What’s it all about? I mean, why is it that one place works but another one doesn’t? How can you have a restaurant open up that has all the right things and does all the right things, and yet it sinks slowly out of sight? Well the answer to that is . . . it’s missing something! Yes, that’s kind of obvious. But it may be something subtle and hard to outline. Such as the specific location. Or perhaps a combination of things – the location combined with the view and the décor. Or something as simple as the personality of those in charge. But whatever these elusive elements may be, The Cliff has had them all together, and in just the perfect blend, right from the start.
In fact, this excellent restaurant has been collecting accolades ever since it opened, back in 2004. During this time it’s picked up the Thailand Tatler ‘Thailand’s Best Restaurants’ award – a guide that has become a trusted companion for gourmands living in Thailand – no fewer than eight times (and with the first of these coming right after it had opened)
together with the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for the last three years in a row. The team here have managed to get everything just right. But it’s not just about accolades and awards; the proof is that the restaurant has two sittings every evening, bookings are essential, and if you want a table on the outside terrace you’ll need at least three days’
You’ll probably get a good image of the location from the photos on these pages. But suffice it to say it’s a real dream. Ambiance has a lot to do with location, particularly in a tropical setting where most people opt to eat either outdoors or, at least, somewhere with an open-sided balcony. Quite a few places can claim this. But here there’s a real seascape, with a rocky cove to the right, and the full sweep of Chaweng Bay to your left – plus there’s a lovely landscaped pathway that descends down the massive rocks to the sea below.
There’s another plus, too, and it’s that The Cliff is located on the main ring-road in Chaweng Noi, just a little way out of Chaweng itself, and on the lofty hillside cliffs that form a natural viewpoint on the road to Lamai. It’s extremely accessible, and with plentiful parking as you pull into the deeply-inset frontage. Inside it’s all very low-key, with loads of dark wood and warm lighting, but in the daytime it’s cool and shady. Plus there’s a full-width dining terrace perched outside along the top of the cliff.
So far it’s all sounding good; the pedigree, the location, the décor and the general ambiance. But there’s another ingredient in the recipe for success at The Cliff. One thing that always seems to distinguish the signature restaurants of 5-star hotels is the staff. They’re well-trained, understand the idea of a western standard of service and speak good English: attentive and friendly but without being eager or intrusive. And you’ll find the staff here exactly like that, having been hand-picked and then serving a probationary period before coming on board full time.
That leaves quite probably the most important worker of all, and that’s master chef Sergio Martelli, who has been running the kitchen here ever since it first opened. He’s originally from Italy, and had previously worked in a number of high-end restaurants in Thailand before taking over the kitchen at The Cliff. He’s an open and friendly man with no pretentions, and is often to be seen outside talking to his guests. His specialty is Mediterranean cuisine and, naturally, his Italian dishes are
quite superb. His menu has continued to evolve over the years and, as well as a super selection of Italian dishes, is truly international with one of the best selections of seafood that you’ll come across.
There are essentially two elements in the making of any dish; the nature and quality of the ingredients, and then the flair with which these are prepared and presented. Sergio’s love of his art has always inclined him towards high quality products, even before the idea of ‘organic’ produce became popular, and this is reflected in daily shipments of the more exotic fruit and vegetables that are flown in from Bangkok. Much of the seafood is bought each day from the local markets, as you’d expect. The more delicate items, such as the Atlantic lobsters and oysters are shipped-in live, and kept in tanks. But Sergio’s top creation here is most undoubtedly the ‘Seafood Platter for Two’ which runs to Atlantic lobster, king scallops, New Zealand mussels, calamari, prawns and fish, all of which comes with a big serving of Spanish rice.
Unlike some resort eateries where the in-house guests nibble very sparingly during the daytime, The Cliff is constantly busy all the way through from when it opens at midday up until to the last dining orders from the kitchen at 10:00 pm. For daytime grazing, the range of chef’s salads is exceptional. And Sergio makes his own pasta and sauces fresh each day. Also popular during the day are such appetisers as the calamari fried in garlic butter or the New Zealand mussels in a creamy white wine sauce or the mouth-watering Parma ham with mixed salami, salad, marinated vegetables, olives and French bread.
But it’s the evening dinner menu which really hallmarks The Cliff as one of the top places to visit, especially bearing in mind that the cuts of steak here are flown in from Australia super-chilled and not frozen, likewise the lamb chops from New Zealand, so you can be assured they haven’t lost any flavour and tenderness during their journey.
And then there are the wines. There’s a showpiece cellar here with around 150 labels, and most of them mid-range and up. Wine in Thailand is classed as a luxury and doesn’t come cheap. But then nothing here at The Cliff is a compromise in any way – yet another reason for its success and why it’s still tip-top after all these years!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7744 8508.