Samui Wining & Dining
THE TANTALISING PALATE
A look at The Palate restaurant, one of Lamai’s brightest places to dine.


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Perhaps I should have titled this ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Because it’s a big part of the tale. On Samui, there’s only ever been two – Chaweng and Lamai. But somewhere in the ’90s, Chaweng began to grow. Maybe it was because of Chaweng’s long beach road, all 5 kilometres of it. Perhaps it was due to Chaweng being so close to the airport. But, one way or the other, between 1995 and 2005, Chaweng blew up like a balloon, further amplified by Phuket’s sad losses with the devastating tsunami in 2004.

        While this was happening, Lamai was declining. At the end of the ’90s Lamai had a busy, cheerful, laid-back centre, with lots of budget resorts, shops, restaurants and nightlife. But over the next five or six years businesses started to close. Then, as the surrounding area declined and prices began to fall, so it all turned around again. Big 4 and 5 star resorts appeared, snapping up the lower priced land. And existing hotels smartened themselves up and went upmarket. One of the most notable of these was The Pavilion.

        The Pavilion Samui Boutique Resort, to use its full title, seems to have been around forever. It’s always been a cut above the other local resorts, but several years ago, the owner, Khun Virach, gave it a complete makeover. Although it already boasted one of the best restaurants around, The Patio, this wasn’t overlooked, either. Already on board was one of the island’s most capable Thai chefs, having previously been employed by the Amari Group for almost 20 years, having worked all over SE Asia, studied under a dozen eminent Italian master chefs, and ending up as a chef-teacher for the group, instructing other chefs in the finer points of Italian cuisine.

         He was not only a connoisseur of his own Thai culture but he was also one of the very few Thai chefs who were a master of regional Italian cooking, too. Therefore, when Khun Virach decided to take this outside and into the public eye, his passion, skills and expertise went along with him into The Palate, which opened last year right across the street from The Pavilion, in a blaze of publicity that was well deserved.

          In this part of Lamai the streets are quite narrow and twisty, village-like, although there’s a car park across from The Palate, next to The Pavilion. But this fills quickly at night. This means there’s a good chance that you’ll probably need to park nearby and stroll a little way. Look around yourself while you do. Make a note of the restaurants you pass. Most are quite attractive and you’ll see more than a few diners ensconced within. But you just won’t be able to miss The Palate. You’ll even feel the vibes before it comes into sight. This is one of the few eateries around that is bouncy, lively and up-key, and yet serves top quality Thai and International cuisine. In the daytime, it seems quite a small sort of place, unremarkable really. But at night, it really beams out.

          The first thing you’ll notice is the cheery light and colour, with a quirky and offbeat downstairs décor that spills out and onto the pavement. The next will be that it just looks so full! But this is because it has an upper balcony terrace (everyone’s favourite spot, thus always busy!) which overlooks the street. But, as you go inside, you’ll realise this is all actually a kind of facade and it opens out into a big inner courtyard filled with tables and chairs, all rather Mediterranean in feel. There’s a large open kitchen to one side and also a closed room towards the back for those who prefer air conditioning.

          We all know that Thailand is the ‘Land of Smiles’ but honestly, they must give each of the staff here a happy pill every night. They all seem to be really enjoying their work and the quality of service is notably high. Scanning through the menu reveals one thing right away. All the Thai dishes are made with imported meat from Australia or New Zealand, and you just won’t realise what a difference this makes until you try them. There are the expected Eurostyle starters and mains, most of which display a touch of menu-flair with the enhancement of a Thai sauce or side dish. Here you’ll also find some of the best crispy-base pizzas around. All the seafood is fresh each morning from the nearby fishing village of Hua Thanon, and you can select it live from the display, if you wish. Yet another departure from the norm is the super freshwater king prawns brought in specially from the mainland.

          While we’re on the subject of the Thai menu, you’ll find some rare and cosmopolitan treats on offer. There is a wide variety of regional cuisine in Thailand, and yet quite often restaurants that cater for tourists simply offer what they think their visitors expect. But not at The Palate. You’ll find Chinese-based duck dishes, Bangkok-style fish balls and the hard-to-come-across crabmeat in a number of dishes – try the ‘green curry crab meat’, it’s just exquisite!

          But the measure of any chef and his menu is what they offer at the end – no matter how well a Thai chef can emulate western cuisine, he’s usually stumped when it comes to a dessert and just goes for ice-cream or fruit as a stopgap. But here there are cakes and cheesecakes and chocolate and a Samui ‘first’. The ‘Hot Chocolate Soufflé’ that appeared first at The Patio, then here at The Palate, and then spread across the island at an alarming rate. Few chefs of any nationality can claim this!

          But I think, all in all, there’s just one more stitch that sews up the deal. And one of the comments on TripAdvisor sums it up neatly. The last bit reads, “. . . the quality is like a hotel but the cost is the same as a street restaurant.” Way to go! And that’s yet one more incentive to get your palate tantalised at . . . The Palate!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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