In addition to a spectacular beachfront location, it surrounds an extensive water park, undoubtedly a unique attraction for the families who choose to stay there. A couple of years ago, while searching for a suitable venue for relatives to stay, I did in fact select this hotel predominantly because of the water park but also a perceived cosiness due to a smaller number of rooms than in other competitors. They were not disappointed.
As Centara’s flagship property in Phuket, I am curious to see if its restaurant offerings will match its positioning and of course my inevitable expectations.
Arriving at the lobby, I disembark into a typical Phuket early evening drizzle and, directed towards the restaurants, break into a brisk jog as I find myself, yet again, umbrella-less. I make my way to Coast Beach Club and Bistro, where I am greeted by an absolutely charming manager, Khun Ann.
Coast is al fresco, and whilst there is adequate undercover dining, Khun Ann creatively suggests that my companion and I dine in Mare, the hotel’s indoor Italian restaurant which adjoins Coast, and she will offer us both menus. Accepting her kind offer, I pause for a moment to reflect on what for me exemplifies world-class service in going that extra mile. I am impressed!
Now seated in Mare – Italian for “sea” – and perusing the menus, I notice that this evening both restaurants are really quite busy – always a good sign. With recommendations from engaging staff members in aquatic blue attire and smart, white trainers, we make our selections.
Despite the blustery weather outside, as I look out to sea from the upmarket trattoria feel of Mare, I can see that Coast also possesses a smart yet casual all-day beach bistro ambience and looks ideal for passing a few hours, weather permitting! Looking around within Mare, I spot an open kitchen and a pizza oven which persuades me to add another dish to our already extensive order.
We begin with a delightfully refreshing starter of blue swimmer crab, avocado and pomelo segments, dressed in a piquant lemon mayonnaise, and a classic Caesar salad with the additional twist of lightly grilled prawns; the salad a perfect balance of textures from the crunchy lettuce and croutons and creaminess of the anchovy dressing, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.
We continue with delicate, handmade ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a silky smooth sage butter sauce. At this point in our evening, the restaurant’s Italian chef, Andrea Morandi, recently arrived from Milan, introduces himself to us at table and I am further delighted to see that he brings with him a seafood tagliatelle in one hand and, cleverly balanced in the other, a Pugliese pizza.
The homemade tagliatelle is correctly al dente and is combined with plump and juicy clams amongst other seafood in a rich herb butter sauce. The Pugliese pizza is picture perfect with a lightly charred crust topped with Parma ham, rocket and tomatoes and finished off in the centre with a creamy and buttery burrata cheese.
As our plates are cleared in preparation for the arrival of our main course, a New Zealand Black Angus rib-eye, I wish we had also sampled one of the sustainable, line-caught fish dishes on offer, but regrettably I am almost at capacity and sense Chef Andrea will not let us leave without tasting a dolce or two.
The “pezzo di resistenza” arrives, a perfectly charred 120-day grain-fed rib-eye steak accompanied by fluffy mashed potato and individually chosen sauces of classic béarnaise and an aromatic forest mushroom. On cutting through the steak, I know what this is going to deliver: moist, tender and, best of all, it just melts in the mouth.
Following a short respite, as I suspected, Chef Andrea again returns juggling two desserts: his signature classic tiramisu and a zuppa inglese. The former needs no introduction whilst the latter is an Italian version of that English classic, the trifle, with layers of custard and sponge. Both are triumphs, but the trifle edges it, truly bringing back childhood memories.
I depart, somewhat fortuitously during a short lull in the inclement weather, confident that whether you choose Mare or Coast, Italian or Bistro, you will not be disappointed. Centara Grand, you have indeed exceeded my expectations!
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.