Samui Wining & Dining
Gastronomic Glee

There’s so much going on at SALA Samui that you really need to ... watch this space!


20It’s what we want. It’s what everyone dreams of. It’s only something that happens every now and again. And when it does, folks flock around, jostling to see what happens next. No, I’m not talking about a film star arriving. Nor a total eclipse of the sun. It’s something much less spectacular, but vital, nonetheless. It’s what happens when a restaurant, an excellent one with a top reputation, suddenly reshapes itself. I don’t mean it simply changes the menu. I mean a restaurant that brings a new chef and his team. A completely new outlook on how food plays such a vital role in our lives. A whole different view on dining and how to go about it: from personal written notes by the chef, to private tables by a waterfall, to Mongolian theme-cuisine to a jazz trio under the stars. Not a slight modification. A complete and utter culinary make-over. And that’s what’s been going on at SALA Samui, in Choeng Mon.


Most established restaurants that are enjoying success are happy enough to rest on their laurels; ‘Why fix it if it ain’t broke?’ seems a sound-enough outlook. But at SALA Samui they’ve grasped the nettle boldly and gone for the whole nine yards! They’ve taken an established fine-dining restaurant, centred on contemporary French cuisine, and expanded and re-shaped the entire concept. And the drive behind all this comes in the form of the dynamic Executive Chef, Nick Hall.


Nick has already notched up an impressive résumé. He’s been working for 5-star establishments around Thailand, with his last appointment being at the exclusive Rasanandra Resort & Spa on Koh Pha-Ngan. His appointment came following the end of a three-year innings by its previous head chef, Alexandre Vialatte. And Nick is now whipping up something of a storm with his very positive attitude towards the role of dining at SALA.


“It’s all about luxury, sheer luxury, nothing more and nothing less,” he enthused. “At a 5-star resort, guests expect everything to be 5-star. And that means not only providing them with a 5-star menu but also presenting it in matching style. Every guest is special. They are pleased to be greeted personally by name. They are delighted to see a handwritten note from the chef, along with a bon-bon on their pillow when they return to their villa at night. It makes them feel like a king to have their meals tailored exactly to their liking by their ‘personal chef’. And everyone is attracted to special dining events. A good à la carte menu is at the heart of any quality restaurant. But everyone loves a party; in this case our ‘buffets’ on the beach. And there is now a wide range of other fine-dining options to supplement all this.”


The menu at SALA remains essentially the same successful blend of Mediterranean cuisine but combined with elements of creative ‘fusion’, with the influence of Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian cuisine filtering through. Nick has been working on completely re-modelling the menu, but this is a gradual thing and not likely to happen overnight. But what has come quickly into play is an added number of luxuriously-indulgent options that have immediately proved to be popular.


The majority of diners come as ‘a couple’. This is true everywhere. And so Nick has focussed on this. Take ‘Table 9’ as an example. SALA has a striking infinity pool that borders the restaurant and faces the beach. At one edge is a broad platform that extends into the pool but is covered by only two inches of water – a kind of daytime sunbathers’ dip. But at night this turns into candle-lit ‘Table 9’, as it then has just one table placed romantically on it and diners can enjoy their tête à tête shoeless and in a couple of inches of tropically-mild water.


“This kind of personal and high-end dining is in short supply,” Nick continued. “What’s lacking is something with wider vision: a dining option that is shamelessly indulgent and personal. And so we now offer ‘What Dreams are Made of’. This begins with a personal consultation. Do they prefer Asian cuisine or Western? What particular sort: French, Italian, Spanish? Some kind of fusion? Do they prefer lots of small bites or several full plates? Seafood, meat or both? What preferences and cooked in which way?” And Nick will continue until he has tailored a specific dining package to each person. And then the best part: where do they want to eat it? Locations range from on the beach to on the top of the mountain. Or next to a waterfall. Or even on a remote island somewhere. Whatever your whim, it will be indulged, complete with transportation plus personal chef and waiter for the evening.


Another big attraction of our little island is that you can dine everywhere with impunity under the stars. And thus Chef Nick has implemented a series of theme evenings. Eschewing the familiar title of ‘buffet’ (“… it smacks too much of cheap weddings and greasy breakfasts!”), he has designated these soirées ‘Gourmet Feasts’. In line for his drawing board is a ‘Thai Market Night’, a ‘Seafood Discovery’, and a ‘Taste of Asia’, the latter featuring quality dishes from Japan, India, Mongolia, Thailand, China and Vietnam.


“The à la carte menu is the core and will always remain so,” he continued. “But diners here want their feet in the sand; it’s a part of the whole experience.” It’s worth adding that, as well as the enticing nature of these ‘Gourmet Feasts’, the cost is humbly less than the magnificence of the concept. Speaking plainly, these all-you-can-eat gourmet feasts will set you back 1,090 baht per head. And, as we are talking 5-star, that’s another incentive all by itself.


But there’s more. When it comes to ideas, Nick is so full of them that they’re simply bursting to get out. A ‘tasting menu’ of either five or seven courses? Jazz evenings? Well, they haven’t happened yet. Every week is seeing new and alluring highlights, added to and appearing on the culinary-stage that is SALA Samui. And people are flocking and jostling to see what’ll come next!


Whichever way you want to play it, popping over to Choeng Mon promises to be rewarding. Whether you want to sample the Mongolian buuz or commission your own gourmet mini-bubble of romance in the pool or on the top of a mountain, you’ll need to do one thing first. You’ll need to call and ask what’s happening right now. Because with so much gastronomic glee in the offing you really do need to ‘watch this space’!


Rob De Wet


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