Samui Wining & Dining
The ‘X’ Factor

Going Italian at La Taverna unfolds a whole new set of dining dimensions!

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p6It happens to them all at some time. It’s just one of those food fads we have to put up with. It seems there’s always a chef somewhere who wants to make a culinary splash and call it art. One way or another, just about

every type of cuisine has been a victim of … trendiness. We’ve seen ‘Nouvelle Indian’. There’s been ‘Mexican-Thai Fusion’. Spanish menus have listed ‘huevos semi-coddled’.

Even those last bastions of good-time slow-feeders, the Italians, have suffered offshoots of their traditional cuisine which have featured drizzling, reducing, or embellishing with caramelised orchids. Which is not only a shame but almost a sacrilege, too. Because good, plain, honest food and lots of it enjoyed slowly in great company and with wine to match, is the hallmark of Italian dining. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at La Taverna.

It’s one of the island’s better-known Italian restaurants and since its appearance a little over three years ago it’s become one of the places where the island’s Italian expats and visitors have been consistently drawn. And that’s because not only does it look and feel just like the real thing but the hospitality here has become legendry. The décor is simple with white walls, arched windows, dark woods and tiled floors. There are more varieties of grappa than you can count. The fare is traditional, authentic and homemade, and the menu features everything you’d expect to find – and more.

And the hospitality? Well, as I said it’s legendry but inside this legend is another one and his name is Carlo Magello. He’s genial, larger-than-life, enigmatic, effusive, cosmopolitan and confident, but that’s perhaps because he’s spent more than 30 years mingling with some of the most famous and wealthy people in the world. He’s shaped companies such as Fiorucci and Benetton and, in 1978, became the Managing Director of Gucci (UK), where he remained for 15 years. This is a man for whom hospitality, meeting and greeting is second nature. But he’s not alone.

He’s teamed up with another Samui legend and assisting him is the cheerfully-outgoing Giuseppe ‘Pepe’ Viva. Pepe has been on the island for quite a while and those in the know will associate him with several other Italian eateries, as well as with various party venues including the ritzy Q Bar Samui. He’s only been back on the scene, at La Taverna, since April of this year and that corresponds with the big changes that have happened there.

It’s still an Italian restaurant and a fine one at that. But Carlo has gone and done something esoteric to it. The original restaurant is still there, air-conditioned and familiar, although it’s now magically sprouted a second cosy annexe alongside the first. When you turn off the Beach Road in Chaweng into the small street that’s parallel to Soi Green Mango (now gratuitously titled ‘Soi Sound’, I believe) you’ll see the welcoming warmth of the lit windows of La Taverna on the right. And, right next to it is …

Is … what appears to be a dent in the time-space continuum. Somehow Carlo has twisted and stretched dimensions. Rooms and volumes seem to expand and contract. It’s attractive, it’s engaging and it’s fascinating – not least the row of neon-blue lights set into the colonnade floor and leading towards a spotlit iconic statue in the distance. Or the church font that’s in the doorway. Or the big silver ‘X’ that’s on the portal outside.

The ‘X’ factor continues as you wander in. The roof is arched and lined with silently whirring fans. The lighting is low, dim almost, but with startling splashes of that same blue neon. Those homely, sturdy tables and chairs with their pure white linen – the same as in the main restaurant next door – lead onwards in a row. And then the whole space suddenly opens out into an insanely comfortable, warmly-lit lounge area with a bar and flat screen TVs.

Somehow this is La Taverna, that familiar and traditional Italian restaurant, with all its motifs intact, but stretched sideways into a new dimension. There’s a hint of the Parisian boulevards. A twist of Buddha Bar Lounge. A large dash of Oriental flavouring. Even a touch of English conservatory. And, running sideways through it all, the muted hubbub of diners and the nuances and tones of antipasti, mortadella, sautéed griglia, parmesan, et al.

Hmm,” nodded Carlo, “I’ve changed it a bit. I’ve shaped it. I’ve pushed it towards something more. Now you can dine, take your time and then sprawl out in the lounge afterwards. Or you can just drop in to see a match on TV and have a drink or two. This has always been a family restaurant and it still is. But now there’s a new dimension to it.

And,” chipped in Pepe, “don’t forget the parties. Every second Friday we spread our wings a little. The kitchen closes at 11:00 pm, as usual. But we don’t! There are great sounds with visiting DJs, the lounge gets laid-back and people come, eat, talk, relax and mingle. And we get to close … late! It’s all very low-key and great fun, too.

It’s a great restaurant. The food’s terrific, the lounge is dreamy and the marble bathrooms are nothing short of 5-star. The lighting is seductive and the ambiance tantalising. There’s a font and statues and, at moments, it almost has a church-like feel about it all. The doorway to the street erratically puffs out clouds of cold white air in front of the blue neon lights’. And the people that run it will smother you with friendship.

This is La Taverna. It’s a solid Italian restaurant. You’ll find no trendy food fads here, even though there might be just a tad of alluring eccentricity in one or two of the design features! But you will keep looking around; you’ll have to. As you move about you’ll be instinctively checking the dimensions and they’ll keep shifting with you. It’s possibly something to do with quantum ravioli. But it’s certainly due to Carlo Magello, Pepe and their inimitable ‘X’ factor.

 


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