Are you looking for one of the most spectacular places in Thailand to dine? Somewhere that the location, setting and ambiance are unique and without parallel? Where you can enjoy the finest of imported ingredients, each carefully cooked to perfection by an international award-winning chef? If so, then look no further. It’s right on your doorstep, in north Chaweng. It’s exclusive. It’s romantic. And it’s world class. In fact, you could say, this place is the ‘tops’.
I’m taking about the very exclusive Tree Tops restaurant at Anantara Lawana Resort & Spa at the very northern end of Chaweng Beach Road. The Anantara Group is not a name that’s on everyone’s lips, although perhaps it should be. It’s hard to believe that the group only opened its first 5-star resort in 2001, in Thailand’s Hua Hin. Since that time, the Anantara collection has grown to encompass over 40 luxury hotels and resorts in city, island and desert settings across Asia, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and Africa, and is operating under the umbrella of the venerated Minor International group, one of the largest hospitality groups in the Asia Pacific region.
I could go on! But suffice it to say that Anantara Lawana is special. It’s one of the few top-class resorts on the island which are not only effortlessly spacious, but also the trees and gardens have been able to flourish and mature to such an extent that it’s all long-since become picture-postcard perfect. This is what you’ve always imagined a lush tropical landscape to be. It’s breathtaking, and not least because all those gigantic rocks and trees are everywhere, casting shade and dominating the estate.
And that’s where you’ll find Tree Tops restaurant. Perched in amongst several of those huge trees – literally! In the west we think of a restaurant as being a group of rooms joined together. But we’re in the tropics. And so here the restaurant is a series of teak platforms built up in the branches of the trees, each at a different level, and linked by rising and falling wooden walkways. And on each of those platforms there’s a spacious open-sided teak-framed ‘house’; except it’s really just a sturdy roof to keep out the rain and the sun.
As soon as you come through and out of the lobby at Anantara Lawana, time seems to slow. There’s a whole different dimension here; colours are brighter, shadows deeper, and the massive vines around the gigantic tree trunks against the rocks demand a camera at every turn. The restaurant is interesting, in that you can enter it at either end of the tree-top walkway, from which you can look down on the sea and curve of the bay. There are eight well-separated tree houses here, each able to seat a maximum of six people, but with house number 7 being the most sought-after, as it’s the highest and commands the best views.
Both the cuisine and the chef here are world-class. Malaysian born Azizskandar Awang is a modest and unassuming man, despite the fact that he’s won international awards and run the kitchens in 5-star resorts (for names such as Marriott and Hilton) in Malaysia and Thailand. And although his background is in classical French cuisine, he’s adopted a personal approach to creating his international menu, lightening all the sauces and employing sous vide techniques extensively.
The à la carte menu is impressive. The starters are each perfect little works of art, not only delicious but also beautifully presented and arranged. Then there’s Atlantic salmon, live Canadian lobster, braised Australian beef, Mediterranean lamb and melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu tenderloin. And not only is there a sommelier readily on hand to help with the choice of wines but also a ‘salt guru’, too, who’ll point you to a complementary gourmet salt (from a choice of six) to enhance your meal. And, on top of that, there’s also a knife menu of five different blades, according to what you are eating.
But all this gastronomic delight pales in comparison with the two simply sublime options of wine-paired candlelight degustation menus. Both are five-courses, and with your own ‘butler’ always ready in the background. And the ‘Premium Candlelight Degustation’ deploys only the rarest and most luxurious of prime ingredients. Such as the delicate ‘Hokkaido Scallop – with Carrot and Cumin Velouté and White Truffle Oil’, the succulent ‘Grain-fed Australian Strip Loin – with Lentil du puy, Creamy Sweet Corn, Porcini Mushroom Puree, and Natural Jus’, or the tender ‘Braised Lamb Shoulder – with Pink Lady-apple, Edamame Beans, Glazed Baby Vegetables and Lamb Reduction’.
I’d suggest that the best way to time it would be to get here just before the sun is setting, relax, and enjoy the view and the happy hour between 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm (50% off standard cocktails!). Or take advantage of the wizard resident mixologist and the innovative and original cocktails created. Then effortlessly flow into one of the finest dining experiences on the island, as the sun goes down.
It’s exclusive and limited to two sittings, one from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm and the other from 9:00 pm to midnight. Booking is a must (and if you want tree house 7, do it right away!)
This is an experience you’ll never forget. Perched up high, in a tree house, overlooking the twinkling lights on the water below and bathed in the soft light of dozens of candles, enjoying and savouring a repast fit for an emperor. It’s so special it’s just perfect for an anniversary. A proposal of marriage? (What place could be better!) A birthday? Or maybe simply your last night on the island. This is the place to come. It’s not only exclusive – it’s treetop and gastronomic, too!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7791 3900.