Samui Wining & Dining
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An exceptional resort with an outstanding restaurant, the 5-star Vana Belle lifts the meaning of ‘dining experience’ to a whole new level.

An exceptional resort with an outstanding restaurant, the 5-star Vana Belle lifts the meaning of ‘dining experience’ to a whole new level.I usually write these feature-stories in a certain way – a way that I know works well. I’ve written a lot of them. And I’ve found that being objective and writing in a dispassionate ‘voice’ makes everything sound more professional somehow. But this story is going to be different. I’ve been seriously impressed by one of the resorts here, and so I’m going to try to do them the justice they deserve.

          

I turned up for the interview, and ended up outside reception in my car, after having spent a frustrating 10 minutes looking for a parking spot. A smiling Thai man came out – “Are you Mister Robert? Let me park your car. Please go inside, you are expected.” My parking funk vanished. I wandered up the steps and was met by a Thai woman, who again called me by name and then guided me into the lounge, where a cheerful man greeted me warmly. He’s the resort’s Marketing Communications Manager, Jonathan Urquhart. Let’s just pause there . . .

          

I’m just a writer. I’m not particularly important. And yet here I was, with resort staff having been organised to meet me and greet me. This simple thing tells me that this company has perfected the art of both courtesy and hospitality. And if I’m getting this kind of warmth and consideration, then any guest who stays here will be treated like royalty! Indeed, before you even come here to stay, all your likes and preferences will have been discussed and noted in detail by Jonathan, and your personally-assigned ambassador will be constantly available to respond to your every need throughout your stay.

          

As part of the Starwood Hotels portfolio of 1,100 resorts and hotels, guest at the 5-star Vana Belle are assured of a personalised service, and facilities of the highest standard. But this resort is also one of 80 in Starwood’s ‘Luxury Collection’, and one of only three in Thailand. A great deal of thought has thus gone into the design and styling of the resort, the aim being to absorb and reflect the local (and regional) culture, while at the same time subtly underlining this with world-class contemporary fittings and fixtures.

          

The word ‘vana’ means ‘forest’ in Thai and ‘belle’ is the French for ‘beautiful’. And the immediate impression when walking through the grounds is that the original heavily-wooded hillside has been retained, and the 80 villas and suites somehow artfully blended into this. An exceptional resort with an outstanding restaurant, the 5-star Vana Belle lifts the meaning of ‘dining experience’ to a whole new level.The elegant design concept that’s woven throughout the resort is based on the ancient legend of the Himmapan Forest, and everywhere you’ll come across motifs and statues relating to this, such as the striking ‘elephant-fish’ (kunchorn waree) at the centre of the lily pond, just past reception. This mythical creature is able to swim across a vast ocean towards heaven – so it’s no accident that this statue overlooks the sweeping slopes of trees that frame an infinity of sea and sky beyond.

          

As you’d expect, the facilities here are nothing less than superb, ranging from the opulently exotic Vana Spa with its extensive range of pampering, revitalising and healing treatments, the fitness centre and the library – not to mention the location itself; on what amounts to a private beach in the adjoining bay to Chaweng, Chaweng Noi. But there’s an equally lavish set of options when it comes to wining and dining. In-house guests are indulged with quite possibly the best breakfast on the island, a Saturday brunch, seafood beach BBQ and even a ‘creative dining consultation’ which permits several choices of location and an indulgent approach to cuisine. There are two restaurants here; Panali is on the edge of the beach. And the elegant and refined Kiree is set higher and commands sweeping views. And it’s Kiree that I’m going to focus on.

          

I’ve written literally hundreds of Samui restaurant reviews over the last ten years. But, to date, nobody has been able to establish the title of ‘must go-to’ Thai restaurant on the island. Certainly there are some very fine restaurants. But I’d venture to suggest that Kiree is the island’s best kept secret when it comes to authentic Thai food. I’m not talking the sort of ‘authentic’ you find on the street stalls or the food markets. This is authentic in the sense that the menu features some of the most memorable dishes from around Thailand, together with an exhibition-range of lovingly-assembled Southern Thai specialties. Furthermore, there are only a handful of restaurants on Samui which are able to offer this level of both service and cuisine, together within a gentile fine-dining environment with such a magnificent outlook.An exceptional resort with an outstanding restaurant, the 5-star Vana Belle lifts the meaning of ‘dining experience’ to a whole new level. Kiree is most assuredly one of them.

          

The restaurant itself in an essay in restrained elegance. What on first sight appears to be an inner room, merges with a twin as you walk further inside. Both are air-conditioned, and both have a wall of glass looking onto a two-level outer terrace, with a fluted canopy above and that breath stopping seascape beyond. Furnishings are sumptuous yet easy, with groups and combos of tables and chairs blending with added sofas and settles.

          

The chef here is the well-known Khun Nattanan Deeruang, who formerly worked in the 5-Star Banyan Tree Samui, and has been Chef de Cuisine at Vana Belle for three years, during which time he’s worked exclusively on collecting and developing unique indigenous dishes, particularly from the southern region. These have a strong emphasis on fish and seafood due to the close proximity to the Andaman Sea in the west, and the Gulf of Thailand in the east. It’s a pure joy to sit down to, for instance, his ‘Pad Thai Malagor’, a lively variation on this popular dish, using long strips of green papaya instead of the usual noodles. Or the showcase curry offering of ‘Gaeng Kiew Hwan Talay Yod Maprow’ – a southern-style green curry with seafood, coconut heart and rhizome that’s served in a coconut shell.

          

I was equally as impressed by the friendly and attentive floor staff, all of whom spoke excellent English. But, then, thinking about it, I shouldn’t have been. When you make a booking you’ll suddenly become super-special; expected, greeted, guided and looked after. It’s all part of the art that’s Samui’s best kept secret – Vana Belle!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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