Samui Wining & Dining
Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge!

Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge!No, this story isn’t about canal cruises or houseboats. It’s about one of the island’s most lauded restaurants, and the young chef who’s shaped their menu into an item of envy. All restaurants succeed by virtue of their reputation, but hotel restaurants do this solely due to outside guests. It’s not enough to just feed the folks staying there; what’s offered has to be enticing, too, and also affordable. And if you add to this one of the mostimpressive architectural landmarks on Samui and sprinkle it with 5-star attention and service, you’ve hit on the recipe for success.


The resort in question is Nora Buri Resort & Spa, just about the first thing you’ll get to when you head north up Chaweng Beach Road in the direction of neighbouring Choeng Mon. It’s not far; five minutes in a taxi perhaps. The Barge really is quite something, and it’s worth going there just to marvel at its architecture and styling alone. You can’t miss it. Firstly you’ll see the huge expanse of the main resort stretching away up the hillside. And, on the opposite side of the road, mostly hidden by the greenery but perched up high and overlooking the sea, there’s the main body of the restaurant, tiered on three levels down the hillside and shaped like a gigantic, futuristic wooden ship, although this isn’t evident from the road outside.


It’s built on a steep part of the rocky cliff and descends in tiers, effectively creating three floors and a roof terrace. The initial inspiration for the design came from the traditional Thai sailing vessels. But this is a modern interpretation that evokes the feel of the thing rather than merely trying to represent some kind of big wooden boat.Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge!


There are actually two excellent restaurants here. Rice Barge is one of the best classical Thai restaurants around, and takes up the whole upper floor. This is the place you’ll come alongside as you enter the building. It’s the most dramatic of the floors, and fully employs the whole of the elaborate roof-space, all hand-sculpted from rich, dark wood – and that’s worth some time with a camera, just by itself. It’s in two sections, with the inner area being air-conditioned and lined with floor-to-ceiling walls of glass. And there’s an outer dining space, too, extending outwards towards the sea, and open on three sides.


But wander down the stairs until you get to ground level – which in turn is connected to broad outer terraces that edge the sea. It’s something of a contrast to the sumptuous traditional Thai décor of Rice Barge; more minimal and with lots of trendy scrubbed concrete offset by huge Thai paintings. This restaurant is simply (and somewhat confusingly) known simply as The Barge! It’s the resort’s all day dining space. It serves Thai and International cuisine, and it’s where you’ll find Brendan Semmens.


Brendan is the Sous Chef in charge of International Cuisine. He’s been here three years now, and has shaped the menu into a sleek and intriguing selection of varied choices. “There are two parts to creating dishes,” Brendan explained. “Firstly the ingredients have to be simply the best; grain-fed beef from Australia, for instance, and a broad selection of really fresh fish and seafood.Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge! And then it has to taste good. Not just ‘nice’, but interesting. It has to be enjoyable to eat, enhanced with combinations of exciting tastes and textures that are unexpected and that complement each other.” Certainly! But Brendan missed out the third factor: it has to be affordable, too. And, at The Barge, it is.


Take, for example his ‘Pan Seared Tuna with Quail Eggs, Fried Capers, Wasabi Mayo, Rocket, and Picked Onions’. The tuna is moist and the flavour dances with that of the quail eggs; the wasabi’s gentle heat plays against the mild sweet-and-sour of the onions, which in turn offer up a reassuring firmness, offsetting the softness of the fish and the eggs. All for 550 baht. The same tantalising canopy of tastes and textures also occurs with the more straightforward-seeming ‘Australian Grain-fed 4-oz Tenderloin with Homemade Fries, Rosemary Salt and Red Wine Shallots’. Steak ’n’ chips? Hardly! The shallots are steeped in red wine and provide a cheerful crunch that teams up with the chunky homemade fries, adding a pleasing tangy contrast (that’s enhanced by the rosemary salt) to the smooth succulence of the steak. And there’s a free salad bar to dip into, too.


Brendan’s excellent à la carte menu is reason enough to come here, plus the architecture of The Barge and the hugely-affordable pricing. But there are also two more clinchers. The first is the two gourmet-buffet theme evenings: Monday is ‘Cowboy Night’, with the emphasis on turf and surf. Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge!There are several live cooking stations preparing seafood, steaks or kebabs, exactly to your preference. The whole affair is a banquet and you can sit, talk and refill your plate at your leisure, as many times as you wish over the course of the evening, all for just 999 baht. And on Wednesday, something similarly lavish happens on the theme of ‘Hawaiian Night’. The cuisine is just as extensive, with snowy-surfaced tables and gleaming stainless steel servers, but with more Asian dishes on offer and a wider variety of seafood.


But the final incentive to head for The Barge is the unique ‘Freeflow’ drinks menu that’s based per hour. For 550 baht you can drink all the local beers you want for an hour. If you want to extend that to beer, cocktails, spirits and mixers, its 650 baht. Work out how many cocktails or Jack & Cokes you can drink in one hour. Do the maths. Know also that the à la carte menu is also on hand at the buffet evenings, making it realistic for a group or a family to come for the night. And be aware that the prices you pay are the prices on the menu – there’s no added tax or service charge. And then realise that Brendan and the Barge are a combination simply not to be missed!


 Rob De Wet


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