Whilst this lucrative market has been omnipresent since the beginning of Phuket as a resort destination, it has recently gained momentum as players have entered this space with indulgent properties, and those already here have repositioned themselves at a higher level. This is a worldwide trend driven by one factor in particular: consumer demand for a prized unique experience.
Accompanying these opulent accommodations and uber-luxe facilities has come new high-end dining, perhaps compounded by the arrival of the Michelin Guide to Phuket and Phang Nga last year and a realisation that Phuket is now on the global culinary stage. With the famed red book launched in Bangkok a year prior, dining trends in Thailand have quickly emerged and grabbed our attention, and one movement in particular: modern Thai cuisine.
This trend has resulted in several new groundbreaking ventures in Bangkok such as Sorn, Saawaan and R Haan, all recently awarded with a Michelin star. Additionally, this small but growing group of chefs have featured almost exclusively locally-grown Thai ingredients. These are either represented through heirloom, long-forgotten, rediscovered recipes or re-invented with modern culinary techniques and presentations. Demand for this has also been driven by the predominately millennial generation’s penchant for sustainability and healthier eating.
In addition to these benefits, the temptations are many; not least a reminder of the familiar scents and flavours of home cooking whilst celebrating artisan producers across Thailand. I meet many residents of Thailand who are surprised when I inform them of the extensive range of premium Thai products available today that can easily compete with the imported variety. Chefs are establishing a wide network of these small producers, and to support this have launched kitchen gardens. Even non-Thai restaurants, such as the two-Michelin-starred Suhring, utilise several local products in their Western repertoires, recognising freshness and resulting flavour.
Closer to home, in Phuket, we are blessed with trailblazer Jimmy Ophorst, chef at the one-Michelin-starred PRU – representing Plant, Raise, Understand – at Trisara, whose non-Thai concept almost exclusively utilises locally-sourced products and those from a rapidly developing kitchen garden.
So when I received news of the arrival of a new culinary director and executive chef at The Pavilions Phuket and his impending relaunch of The Plantation Club to an outlet that would celebrate 100% Thai-sourced ingredients, I started to get excited. The menu would showcase products provided by local farmers and fishermen, either grown on property in The Pavilions’ new kitchen garden or from artisans across Thailand; both ethically grown or organic where possible.
Arriving at the all-concealing automated entrance door adds to the anticipated magic awaiting within, sliding back to reveal a subtly-lit driveway up the hill to the restaurant. Greeted by Khun Ale, the restaurant supervisor, I wander through to the elegant lounge where the resident mixologist, Khun Pat, presents locally-inspired creations to begin the evening.
On entering the restaurant, a semi open-air, slightly colonial room, one cannot help but comment on the majestic countryside views which are truly breathtaking.
Upon meeting Chef Rey, a New Zealander with a stellar background, he presents me with an extensive à la carte menu and tasting menus carefully composed to showcase The Plantation Club journey. I begin with snacks of Baer Tord, Sago Sai Moo and Ma Hor, all exquisitely presented in an intriguing contemporary style but with flavours reflecting their authentic roots. A raw snapper larb arrives with nham jim cannelloni and Hua Hin caviar; traditional but with a modish twist.
Khun Ale and her team are both attentive yet unobtrusive throughout.
Next on the degustation is a Tilapia fish in a hor mok soufflé topped with ethereal coconut air. Chef Rey has carefully preserved the origins of this dish, however has reimagined it and elevated both the textures and undoubtedly the taste.
Several courses follow, including local scallops, which may not yet be as revered as the Hokkaido version, but are certainly pearlescent and delicate, chargrilled with lemongrass and shallots – an achievement! Line-caught grouper follows and the main of melt-in-the-mouth oxtail in a massaman sauce is superlative. Desserts are equally innovative with stylish flair.
Ever mindful of the pitfalls of “messing around” with classic recipes from any country – there is a reason why a certain ingredient combination has become a classic – I must compliment Chef Rey and his team. They have created a menu of dishes which, whilst staying true to their origins, have been significantly elevated through innovation and achieve an end result of contemporary sophistication, and all this whilst supporting the local agricultural community. Thank you to Khun Pat, Khun Ale and, of course, Chef Rey.
The Plantation Club is open 6-11pm
+66 (0) 7631 7600
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.