The hottest place on a cool island
Phuket Island, situated on the south east coast of Thailand, originally gained its fame as a backpacker destination with affordable local food and drink.
Whilst some parts of the island continue to develop along these lines, such as Patong Bay, many new resorts and hotels have sprung up in other areas helping to bring a new generation of more mature and, let it be said, discerning travellers to the island.
Phuket has long been a destination for international holiday makers from Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai other commercial centres, seeking a long weekend or a week’s holiday in what is a beach paradise. Now, with this rise in standards and expectations, which are provided by the range of fabulous boutique and luxury hotels, so the restaurants have developed in unison to cater for those seeking something special outside their hotel.
At the forefront of this trend and with international experience behind him, chef Tammasak Choothong, more famously known as Chef Noi, returned from Germany where he had established his career, to work in the top Thai and International hotel groups Banyan Tree and JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Phuket as Executive Chef. Here he designed their restaurant concepts and menus.
In 2010, having created quite a reputation, he decided to go it alone and created Suay Restaurant in Phuket town and in 2017 opened his second location at Cherngtalay in the middle of the island. Here he aimed to take the experience of dining to new heights by offering an ambience of elegance in a relaxing setting, with stylish and contemporary decor close to new luxury resorts and hotels in order to bring the Suay experience to more locals and visitors alike.
Blending western cooking techniques with traditional Thai ingredients and recipes, Suay, meaning beautiful, is Chef Noi’s own restaurant concept and his purest creative expression. It’s a place for a special occasion as much as a chance to experience a more diverse range of Thai cuisine when visiting the island.
Visiting the new restaurant one is struck by the decor. A thousand colourful butterfly motifs feature on the interior wall and ceiling height doors run the length of the front of the restaurant. Similar to the city location, the restaurant features both interior air-conditioned dining for around 60 guests and an exterior courtyard for a further 40 or so.
Welcomed by Chef Noi’s wife, we were seated near the bar with a good view of the kitchen. This is where each dish is finished ready to pass to the tables. Chef Noi himself appears here many times during the service to arrange a plate or supervise his mainly Thai crew.
For starters, taking into account that one of our party was vegetarian, we had the delicious signature ‘Laab Tuna’ featuring fresh tuna tartar with miso line, crispy fried mushrooms and Issao spices. We also tried the Acacia seeds and curried seafood tempura with grilled prawns and avocado dip, and the way salad featuring a sorted leaves pomelo fruit thai basil and krispy fried soft shell crab with sweet chilli dressing. It’s a menu where you would like to try everything.
With a cold beer or a glass of wine in hand, this was an exciting start for what clearly was going to be a great experience.
I’m the sort of person that gets excited about trying new local dishes but I also appreciate well prepared dishes in local restaurants at home in London and this is where Chef Noi excels. The question I kept asking myself throughout the meal was whether this was Cordon Bleu cookery skills applied to Thai dishes, or traditional Thai cuisine with an international twist? Either way the combination is sensational.
For sure, there are descriptions of dishes that would not appear that out of place in a Michelin star restaurant in London, or for that matter in Stuttgart where Chef Noi worked previously, but the ingredients are less familiar and certainly more exotic.
During the meal Chef Noi found time to come out and say hello and to check that everything was alright, despite being in the middle of a busy service and with the imminent arrival of a large group of local hotel managers, ready for a Friday night out together.
We heard that he has helped design the menu for several hotels on the island and across Thailand, including the famous Banyan Tree, winner of numerous international awards. He also has a cooking school, where up to 15 lucky people can learn to cook selected signature dishes, and has appeared on the ‘Thailand’s Iron Chef’ as the ‘European chef’, reflecting Thai interest in international cuisine in which is he is so experienced.
So for the main courses. So much choice! You can come to Suay Restaurant to try the Suay tacos which are served either in crispy taco shells or soft roti bread or just to have a plate of his signature pasta. But we were here for the full experience.
We shared the Shanghai style noodles with pesto avocado and squid, the charcoal grilled black cod with coriander beurre blanc and sweet potato and the delicious baked sea bass with local vegetables in turmeric butter, all reflecting the fusion of international and Thai tastes.
Just being able to make room for desserts, which included a mini baked alaska with green tea ice cream, we watched the evening develop. The local hotel managers were clearly enjoying their meal and the kitchen became more and more busy adding to the ambiance.
What strikes you about Chef Noi more than anything, especially if you yourself know about running a restaurant business or indeed any business, is that he is obviously a fabulous team manager and an inspirational leader. He clearly loves cooking himself, but has also learned how to lead with a smile and at the same time as welcoming customers. I’m not sure what his plans for expansion are, but if this quality of cuisine and his fusion menu was served up in London, it would be an instant hit with the international population of the city.
Meanwhile, if you want a good dinner in Phuket then a visit to Suay Restaurant is highly recommended to taste and experience a truly great chef’s creations; twenty local hotel managers can’t be wrong.