite restaurant, Kiree, set on a verdant hillside overlooking the ocean down below. It’s quiet here, a place filled with a sense of tranquillity, just the kind of hideaway spot that, even if you've only been here once, you will always fondly remember.

If you can, you should approach via the beach, but plenty of people will tell you that it’s just as good if you arrive via the main entrance. Pass through the main gate and you'll already be surprised: you're probably expecting buildings, but they're hard to see because you find yourself in forested surroundings. Keep on going and you'll come to the lobby area. And it’s from here that you'll experience the incomparable sea view: wide-open ocean, a fringe of trees on a headland – a totally remote feel. You'll quickly feel relaxed. This is the kind of place where you can finally ease back and just let go, even if you're really frazzled. It has that kind of unique charm to it, this place.

Much at Stake

When comparing Thai Beef with other beef, don't forget the cultural element.

When comparing Thai Beef with other beef, don't forget the cultural element.Meat, especially steak, may not be the loveliest foodstuff to look at, and it can be a difficult job to make it look aesthetically pleasing when it’s on the plate. But when it comes to ordering it and then eating it, most diners definitely have opinions on how it should taste. And, as we all know, it’s one of the few dishes where diners get to have a say in how it’s prepared. ‘How would you like your steak?’ is definitely not a question that any waitperson wants to forget to ask. Meat, especially steak, is a primeval commodity, and it’s something that’s hard-wired into the brain; our ancestors may not have cared whether it was rare, medium or even burned to a frazzled crisp - it was simply life and death to them to haul enough of it into camp so that nobody went hungry. Today, it’s still important, but the question is now not so much if there’s any on the table, but rather its quality and where it has come from.

Some meats are clearly better than others. And some purport to be amongst the very best. Kobe and Wagyu beef, for example. For some, those names are a magic incantation; they know that what they're getting will be prime grade beef. Spend any time at international restaurants in Thailand, and you'll notice just how ubiquitous Wagyu is. Then of course, there’s New Zealand lamb, Australian beef and so on. One reason that you'll find so much foreign beef in restaurants was the signing of a free trade agreement between Thailand, Australia and New Zealand in 2005, allowing for easier imports. The other reason is that Thailand’s demand for beef isn’t met by its own production; imports are needed, and a lot of them, day in and day out. This explains why Thai beef seems to be so secondary when it comes to feeding both Thais and holidaymakers.

All Aboard

Moving forward into 2017 at The Barge.

Moving forward into 2017 at The Barge.The Barge is one of the two main restaurants at Nora Buri Resort & Spa, and can be found on dry land, albeit beside the ocean with gorgeous views of the Gulf of Siam. It is a beautiful building crafted from dark wood and designed to look, well… like a barge! There are four floors of dining. The Barge is on the ground floor with wooden decking, situated alongside the beach and recently refurbished pool. Freshly sanded and newly polished natural wood furniture with comfy cushions and smart tableware completes the scene. The second floor provides extra seating for The Barge and is covered, great in case of bad weather. On the third floor is Rice Barge and Terrace. This is a separate restaurant which serves authentic Thai cuisine. Traditional Thai seating, food and music provide a truly genuine local dining experience. The outside terrace affords spectacular views of the ocean and has a perfect ocean breeze keeping you cool and refreshed. Right at the top is the Sky Lounge, which is a secluded area and used for exclusive and private dining.

The Barge caters for lunch and evening dining, specialising in high-quality western and seafood cuisine. During the day, the atmosphere is casual as it caters primarily for the beach and poolside guests. At night, the area is transformed with dimmed lighting and provides a fine dining experience, catering for the varied tastes of resort guests and visitors. There are set menus for those who like to sample a well-balanced variety of seafood and meat, or the à la carte menu. Along with the ever-popular Lamb Rack and Seafood Bisque, new additions for 2017 include; Australian Beef Tenderloin with onion rings and garlic vegetables served with a delicious peppercorn sauce, Grilled Salmon with tomato and basil risotto, and Crispy Chicken Thigh with pumpkin puree, mushroom ragout and red wine sauce.

Thailand’s Greatest Recipes

Make it yourself: Pad Thai or kway teow pad Thai.

 Make it yourself: Pad Thai or kway teow pad Thai.Like many of the nation’s favourite dishes, Pad Thai is so ubiquitous that it must have been around for hundreds of years. But with pad Thai, things aren’t at all what they seem, and even the word ‘Thai’ is a bit of a misnomer. The dish's full name, kway teow pad Thai, or stir-fried rice noodles, Thai-style, seems to connect it, however vaguely, with southern China, since kway teow is a Hokkien-Chinese dialect word for rice noodles. But whatever, the dish is old, right?

It turns out that that pad Thai was unknown before the 1940s, and its rise to fame started off with the dreams of just one individual. And he wasn’t a chef. It was Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram who was behind the roaring success. (He was also responsible for changing the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, by the way.) But why, you might ask, was the government so keen on fostering a noodle dish? There were two reasons. Firstly, it was part of their drive to give people a sense of national identity. Even if it had some roots in China, the dish was a Thai invention, and was proclaimed to be Thai. Some people claim that the prime minister himself more or less invented it, though this seems unlikely. The other motive for the introduction of the dish was that Thailand was experiencing widespread poverty, and pad Thai was highly affordable. And just as good, it was relatively healthy. For a small outlay, you could have a filling and nutritious meal.

Under the Surface

We look at why Poppies Resort has become a Samui legend, and dig down into its history – in more ways than one!

We look at why Poppies Resort has become a Samui legend, and dig down into its history – in more ways than one!You’d never believe the way it was. Koh Samui, I mean. Yes, sure, there are lots of old pics but they don’t mean much. Fuzzy photos of empty beaches, or of some huts and palms; they could be anywhere. If I say that Chaweng once had one big muddy puddle right along the beach, that’s still not enough – even if it later became ‘Chaweng Beach Road’. If I told you that, 20 years ago, you could see the sea from almost all of this muddy lane, it’s not easy to grasp. What you need is something that’s side-by-side. Pictures before and after. And that’s where Poppies pops up.

Poppies Samui is unique, and in several different ways. To begin with it was the first privately-owned luxury bungalow resort on the island. It was also the first foreign-owned resort of this kind. And, accidentally, it also introduced a new term into the local hospitality jargon; boutique – although this was something that the owners didn’t conjure up or lay claim to. No, this was coined much later by the many admirers who needed something snappy-sounding to make their own little place stand out from the crowd.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks The Bistro & The Dining Room at Rocky’s Boutique Resort Koh Samui both reach pinnacles of perfection when it comes to both casual and fine dining.

 Twin Peaks The Bistro & The Dining Room at Rocky’s Boutique Resort Koh Samui both reach pinnacles of perfection when it comes to both casual and fine dining.A beautiful backdrop of jungly green trees, a gorgeous bay and a resort that’s elegant down to the tiniest details – Rocky’s, situated just south of Lamai, is the perfect combination not only for a getaway stay, but also for a memorably good lunch or dinner.

If there can be said to be a drawback to eating here, it’s just that you'll need to choose which of the two restaurants you'd like to dine in, as both have a serious cachet for excellence. Maybe just start off at the beautiful little beach bar, and treat yourself to a cooling drink as you look out over the ocean while you decide. You can also order pre-dinner cocktails and canapés here.

Immediately adjacent to the bar is The Dining Room, an opulent yet laid-back restaurant that hints at northern-style Thai architecture. With its tasteful teak furniture and a generous accent on floral decoration, it’s an uplifting experience just to take a seat here. And when evening comes, candles are lit at every table, giving the entire setting an especially warm glow. It’s open-sided, by the way, so guests can look out over the sea from where they're sitting. In addition, there’s seating right outside, looking out over the delightfully secluded beach that fronts Rocky’s. You'll definitely need to reserve the outdoor tables in advance as they're so popular.

Lions and Tigers and Snakebite

Plus a few other strange beasts, too – we look at Thai beer.

 Plus a few other strange beasts, too – we look at Thai beer.Once upon a time I used to be clear about things. I’d spent a lot of my life forming opinions. I looked around and saw what I liked and what I didn’t. And I knew why, and why not. But now I’m old and wise and I just don’t know anymore. Every single thing seems to have grown new facets. It’s all much more complex than it used to be. Take the simple subject of beer, for instance.

To an older person from England, dark beer is the best and the blonde lagers are for kids who can’t handle the real thing. A young American, on the other hand will judge everything against the iconic ‘American Style Gold Lager’. But most of Middle America still thinks Budweiser in a can is real beer. And Germans old and young will crave their pilsner. Yes, I know, this is about Thai beer. But there’s two ways I can write this: the easy way is to just make a list of them and copy some historical dates and notes from the internet. The other way is what I’m doing now.

And the aspect of culture and tradition weaves its way through the whole subject of beer, tugging opinions this way and that, depending on who you are and where you come from. There are some European breweries that have been running since the dawn of time: Weihanstephan Abbey in Bavaria has been brewing since 1040 AD, for example. Whereas America’s Yeungling Brewery has only been at it since 1829. This is important, as it shapes a nation’s thinking. Thailand, for instance has been making beer since 1933.

Rise and Shine

Break your fast with the sunrise, at Santiburi Samui Country Club.

Break your fast with the sunrise, at Santiburi Samui Country Club.High up in the hills and coconut groves, above the ring-road between Maenam and Ban Tai, you can find undulating and beautifully landscaped manicured lawns, dotted idyllically with indigenous tropical trees and plants, lakes, waterfalls, streams and even a bit of rough. You have either found by design, or stumbled upon, Santiburi Golf Course. Way up here, almost 180 metres above sea level, where the air is cooler and fresher, you'll be rewarded by some of the best views on Samui's north coast. On a clear day, you’ll see a coastal panoramic view stretching from all the way from Bang Por in the north-west, to Choeng Mon at the most north-eastern point of the island.

The 5-star, 18-hole international standard championship golf course (par 72 and 6,930 yards), is known as one of the most beautiful courses in Asia, and ranks as one of the top five courses in Thailand, so it’s well worth a visit whether you play golf or not. The golf course and clubhouse fit effortlessly within the rolling contours of hills and valleys, blending in perfectly with the natural beauty of coconut plantations and the surrounding nature.

Worlds Apart

Thai vegetables are so unfamiliar to the first-time visitor, that some seem to be from another planet.

 Thai vegetables are so unfamiliar to the first-time visitor, that some seem to be from another planet.When your plane’s flying over Thailand, look down and what do you see? It’s a mix of land and water, but above all foliage. Nature is definitely in control and doesn’t let up, not until you get within a few kilometres of Bangkok. And when you fly over Samui you'll see that the interior of the island is mostly nothing but endless vegetation.

When your plane’s flying over Thailand, look down and what do you see? It’s a mix of land and water, but above all foliage. Nature is definitely in control and doesn’t let up, not until you get within a few kilometres of Bangkok. And when you fly over Samui you'll see that the interior of the island is mostly nothing but endless vegetation.

Once you step off the plane, you enter a hothouse world. Plants, shrubs, bushes and trees all shoot up towards the sun, and many will be totally unknown to all but seasoned visitors. One of the real treats when it comes to this bright and verdant world is seeking out its produce. Take a trip to the market – any market at all, or even the supermarket – and you'll find a profusion of the most amazing vegetables. Sure enough, you can find your potatoes, carrots and onions, but I guarantee it won’t be those that catch your eye. You may well believe you've wandered into some parallel world. Some of what you'll see piled high is unbelievable. You might even think that the vegetables have been imported from another planet or stepped out of some whacked-out lab, the product of some frenzied and giddy scientific experiment.

The truth is that all of what you see are common or garden vegetables here in Thailand. They're part and parcel of what makes up Thai cuisine, what gives it some of its more indefinable tastes. Don't waste your time looking for Thai vegetables back at home – you won’t find that much, unless you're blessed with a particularly large Asian market. But here in Thailand, the produce is so plentiful that you might wonder how even this largish nation of 60 million people manages to munch its way through a half of it. But they do, as it’s all good for cooking once you know how to make the best of the tastes, flavours and textures of each of the vegetables.

Off the Beaten Track

Unusual desserts abound in the world’s hardest-to-reach places.

 Unusual desserts abound in the world’s hardest-to-reach places.Probably nobody has ever been on a culinary journey to taste all five of these unusual desserts which have languished in obscurity for too long. But for some travellers, the flimsiest excuse will provide motivation to get on a train, bus or plane. Their bags have already been packed and are forever waiting by the front door. The goal of tasting some far-flung desserts is as good as any reason to embark on a round-the-world trip, worthy of Jules Verne. Planes are the niftiest way to bag all the desserts in the minimum amount of time, but more kudos, a lot more, would go to the person who travels by train and/or car. Anything slower would be unthinkable ... but why not by foot, donkey, bike, and so on? Combining painfully slow transport with obscure desserts seems somehow ... strangely lucid.

Here then are a handful of the world’s desserts, mostly famed only in the countries where they're eaten. Loved to bits at home, in other words, but unknown abroad. Connect the dots on the world map and you'll have your own maverick itinerary.

Northern Norway and Environs: Hammerfest claims to be the northernmost city in the world, although that’s hotly contended by another town. But since they're both in Norway, it doesn’t matter when it comes to dessert. Spoons descend on the same kind of fare here, and traditionally, this far north, it’ll be Sami cuisine. This is the traditional cuisine of the Sami people from the Sápmi territory, which spans Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Sami, have kept their traditions alive and well in all four countries, though with variations. In the barren latitudes of Northern Norway, a typical dessert is Jåbmå. It’s made of the leaves of mountain sorrel, which is first cooked to a stew and then served with sugar and milk. A lot more international is its rival, cloudberry jam and ice-cream. But if you prefer something instantly familiar, coffee and cheese is on most menus!

Fabulous February

Impiana Resort introduces a variety of beach dining extravaganzas.

Impiana Resort introduces a variety of beach dining extravaganzas.located to offer exceptional and unique beach dining experiences. Sitting on a pristine stretch of sandy beach and overlooking the Gulf of Siam with its cooling sea breezes, it’s a great place to wine and dine your evenings away.

And now Impiana brings Ulaan Batur to Koh Samui every Wednesday evening, with their Mongolian Buffet Night. There is an amazing variety of dishes on offer. Appetisers and salads such as Deep-Fried Chicken Curry Samosa and Sesame Crusted Tofu Salad with Broccoli and Bell Pepper. Some very different choices of barbequed skewers such as Bacon Wrapped with Enoki Mushroom. And main courses focusing around the Mongolian wok, where they also offer cooking demonstrations. Make your own choice of meat or seafood and add in your favourite veggies, making it a healthy combination. With a choice of desserts to follow, it’s an adventurous meal out, and all for only 690 baht net per person.

And lucky wives, husbands, romantics, lovers or even ‘just good friends’, can celebrate in style on Tuesday 14th February, with a very special and romantic Valentine’s Day set dinner on the beach. Enjoy a Classic Red Tuna Carpaccio accompanied by prawn ravioli, caper berry, mixed micro-salad and avocado wasabi puree. Follow this with Strawberry Gazpacho & Smoked Salmon Soup, and Blood Orange Granita and Orange Caviar. For a main course choose between Pan-Seared Snow Fish, with beetroot puree, wakame seaweed salad and orange apricot sauce or Roast Lamb Eye of Loin with mint and pea mash, garlic puree, root vegetables and red wine balsamic jus. Linger over the luscious Long Love Strawberry and White Chocolate Tart dessert. The net price of 4,900 baht for two people includes a bottle of rose sparkling wine, two hours of free-flow cocktails, juices and soft drinks and a romantic table for two set up on the beach, surrounded by candles. Perfect for celebrating your love and affection for each other this Valentine’s Day.

The Wine Page

When it comes to enjoying wine, temperature matters!

When it comes to enjoying wine, temperature matters!They say size matters. Especially in certain physical aspects of life that were more important to me when I was younger. However, when it comes to wine, which is a more prevalent temptation these days, temperature matters. It could be that I am a grump. Or maybe anticipating that time when I’m not expected to be anything else but grumpy. But I must call attention to an almost reflex practice among many wine drinkers that troubles me in the extreme. It’s the habit of not chilling red wines and over chilling some white wines far too much.

This is perhaps, a pointless argument to make in a country that loves things icy cold, spicy hot or super sweet. Ice cubes abound, in just about any beverage, all while revelling in the shivery chill of air-conditioned bars, restaurants, cars and offices. Nonetheless, I feel that I must try, if only because it is clear to me that drinking over chilled, bloody good, white wine, deprives me of fully enjoying the complex aromas and delicious flavours in the glass. This is not a new discovery. Basic science makes clear that raising the temperature at which a wine is served, allows the various compounds to evaporate and rise, thus the wine’s aroma that contributes so much enjoyment on the palate. As an Englishman, I have often had to explain why English real ales are served at slightly under room temperature, but not warm, as Aussies and Americans like to critique. These often-superb ales are, like wine, full of flavours, with subtle and delicate nuances that would be inhibited by excess chilling.

In a previous column, I suggested, in passing, that Chablis should not be served too cold. But now, with the consumption of high quality white wines rising, I think it‘s worth making the point clearly and explicitly. To enhance the pleasure of drinking a good white wine, please do not serve it too cold. This suggestion may not be so easy to follow if you’re in a restaurant. White wine may well come to the table straight from the refrigerator, and head straight for the ice-water bucket.


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