Not least of these changes has been the continually evolving hospitality industry. Whilst not the first luxury hotel to be built in Phuket, the Royal Phuket Yacht Club, opened in 1986, raised the stakes a notch or two and became the place for the Hollywood glitterati to spend their off-time in between movie shoots.
It is now The Nai Harn, but was originally designed and built by the same inordinately talented individual who went on to build The Boathouse, the latter conceived primarily to cater for his family and friends who didn’t really like to stay in the stereotypical hotel.
Whilst this same iconic gentleman also conceptualised other celebrated properties across the island, these two establishments still stand today as landmarks of luxury and culinary dynamism in Phuket. They sprang from the visions of the inspirational Mom Luang Tridhosyuth Devakul, more commonly referred to as Mom Tri. Harvard educated, an architect and a renowned artist, he literally transformed the landscape of Phuket. So, upon receipt of an invitation to dine at Mom Tri’s Wok Gallery Kitchen, I of course leapt at it.
Undertaking my usual diligent research I discover Mom Tri’s Wok Gallery Kitchen was opened relatively recently, in 2016, however I notice that Executive Chef Santi who oversees the kitchen has been with Mom Tri for nearly two decades, and I look forward to experiencing his hallmark of combining both Thai and Western cooking styles.
On entering the restaurant, located at the top of Kata Hill, occupying a majestic position affording spectacular views of Chalong Bay, I see several contemporary sculptures by the owner, and within the restaurant itself a display of paintings by a local artist, which regularly changes, providing local artists an opportunity to showcase their best and hence the reason for ‘gallery’ in the restaurant’s name. Escorted onto the terrace and having left the choice of lunch dishes to the chef, I savour the breathtaking vista.
A cornucopia of dishes arrive, a Kiewan Goong Pan – mini crêpes filled with fresh prawns in a delicate yet piquant green curry – and a classically French cheese soufflé with cloud-like texture and a pleasant hint of slightly sharp cheese. These are followed by juicy river prawns with spicy chilli paste and a superlative crispy sole fillet.
Whilst enjoying the combination of flavours and textures, I notice an unassuming gentleman surveying the room and realise this is none other than the man himself, Mom Tri. I pause my culinary enjoyment to introduce myself as a “celebrated” food writer for The Phuket News, eating at his restaurant at the invitation of Khun Dan, general manager of Mom Tri’s Villa Royale. We engage in conversation, and whilst clearly proud of this restaurant, he enquires if I have eaten at Mom Tri’s Kitchen at Villa Royale. Replying “not yet”, he gently insists that I should do so the following day. I don’t protest at all, return to my table with a broad smile and finish my meal with a traditional mango and sticky rice and an innovative peppermint soufflé.
Opened in 2004, Mom Tri’s Villa Royale was originally built as the patron’s summer holiday home, its name reflecting his royal heritage as a descendant of King Mongkut Rama IV. Both hotel and restaurant have won many accolades over the years for the rooms, the food and the outstanding cellar. It also has a number of long-serving staff in its culinary team including Chefs Darren and Sura with a combined 30 years between them both.
After navigating the steps down to the semi-covered restaurant perched at the water’s edge, truly a spectacular setting overlooking the bay and the pristine azure blue waters of the Andaman, I am greeted by Vic, the food and beverage manager, who will take care of me today. I again leave selection of the menu to Vic and the chefs.
I begin with an ethereal Andaman blue crab soufflé and delicious rock lobster translucent raviolis in a morel mushroom sauce. These I follow with a truly special Nue Yang Panang of grilled New Zealand tenderloin in a fragrant and creamy curry sauce. I complete my lunch with refreshing Phuket pineapple and deep fried homemade coconut ice cream.
As I depart, I reflect on my “Mom Tri weekend” and doff my hat to this visionary. He truly shaped Phuket and I am delighted to observe that his style, eye for detail and passion to create memorable culinary experiences continue unabated. My humble acknowledgment of both this legend and his legacy. Long may he continue!
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.