Blessed with a climate which is never really too hot (with the exception of our current year), a winter akin to a British summer (when somewhat amusingly many Phuketians reach for their woollen jumpers) and a general avoidance of the tropical storms which batter other Asian countries, this is, for me, a paradise.
One of my many reasons for choosing this as home was undoubtedly the array of dining options, from deeply delicious and value-for-money street food to the ever-increasing number of upscale restaurants offering high-level products imaginatively combined to provide world-class dining.
There is also a plethora of uber-luxe resorts located, inevitably, by the sea, some cliffside, others beachside, but all offering spectacular vistas. Without exception, they all provide a wonderful dining experience and service which can now rival that of anywhere in the world.
In Phuket, I believe we are at a tipping point. With new six-star hotels entering the market, innovative concepts in dining and the arrival of the Michelin Guide, many are competing for the holy grail of a Michelin star. Phuket has truly become a gastronomic location.
I thought I knew most fine establishments that fit into the above category as I regularly cross the North/South divide and am frequently a victim of the no-end-in-sight traffic jams at Chalong Circle. But, perhaps not.
When invited to visit SALA Phuket, I must sheepishly admit that I did have to check it out on the net to ascertain the journey time. Discovering its location in Mai Khao, I steeled myself for the congestion and set off.
SALA is located at the end of a rather charming dimly-lit lane. Turning into the entrance, signage discreet, one has the impression of arriving at a private residence, with little visible normal hotel indicators. The arrival is enhanced by the tranquil, almost zen-like pond and walkway I pass before I arrive at the brightly-illuminated reception counter where I am directed towards the beach and my venue for dinner.
As I meander towards the restaurant, the atmosphere created by the subdued pathway only heightens my anticipation. I am greeted by Basil, who is much younger, more debonair and clearly more professional than his Torquay namesake.
Rounding the corner, the setting is truly stunning. The restaurant is colonially furnished and boasts spectacular seashore views. There are even a couple of salas on the beach, perfect for that all-important popping of the question.
The restaurant is on two levels, the upper largely devoted to those couples seeking a veritable intimate experience and offering yet even more panoramic vistas. I plum for the lower level and am introduced to Khun Suthisa, who informs me I can refer to her as Khun Nan.
The menus are truly tempting. With choices of Thai set menus, an extensive Thai and Western à la carte and intimate dining options for two, I am spoilt for choice.
The Chef, Tony, a fellow Brit, has worked in Thailand for a number of years and encouraged me to experience his signature dishes of Poo Nim Tod Yum Mamuang (soft-shell crab), twice-cooked crispy pork belly and harissa-spiced lamb cutlets – it would be churlish not to.
Whilst Khun Nan takes care of me with a creamy lobster bisque and a couple of crunchy crab cakes, Tony prepares his specialties. The lightly tempura-battered soft-shell crab is deliciously crisp and moist and comes with a chili and lime dressing, the perfect foil to accentuate the sweetness of the crab meat.
This is followed by the pork belly. Normally a very English dish, this is served with a nod to Asia, accompanied with wok-fried morning glory and roasted pumpkin purée, and surrounded by a fragrant thyme gravy. This is topped off with a tasty apple and ginger marmalade that perfectly complements the rich pork.
Whilst almost full, I manage to find room for the lamb cutlets, delicately spiced with harissa, chargrilled on the outside but remaining tender and pink inside and served with an unusual orange and pistachio couscous and a chermoula dressing of herbs and garlic. Thank you, Chef Tony!
Khun Nan insists that I try a dessert before I leave and I choose the decadent chocolate molten lava cake with vanilla bean ice cream on the side and a ribbon of slightly bitter raspberry coulis that perfectly cuts through the richness of the fondant. Thank you, Khun Nan!
I began this article by commenting on the multitude of super deluxe hotels and cosmopolitan restaurants available in Phuket, but for that truly special celebration, SALA Phuket has it all. Be it a special anniversary, a milestone birthday, that evening for asking “Will you…?”, call Basil, book a beach villa and head to SALA Phuket for the night.
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.