Samui Wining & Dining
Via Vai Italian restaurant is full of surprises.


Fact #1 – Samui has more restaurants per city-square-metre than any other city. Fact #2 – Chaweng has more restaurants than anywhere else on the island. Take both of these into account and it’d take you forever to sample the fare of every eatery in Chaweng alone! And fact #3 – a customer survey last year revealed that there appears to be 5% awful restaurants which nobody would ever want to return to; 90% which range all the way from disappointing to pretty good; and 5% which are excellent, have top-notch cuisine and service, and customers come back to several times during their holiday. But that’s a lot of facts and figures. So read it again, and ponder on what this reveals. And then carry on reading about Via Vai – as it’s one of that top 5%.

      There are some restaurants which open with a fanfare, become busily trendy for a year, and then the following season seem barely able to subsist. Just because a venue is popular for the moment doesn’t automatically mean it’s the tops. But Massimo Cappuccio has been making Italian food here on Samui ever since the time that you could walk down Chaweng’s beach road and see the sea. Massimo had been coming here on holiday for quite some time before he began looking for a way to stay. And that happened almost by accident in the late ’90s, when he and his brother Ricardo were offered the chance to set up a small eatery inside the long entrance-run to the legendary Santa Fe Disco.

With his foot now in the opening door of opportunity, on January 1st, 1996 he opened his first up-market Italian restaurant, Toto. And three years later he stepped sideways into larger and better premises, right in the middle of Chaweng, in what was the first incarnation of Via Vai. And, in November 2012, Via Vai shifted a little way up the street into larger and more prestigious premises. That’s where you’ll find it today; just a couple of hundred metres south of the landmark of Soi Green Mango, and just short of the plentiful parking available at Tops Supermarket.

        If you’re strolling down the beach road, you’ll instinctively pause as you get to Via Vai. It’s inviting; enticing, even. The broad frontage is divided into two areas – two tables that are perfect for people-watching, right on the fringe of the road, plus a step-up onto a cosily-recessed terrace that’s discreetly yet warmly lit. This is open-fronted and thoughtfully-designed; there’s a water feature that tinkles relaxingly in counterpoint to the sounds of the street outside; the colour scheme is boldly-bright white with black and red highlights, and the furniture is sturdy-yetsimple. The same clean white and red continues on into the inner air-conditioned main body of the restaurant, this time offset with wall panels of textured ochre and grey, which boldly complement the display of twisted timbers and the subtle bamboo panels mounted here and there. In a word it’s both delightful and relaxing, but so low-key and elegant that many diners will probably feel too much at ease to even be aware of how splendid it is!

          Massimo is still very much a hands-on sort of guy and, in spite of the fact that his successful restaurant now runs efficiently with his 15 staff, he often finds himself in the kitchen, steaming and stirring and adding a dash of this or a pinch of that. In the early days there wasn’t much alternative; he and his Malaysian-born wife, Alicia, did most of the work themselves. But old habits die hard and, as he readily confesses, Massimo just loves good fare. “I’m from Napoli,” he told me, “and in the south of Italy we really know how to enjoy our food. There’s a huge difference between our cuisine and the food from the north of Italy. And this is more to do with the way we cook things, rather than the ingredients. We have a little joke in the south – northern food is like hospital food! Up there they’ll simply boil a zucchini dish. But in the south we’ll cook it in olive oil until it’s crisp on the outside, then flavour it with herbs and spices. Our cuisine is rich and full of flavour – even our coffee is strong, thick, rich and creamy.”

          To see a wood-fired pizza oven is no longer a novelty today, but Massimo has to stifle a smile sometimes in this regard. He was the first on Samui to use an oven such as this, and he taught his Thai staff his own special way of doing things. The pizzas at Via Vai are simply super; the plates are huge, there’s a range of both classic and ‘special’ pizzas and there’s a choice of 21 toppings to pick from.

          The menu itself is comprehensive, as you’d expect, and is divided into sections that cover antipasti, salads, soups, pizzas, pasta, meat, seafood and ice-creams and desserts. The pasta selection is equally impressive, with eight different types as a base, including bucatini and rigatoni. And then the southern Italian element kicks in again, with a spoilt-for-choice range of no fewer than 22 different deliciously rich and creamy sauces to go with this.

          It’s a full and detailed offering alright, but a couple of items stand out from the rest. Take the ‘Antipasto Miso’, for example. This is a huge plate that’s artistically arranged with the appetisers all around the edge. But, stepping up on that, how about the ‘Tris di Pasta’? This is a selection of three different pastas which arrives on a plate so surprisingly substantial that it’ll make you wonder how one person is able to carry it. It’s also all beautifully laid-out, with a combination of ravioli in cherry tomato, egg fettuccini with shrimps and porcini mushroom sauce, together with potato gnocchi in pesto sauce.

          Very loosely translated you can interpret ‘via vai’ as ‘the road to travel’. Putting it in more familiar terms, it comes across as the ‘way to go’. Which, if you’re in the vicinity of Chaweng, is well worth taking note of. If you’re after a first class Italian meal then Via Vai is undoubtedly the ‘way to go’!


 Rob De Wet


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