Samui Wining & Dining
A look at Bubba’s, Chaweng’s alluring American-themed restaurant.


Bubba’s American Bar & Grill is a ‘theme’ restaurant. That’s one thing. But there’s also the food to consider. No matter how glitzy an eatery might be, success depends upon customers wanting to come back. And that means quality food and excellent service, too. Paul Watson is the brains behind the project, and he’s also very much a part of the island’s life and culture. As well as establishing the very successful and longrunning Tropical Murphy’s not so far away, he also established Max Murphy’s at Samui airport. And another of these gourmet pubs has just opened in Nathon. “It’s all about quality and consistency,” he told me. “If a new customer isn’t happy he won’t come back. And we won’t get regular customers unless they know that everything’s going to be great every time they come.”

      Bubba’s got off to a well-grounded start in the form of California-born Nigel Mills, who was called upon to set up the kitchen and advise on the menu. Nigel is something of a colourful character, not to mention an established authority on quality barbecue dining. Californians (and Australians!) have elevated the genre to an art form, and Nigel’s expertise with his own dips, rubs and sauces paved the way in the kitchen. When the current masterchef and Dubliner, Neil Mann, took over, the time was ripe to extend the menu even more into the realm of ‘fine eating’. And today you’ll find that Neil has just taken over the kitchen in the new Max Murphy’s in Nathon – but more of this in a moment.

       Bubba’s couldn’t be better situated; right in the centre of Chaweng, next to both McDonald’s and Starbucks, close to shops and hotels and only a few minutes walk away from the busy entertainment area around Soi Green Mango. And the actual layout of the restaurant takes some beating too. There’s a big deck outside and an impressive inner area. The inside part glows invitingly with warm and discreet lighting, revealing in one corner a big semi-circular bar with a gleaming copper top. Opposite this is a wall with a dozen diner booths – traditional American style. Everywhere there are mementos and memorabilia: a 1950s hand gas pump stands guard at the entrance; car licence plates and hub caps are tacked onto the wall here and there; and everywhere there are posters, ancient and modern, of presidents, movies, film stars and pop idols. The floor is a checkerboard of antique Spanish tiles, with a half-dozen big wooden beer kegs forming a nest of tables and, above them, a roof-full of big wooden fans turn sedately to circulate the air.

          But it would seem that it’s the outer open deck which steals the show. It’s big and broad. There’s space here for up to 40 diners, either fringed along the edge of the pavement or set further back. It’s a people-watcher’s paradise. At one side is a very cosy thatched ‘beach bar’; a gentile spot at which to quaff. The floor-staff are lively, articulate and attentive, the service is immediate, courteous and friendly. And the food itself? Well, unless you’re used to the American way, it might come as a bit of a surprise, in more ways than one!

          “People often ask me what the difference is between the American diner-style of food and the Euro street-café,” Neil told me. “I answer, quality, quantity and style. In America, if they get a sandwich, they expect a meal inside bread – it’s like an art-form. And it’s the same with their burgers. Here we don’t add anything to our big beef patties, no onions or breadcrumbs, it’s just pure, prime ground beef. And, of course, we don’t make them then freeze them like some places do. Every burger is freshmade each time. It’s the same when it comes to the steaks. Everything’s prime quality, and big portions, too. The T-bone is a full one pound of prime imported beef. The pure-ground Wagyu-burger with balsamic onions is a rarity in itself, and comes firmly under the heading of ‘slow food’ – it’s a dining experience. And, speaking of which, our rack of ribs is over 20-inches long . . .”

          This rack of ribs just has to be seen to be believed! It’s a full rack. The plates at Bubba’s are big enough anyway, but this rack hangs a couple of inches over either side. It’s soaked for four hours in a home-made sauce, and then slowcooked so the meat just drops off the bone. Plus it comes with fries and two big portions of the side-dishes of your choice.

          Whilst on the subject of ‘big’, it’s also worth a mention that any and all are challenged to chomp their way through the ‘Man against Food’ 4X4 eating challenge. All you have to do is to get through two burgers in no more than 30 minutes, and you’ll get them free. Oh. Just one thing – there’s four burgers between each of the two sets of buns – eight in all. Plus a pound of fries. People do this – really! (The ones who don’t end up paying for it!)

           You’ll find that Bubba’s menu is sectioned into appetizers’, ‘burgers and sandwiches’, ‘salads and soups’, Tex-Mex (‘south of the border’) and ‘mains’. There is enough variety here for you to come back every other day for a month, and eat something different every time. Plus there’s a comprehensive drinks menu, too including lots of shooters. And if you’re the sort of person for whom an appreciation of alcohol is close to your heart, then drop in on a Monday evening for the ‘Margarita Monday’ experience. It’s buy-one-get-one-free. Not overly impressed? You will be when you realise there are 75 different margaritas to choose from!

          But back to Paul again, to put the icing on the most recent of his ‘cakes’ – Max Murphy’s in Nathon, just across the road from the police station, as you first come into the town. “We’ve taken pub dining up a notch,” he continued, “and this is now on a par with Europe’s ‘gastro pubs’. But the cuisine isn’t the same as Bubba’s; it’s a completely different style, and Max Murphy’s has what Neil refers to as ‘contemporary European’ cuisine. This is a refined, classic pub with (of course!) Guinness and simply superb food.”


 Rob De Wet



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