Samui Wining & Dining

W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average resort.

W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average resort.

W is enigmatic. Once you start to think about W Retreat, then you start to pose questions. What is it, exactly? The over-simple answer is that it’s a resort. It has rooms you can stay in, 74 pool ‘retreats’ as they are called. So that’s exactly what it must be, surely – a resort? That answer is mainly correct, but it’s not a resort – a hotel – in any usual sense of the word. Just spend a bit of time there and you’ll see that things aren’t stapled down quite the way hotels usually like them to be. It’s a place where conventions are often turned on their head. That doesn’t mean to say the hotelier’s rule book gets thrown out of the window, but it does get creatively and very colourfully scribbled over – new ideas, new styles, new ways are all encouraged here. If you think that this is all a grand and giddy experiment that’ll pop like a cheap lamp bulb, then you’d be wrong: the people behind W are in the 15th year of running the brand, and have peppered the world with their hotels and retreats.


W Hotels is hot on design and considers innovation to be crucial; the group has a total of 44 hotels and retreats, including 16 W-branded residences. They’re all situated in highly sought-after destinations, be they cities or vacation areas such as Samui. That’s just the start … once W has built a property then come all the other ingredients: entertainment, fashion and art. Most hotels don’t really bother with anything like this, or if they do,W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average’s only as an afterthought. For W, it’s part of the deal; it’s in their corporate blood and they throw themselves totally into what they’re doing.

So it’s more than just a place to stay. In fact, the people you see at W aren’t always going to have a room key. They might be there for one or other of the many events that the brand stages; W is also a space for artistic vibrancy of many different kinds.


When the day turns into night you can really see the truth of this. To get an idea, drop into W’s Woobar on a Thursday for their ‘MO-HEE-TOE Madness’, an evening of fun, music, and yes, mojitos, and you’ll soon realize what’s going on is quite unusual. There’s no leaning against a bar with a glass in hand and nodding along to a bit of live music. The bar itself is totally different. It easily ranks as one of the most creatively designed bars on the island. It’s certainly got a brilliant location, an amazing spot on the island’s north coast. It’s easy to get to, by the way. If you’re coming from Chaweng along the ring-road, when you are leaving Bophut, take the turning on the right after Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa (look out for the W Retreat signpost) and simply follow the road to its end.


As you walk through the atrium of W, the bar is there but you probably won’t notice it – the eye is drawn to the vast panorama of sea with Koh Pha-Ngan in the distance. Pass through the atrium and you’ll quickly realize that you’re in a bar, though one that’s not encased with ceilings or walls. It’s comprised almost entirely of water and sky. Seating is sunk into a shallow pool; just lean back and you can take in the stars overhead. And once the music starts, you’ll know you’re in for an evening that’ll be memorable in the best possible sense of the word. On Thursdays, the night of the aforesaid madness, you can drink mojitos while listening to Kelly Kellam, who’s in charge of music for W here on Samui. A singer and songwriter himself, he’s resident DJ, and creates the music to go with the evening. It’s not just a question of going through playlists, he selects and changes the music to go with the mood of those present. So it’s a very individual kind of evening. He’ll play with music making it brilliantly fitting for whatever’s going on. As he puts it, “People have come here for a special evening. That includes not listening to the same kind of music that they might hear in the cab coming over. It’s more about what they can relate to…but have never heard before. Music is a lot to do with memories, but here I hope to create new ones, so that the evening becomes fluid, exciting and, yes, something to remember.W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average resort.” It sounds like a tall order, but spend some time listening to what he does and you’ll see that he works a definite magic when it comes to creating atmosphere. He’s also a dab hand when it comes to knowing the music world, and it’s thanks to his connections that the resort is able to put on top performers.


Incidentally, Kelly’s a very approachable figure and enjoys interacting with his audience – part and parcel of the W philosophy is the friendliness of the place; just because the folk at W are successful at what they do, it doesn’t mean they’re standoffish.


Working down from the rooftop Woobar, you’ll come to The Kitchen Table. It’s an all-day dining restaurant with a full Thai menu as well as Western favourites. You can also partake of the extraordinary ‘W T-Time’, which again turns out to be nothing conventional. Instead of the usual largish buns, an army of tiny, beautifully-made cakes, nibbles and other goodies appear in a chest of drawers made out of completely transparent Perspex. It’s tea for two, but your camera will also want to take part in it.


Garth Welsh, who directs everything that’s culinary about W on Samui says that he and his team have gotten into craft beers, with Danish maestro Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, one of the world’s most creative craft beer makers, just having invented a special brand for W Resort. You can try it in Sip Bar, right by the beach. Here, they have 40 craft beers to choose from, including two on tap.W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average resort. Mikkel is just the kind of person that W likes – he’s able to express artistry of an unusual kind and do it in an unusual way. “He doesn’t have his own brewery,” says Garth. “He gets started on a new beer by just finding a local brewery, going in and asking the owner if he might ‘borrow’ it for a while. He calls himself a nomad – a beer nomad.”


Namu restaurant, meanwhile, is close by Sip, and Garth says its food can be summed up in the phrase, ‘Asia tomorrow’. A good few people have thought it’s a Japanese restaurant, but it’s a catchy synthesis of Asian flavours, with Japanese being predominant. Is the food tasty? It is – abundantly so. Let’s just say that Namu’s chef, S.K. Choi, is a minor celebrity in his own right – he’s used to cooking for the famous, and was a winner of an episode of Iron Chef. He also likes to invite guest chefs to cook with him, all of whom are eminent in their field. For two nights in July, Michelin chef Jacob Jan Boerma will be coming to Namu – it’ll be the first time that a three-star Michelin chef will have cooked on Samui.


Last, but not least – check out Beach Grill, which specializes in fresh salads and grilled items. You might want to come on Saturdays for what W calls ‘Beach-Bar-B-Q Reloaded’, when you’ll be able to dine on a whole lamb. Kelly incidentally plays at this from midday until 4:00 pm.


Whether you’ve come to drink mojitos, taste a beer nomad’s creations or eat high tea from drawers, you’ll see that there are some very creative spirits standing behind W. Best of all; you don’t even need to be staying here to partake in what’s going on.




 Dimitri Waring


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