Samui Wining & Dining
It is A Knockout

Innovative changes at Zazen are about to change Samui’s dining scene forever.

32Part of the floor is made of glass. “Is it safe to stand on?” That’s a question that’s heard here every day. And the answer’s always the same – yes. Peering down through the floor, whether you step on it or not, you can see something that’s unexpected on a tropical island – a wine cellar. Yes, a real one. And not just a chilled cabinet.

At nights, it’s lit up from within and if you sit on the sofa in the lounge area and look down through the glass you can see people checking out the immense stock. Steps lead down and you enter through a narrow door into the ornate brick-lined cellar; home to 1,000 bottles. They’ve come here from all over the world: the Americas, Europe, Australasia and Asia. The glass ceiling is the brainchild of the couple who owns Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa – Alex Andries and Khun Ti.

To build anything underground is a remarkably difficult process. Damp’s a common enemy and flooding can be a major concern. Then there are buckling walls to deal with and hollowing out the ground from under a building tends to weaken its structure. But all these potential problems are ten times more relevant if you’re just metres from the sea and the cellar floor is actually under sea level. Builders said it would be a nightmare – if it could be built at all.

 

The question is, who on earth would actually want to build a wine cellar? Can’t you just stick wine in a fridge, after all? Sure, you can, and that’s exactly what most restaurateurs over here do – a standard procedure which gets fine results. However, if you love wines and want to specialize in them, having a wine cellar is certainly a major asset.

Alex and Khun Ti succeeded in building the cellar and actively enjoy running it. But keeping wines, even in what might seem like the perfect conditions, is still a task that needs constant thought and attention. “Every little change can make a difference to the cellar and, therefore, in the end to the wines themselves,” says Alex. “The temperature fluctuates between night and day. So does the humidity. And even the number of times the door is opened and closed can cause changes to the air.”

The cellar not only stocks the wines but is also a place to taste them. If you visit Zazen, which is handily located on the ring-road between Bo Phut and Maenam, a visit to the cellar is a must. Diners can naturally order a bottle for their meal in the recently refurbished restaurant or in the brand new venue that’s just been created upstairs. It’s simply called The Chef’s Table. Here you can partake of either a 5- or 7-course meal. You can also, if you so wish, have each of your courses paired with a different wine. 

Zazen specializes in fine dining and eating upstairs is an extra-special treat as there are just 7 tables. And you can keep an eye on your food even before it arrives at your table, thanks to the open-kitchen where you can see Executive Chef, Cyrille Keyser, busily at work. But all that’s in the evening. By day part of the upper floor serves as a place to drink tea. And what a place! 

It’s known as the ‘Salon de Ti’ and is cozily decorated so that you’ll feel entirely at home here. The décor features Khun Ti’s family photographs and is a glimpse into the Samui of old. As a salon de thé, it’s unsurpassed. There are a total of 23 separate teas to try out in this very scenic setting which overlooks the sea and the bay of Bo Phut.  You can also, if you prefer, sample some unusual tea-based cocktails.

Thai cooking lessons are held up here in the mornings, too, using the open kitchen. You’ll be taught by a professional Thai chef how to make some of the country’s most popular dishes, after visiting the Zazen kitchen garden and local market, that is.

Zazen has long been a great venue for weddings and now receptions will also be held in the Salon de Ti. And thanks to a large-screen TV, which doubles as a mirror (this definitely isn’t your average tea shop!), the newly-married couple and their guests can view the day’s photos and videos on in total comfort and style.

You can sense that a lot of hard work and love has gone into making this restaurant a unique place. On Samui, where there’s so much culinary competition, it would seem pretty hard to come up with major innovations. But Zazen has managed to do just that. The team has concentrated not just on the broad outlines, such as having an underground cellar, but also on the minutest details. Take the teacups, for example. They’ve been specially made and if you study them you’ll see that they’ve been decorated with tiny flowers – the very same flowers that appear in the gardens of the resort, no less.

And in the same vein, Alex and Khun Ti haven’t settled for having their bread delivered daily by outside caterers: they’ve also built their own bakery, which produces cakes as well. It’s right next to the Salon de Ti and features a huge window so you can watch the chefs at work. Whether they’re teasing chocolate into artistic formations or simply making bread rolls, you can see the passion and dedication of the entire Zazen staff is very much in evidence here, too.

Both above ground and below it, there are plenty of reasons to venture into the world of Zazen. No matter whether you’ve come for a single cup of tea or a full-scale dinner, you’ll be made very welcome at this relaxed resort. And, yes, you can stand on the glass.

 


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