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Culinary Detective: Kata Rocks shines in uncertain times

As I begin writing this week’s article, in the current turbulent world that we now find ourselves in, I cannot help but reflect on the relevancy of the quote from a famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus who is probably best known for his statement, “The only constant in life is change.”

By Chris Watson

Saturday 26 September 2020, 11:00AM

Indeed, across the globe, we are experiencing such a massive change that I truly do occasionally wonder if the world will ever get back to normal. But as an optimist, we must carry on and embrace this new environment with all its challenges. One such person who has adapted well to these, ever-changing circumstances is Andrew Dickie, the recently appointed Executive Chef at the luxury Kata Rocks resort. 

Arriving in Phuket at the beginning of 2020 from his previous role at the helm of an internationally renowned five-star hotel restaurant in Bangkok, I suspect that when he accepted this role, he, like many of us, had never heard of COVID 19. I suppose he set about reviewing where the culinary standards set by the previous incumbent were, and whilst maintaining the stalwart dishes on the menu to ensure acceptance from the regulars, established, and where he could put his mark with the addition of new and innovative dishes that more reflected his philosophy. Chefs do inevitably change establishments, driven by managements’ inherent desire to improve and this can be a tightrope in not changing too much, but showing skill and flair in updating and reinventing dishes to continually tantalise diners’ palates.

Then Phuket went into lockdown and Andrew spent weeks at home, no doubt conceptualising these new dishes. Now, I am delighted to say, Kata Rocks is back to normal, their monthly brunches full as ever and Andrew leading the kitchen into a new culinary era. A native Canadian, he has worked with several luxury chains including Hyatt and Four Seasons and is not a newcomer to this region. I recently caught up with him when he invited me over for a dinner to try out several of his new dishes. 

Whilst Phuket has a multitude of high-end chic hotels, all with spectacular sea views, I am still spellbound when walking into the Kata Rocks clubhouse. The vista at sunset continues to surprise and delight. 

Seated by the pool, I leave myself and my partner in Andrew’s hands. We begin with an elegantly presented bread and butter platter to nibble on, whilst Andrew prepares our amuse bouche, a marinated cube of watermelon; a truly refreshing flavour bomb. This is followed by a new dish of scallop crudo. A crudo (the Italian and Spanish word for raw) is invariably fish, marinated in a citrus dressing. Andrew’s dish uses the finest Hokkaido scallops dressed in homemade buttermilk, lending the dish a sublime creaminess, lemon juice, kaffir lime and green chili and topped with crispy potato for crunch. My partner has a classic lobster bisque; rich and decadent. 

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As we enjoy our appetisers, Andrew tells me of a couple of new dishes he plans to feature, an octopus carpaccio and a crab salad. These both sound stellar and accurately reflect Andrew’s culinary style of simple, light and enabling the product’s true flavours to shine through and, in his own words, “sing”. Andrew disappears to prepare our main courses leaving us to enjoy the sunset. I am delighted to see that the restaurant has several occupied tables in spite of the current challenges.

Chef Andrew returns, with my partner’s ribeye, a 400g prime cut from Nebraska, perfectly cooked; I am informed pan seared and butter basted; a classic technique I truly love, but admit I am still struggling to master at home. I am presented with a free-range duck, delicately brushed with maple syrup on a circular disc of granola containing walnuts, pistachio and oats, truly imaginative and a picture on the plate. The duck a triumph, accompanied with daikon and red cabbage. We barely have room for dessert, however Andrew whips up a sugar brioche with custard, vanilla cream and caramelised pineapple, all doused in a fairly well-known local prize-winning liquid.

I am impressed. It has been some time since I have eaten at Kata Rocks and based on this experience, I am confident this change in the kitchen will not only continue the high standards of the past, but elevate them to new heights. Chef Andrew – welcome to Phuket!

Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.

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