Finding a restaurant that can emulate that Japanese dining experience authentically, with the knowledge, precision and dedication that a Japanese itamae – or sushi chef – masters during years of rigorous apprenticeship training, is no mean feat. Conveyor belt sushi in a shopping centre just won’t cut it once you’ve had the real thing.
Fortunately, Banyan Tree Phuket hits the mark with Taihei, its high-end Japanese restaurant. Taihei translates as ‘peace’ or ‘tranquillity’, fitting given the calm surrounds of the restaurant. Diners sit by a still pool that’s bordered by tall palm trees, and with room for only 35 guests, the restaurant remains relatively quiet. The only sounds are lounge music and the friendly buzz of other diners’ chatter that travels up into the high-ceiling tiered pavilion overhead that’s reminiscent of a Japanese pagoda.
Running the Taihei show is Shiga Takahiro, a chef with 20 years’ experience who honed his culinary talents in Chiba and Tokyo before taking his brand of Japanese cuisine to China, Malaysia and now Thailand. In his short tenure at Taihei – since only April this year – the restaurant has secured a place in the Michelin Guide.
After a palate cleansing welcome drink of Tokyo iced tea and a light snack of edamame with homemade onion, garlic and chili sauce, it’s time to sample the best of Chef Shiga’s menu which marries local, fresh produce with high quality imports from Japan. Dishes are designed for sharing and arrive steadily throughout the evening, each plate pleasingly symmetrical and elegant in its presentation.
Starters of Rainbow and California maki rolls – layers of avocado, fish and roe with rice, hand-rolled and tightly wrapped in nori – serve up a pleasant savoury, umami taste which can be elevated or softened by the sides of punchy wasabi, pickled ginger and sweet soy sauce.
The main course moriawase sashimi set showcases sweet shrimp alongside different cuts of blackfin and yellowfin tuna, including the prized otoro, or lower belly, cut. Each portion differs in colour, taste and texture, from coral pinks to rich reds, from tender to unctuous, meaning there’s something to satisfy everyone around the table. The moriawase sushi set adds rice, scallops, salmon, surf clams and California maki to the mix.
Another must-try main is the miso-glazed black cod yuzumiso. The buttery meat, wrapped in a hoba leaf, falls apart at the touch of a chopstick.
Nothing beats the interactive experience of teppanyaki, though, which is a real highlight at Taihei. The flat-top, hot-plate grill is wheeled out to provide a fiery display for diners and a chance to see the artistry of the chefs in action. The grade 4 Australian wagyu tenderloin from the grill, cubed and drizzled in sweet soy sauce, is full-flavoured and just sensational. Also available are large-bodied tiger prawns, firm, fresh and served with assorted vegetables.
Rich, homemade matcha green tea ice cream with a side of sweet red bean paste rounds off the meal nicely.
While Phuket can never mimic the cherry blossom of Japan’s sakura season or the magic of its snow festivals, it can answer to the island’s craving for its unrivalled cuisine, and Taihei shows that there’s something to be said for experiencing this cuisine here in the tropics.
Taihei is located at Banyan Tree Phuket, 33, 33/27 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Rd, Cherng Talay, Amphur Thalang, 83110.
Open for lunch from 12pm-3pm and for dinner from 6:30pm-11pm daily.
+66 76 372 400