One such hotel which never ceases to amaze me by continually pushing the boundaries is The Nai Harn Phuket. With Frank Grassmann the ever-present General Manager setting the culinary bar extremely high for his Executive Chef, Mark Jones, I was delighted to join them both for a tasting session coinciding with the resort’s reopening in October.
I and other ‘foodies’ have invariably focused on extolling the virtues of Rock Salt, the hotel’s Mediterranean beach-side eatery. I was therefore intrigued that our venue for lunch was to be Cosmo, the hotel’s ‘all day dining’, a rather sterile expression I truly abhor. One of the umpteen challenges with hotel dining is that the ‘main’ restaurant has to cater for breakfast in usually high numbers and the rest of the day requires menus which provide everything from snacks and sandwiches to more adventurous plates. Simply put, it must cater for everyone at all times of the day, this in itself restricting a Chef’s ability and inherent desire to provide the very best.
Seated with both Frank and Mark, my sight is drawn to the majestic views of the ocean and Nai Harn beach afforded by the restaurant’s elevation, certainly competing with Rock Salt. They begin by telling me that during this quieter period, they have both been brainstorming to come up with a new approach to Cosmo to attract both new diners and indeed diners who previously were only loyal to Rock Salt.
Whilst Mark pops into the kitchen to do what he does best, Frank shares with me the first of these new initiatives, Saturday Social, which has just started. Every Saturday at Cosmo, a three-course menu with oodles of choices and drink options is offered with suitably classy live background music, at a tremendously attractive price and if booked for two, the lucky diners can stay the night for an extremely competitive rate in a Grand Ocean View room no less, the next day, to enjoy, world class breakfast for two; truly tempting.
Mark duly arrives with service staff carrying a multitude of Saturday Social dishes which include a delectable plate of Prosciutto ham with a poached organic egg, asparagus and a decadent Hollandaise sauce, a roasted wahoo mackerel with tomato ceviche and a wickedly tasty seared squid on a bed of chorizo risotto and Port Phillip bay mussels. I have always marveled at chefs who manage to present dishes where the complexity in combination, depth of flavour and textures is intelligently disguised to appear truly simple; this is evident in all the aforementioned. Whilst enthusiastically tasting all on offer, I try but fail in maintaining a level of mature control as they all just taste so good. Menus will change every week.
The second initiative follows closely behind as Mark arrives with a couple of new a la carte dishes, a lovingly just-cooked pizza inspired by his learnings from visiting chef last year, Salvatore de Rinaldi, the pizza master himself. This is one from a selection of four on Cosmo’s new a la carte menu.
The second dish is a perfectly executed appetiser of pan-seared Okinawa scallops with green apple, roasted hazelnuts and pea shoots. These dishes have Mark Jones’ name written all over them; meticulous attention to detail reigns. I finish with yet another recent creation of ethereally light, glazed passion fruit parfait and rather greedily, a banana clafoutis from the Saturday Social selection; positively, a tad retro and yes, simply to die for.
I depart thanking both Frank and Mark for a preview of The Nai Harn’s latest. It is clear, The Nai Harn is not resting on their laurels, new dishes abound to continue their position at the leading edge of culinary prowess not only in Phuket, but in fairness across Thailand. Cosmo has come of age, shattering the urban myth of the predictable all-day dining.
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.