You have a problem. In fact, most visitors do. You probably don’t know it. But, if you’re only here for a week or so, you’re going to miss-out on some of the best dining. For sure, you’ll stroll around the streets, looking here and stopping there. You’ll see a lot of pretty places to eat. And you’ll try one or two. But some of the best restaurants are hidden away, and not in plain view.
In the five years since Sareeraya opened its doors, it’s had time to get established – still fresh and innovative, but at the same time, experienced. This period on Samui saw the end of an era of minimalism, with new resorts turning away from the effortlessly bland acres of scrubbed concrete that was popular for a while. And then Sareeraya came along with the best of both worlds, in an essay of style and thoughtful décor. And, in keeping with other top resorts, relied on subtle understatement and quality to make its presence felt.
In fact, if you’re driving, you might even overlook the discrete grey wall that’s right opposite the Samui International Hospital in North Chaweng. But take a closer look – the name of the resort is there is discrete gold letters.
There are actually almost 50 five-star suites and pool villas carefully architected behind these walls – but you won’t get much idea about these as you make your way through reception and towards the beach. The name ‘Sareeraya’ means ‘Princess of the River’. And this water-theme is in evidence everywhere, from the huge and shady twin sculptures at the entrance, to the terraced layers of cascading lily ponds that peep out at you, overhung by greenery, as you pass. Anywhere else these would be spot-lit and dramatised. But the entire atmosphere here is so wonderfully unassuming that these delightful features are content to remain a part of the backdrop.
Following the winding path, heading seawards, when you emerge alongside the beach you’ll see the restaurant, Captain’s Table, immediately on your left, at the edge of the sand and next to the pool. Like most Thai-style restaurants this is a dining area that’s fresh and cool and open on two of its sides. But that thoughtful décor is still present, playing off the contrasts of rough and smooth, light and dark, geometric and free-flow. The far wall is an essay in texture. Open-weave
natural fabrics contrast with stone. Tables and chairs are strong and geometric. And a whole ceiling of antique rattan fans whirl silently above. It’s refined, gentile, and instantly relaxing.
That’s set the scene, but what of the food? Surely the cuisine must be first-rate, too? Well the answer to that lies in the name ‘Cesar Liesa’. Cesar is the resort’s Director of Food & Beverages, and has made his international reputation at 5-star establishments around the world. His special love is seafood, and he’s renowned for his creative flair with sides and sauces. He’s been responsible for putting together the menu here, and insists on prime ingredients throughout, with all the cuts of beef and lamb being imported from Australia.
But for a while now he’s been expanding and refining the seafood menu at the Captain’s Table. And, at a stroke, he’s come up with something so helpful and so simple that it makes you wonder why nobody else is doing it. “Like just about everywhere else, our seafood is priced per gram,” he explained. “But I’ve watched our guests when they are ordering. Every one of them always asks how many prawns (or squid or mussels) they get for, say, 100 grams – it’s impossible for people to
visualise this. So now our menu is laid out in such a way that it’s priced per item and not in weight. Meaning that you’ll see ‘Prawns – 4 pieces = 100 gms’ (and so on) on the menu, making it effortless to order 200 gms of prawns or 300 gms of blue crab and know exactly how much you’ll be getting.”
One of the highlights of Cesar’s menu is the ‘Seafood Basket’, which is a choice of seafood accompanied by your pick of mixed salad, steamed rice, mashed potato or vegetables. Here you can choose from all the usual suspects, but including sea bass and salmon, too, and ask for it to be cooked in any way you want; steamed, barbecued, fried, and so on. And there’s also a choice of sauces – BBQ, lemon-butter, spicy Thai or Chinese. This is exceptional value for money – not only is it very affordably-priced but it comes with a choice of special sauces, too!
But the real clincher comes every Monday and Thursday night. This is when the tables go out on the sand and on the terrace, and Sareeraya holds its two buffet evenings. Both come with live music courtesy of an acoustic guitarist, and both
have a wide choice of both cold dishes and hot ones in heated servers. Plus there is a live-cooking BBQ for the baby rock lobsters, crabs, prawns, squid and those superb Aussie steaks. This is a real spread, with a big selection of dishes. Children under six years are free, and between six and 11, half price.
But the final point to stress is the cost of it all. Yes, the cuisine is 5-star quality and the staff are hotel-trained. Yes, there’s an experienced international chef running the kitchen. Yes, Captain’s Table is the signature restaurant of a top resort. But the buffet evenings, lavish as they are, run to only 900 baht per head. The seafood costs less than many beach road places. And the main meat dishes are special, too with the imported beef tenderloin coming in at just 720 baht. All these things are perfect answers to the question, ‘Why Sareeraya?’!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7791 4333.