Where are you going to go? If you’re staying on the island for more than just a day or so, then it’s guaranteed that there are a few places you will visit. You’ll probably go on a tour that takes in an elephant or two, a waterfall and a mummified monk wearing Ray Bans. You’ll no doubt strain your engine and head up the mountain for some tasty fried rice at a viewpoint. And there are a couple more options, too. And, as sure as there’s always another day tomorrow, you’ll also be magnetically drawn to Fisherman’s Village. But, really, this is a bit of a trick question.
Because, you see, all these things involve actually going to a place. Then you come back to your resort again. But what nobody knows or sees are all the totally marvellous spots you go past on your journey. They are either something you speed past without noticing, or they are cunningly – and very sadly – hidden from view. And this is one of them. The chances are you’ve passed it a time or two already. It’s a hidden gem. It’s right on the main road in Lamai. It’s a top resort with a quality restaurant. And its name is Manathai Koh Samui.
Manathai is not a name you’ll be familiar with. In fact there are only three other such resorts in Thailand (all of them beach-side) which bear the name of this very forward-looking Thai company. Unlike some groups which stick to a formula or brand identity, the Manathai group enjoy designing or adapting each one according to its location or merits. And so the impressive result is that their resort here on Samui is elegant and styled with a smooth colonial theme. It’s imposing, spacious and thoughtfully laid out, spanning a long U-shape with old cobbled tiles in the wide central parking area, and with the hotel itself sitting at the top end of this.
t’s really easy to spot – a Lamai landmark, in fact. Coming from Chaweng the steep hill levels out as it drops onto the flat in Lamai. You’ll soon pass the big, rounded glass front of the IT Center on your left. And a few moments later you’ll see the broad colonial-style esplanade of Manathai on your right. You can easily pull in here and park. Directly across the road is a wall. And that’s what you need to go across and check out!
The first thing you’ll see is the pool, framed on either side by low buildings. On the right is an accommodation block. But on the left is a long, spacious, shady, cool modern dining area, open on three sides, in the Thai style; the name of the restaurant here is Waterline. And this is an effortless blend of east and west, with the airy bright Thai openness melded with the simple clean lines of contemporary western décor. This on its own is a subtle subliminal message. And it says, “We’re on the ball. We’re with it. And you’ll get fab food and super service here.”
And they won’t disappoint. The cuisine is excellent, whether it’s a daytime coffee-stop to catch up with your emails (free, fast Wi-Fi) or a leisurely evening excursion to enjoy one of the best dinner menus around. There are various carefully selected and imported items: several cuts of prime imported Australian beef and lamb. The seafood here is also first class. Yes, I know, they all say that: we’re an island and everywhere does seafood. But here there are no less than four kinds of imported oysters, including the legendary French Fine de Claire No. 3, as well as others from Ireland and America, too. Then there’s Canadian lobster, Scottish salmon and an entire supporting cast of similar stars.
But, do you know what? So what! Every foodie story you’re going to read in Samui’s publications is going to say the same thing. Writers here can get away with the same old thing every time: next month there’s a whole new set of readers. But the art of it all – the subtle difference between one place and another – is the guy in the kitchen who is cooking the stuff. And the executive chef here is Martin Selby, a long-established and time-served member of our island culinary elite. And so I asked him what was the best way to cook seafood.
“There isn’t one!” he replied with a grin. “Char-grilled on a barbecue will endow crab or king prawns with that delicious smoky flavour everyone loves . . . even if it’s all mushy inside! And fish you can fry to a crisp with garlic and peppers – or coax it gently by steaming or poaching to bring out the delicate flavours. It’s not about how you cook it. It’s about knowing how to cook it – so that it’s prepared properly and all the flavour and texture is retained. If this isn’t done with sensitivity then it looks good but tastes bland. And that’s not the way I work at all.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Martin was previously engaged at one of Samui’s leading vegetarian restaurants to set up the kitchen and introduce new dishes. And so it comes as no surprise that there are more than the average number veggie offerings here on his menu. And they’re a lot tastier than the average, too.
People have told me (quite a lot of them and on many different occasions!) that they’re a bit wary of going somewhere where there are ‘imported delicacies’, as it always works out quite expensive. Well, there’s a whole new movement afoot that even some 5-star eateries have cottoned on to – value for money. It’s better to charge realistic prices that visitors can afford, even though the quality is amongst the best in the world. And that’s what you’ll find at Waterline.
Plus the fact that what you see on the menu is the inclusive price; there is no VAT to add and the tip is at your discretion, not included in the bill. 300-gm char-grilled Aussie tenderloin served with baked truffle mash and grilled asparagus for 950 baht? Head for Manathai and venture behind that wall to Waterline. Concealed treats? Most certainly!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7745 8560-4.