Food & Drink

4 Fantastic Restaurants Shaking Up Phuket’s Fine-Dining Scene

The Michelin drumbeat is getting louder in Phuket, so we suggest you book these outstanding new fine dining restaurants while you still can.

Phuket fine dining : “Phuket sea urchin” at L’Arôme by the sea

By Vincent Vichit-Vadakan

Aug 26, 2022

PHUKET IS NOT just about sandy beaches, gorgeous resorts and beautiful sunsets; there’s also the food. We’re talking pungent southern spiciness from old-fashioned shophouses and bustling street markets. But it was hard to nail a “fine-dining” experience in Phuket that didn’t lean more on location and views than innovation in the kitchen. 

Fortunately that is changing fast. Pru (which you voted best special occasion restaurant in Thailand) is to date the only restaurant in Phuket that has managed to attract the favor of a Michelin star. But recently, Michelin announced that at least two more restaurants on the island would be entering the 2023 edition of the famous red guidebook: Thai-cuisine Jaras and Pru’s farm-to-table sibling, Jampa, which we visited upon its opening. Whether or not the newbies will earn a coveted “macaroon” – French chef slang for a star – remains to be seen.

Rumors say that the secretive inspectors have been snooping around other Phuket eateries in recent months. Who knows? They might even be measuring chefs’ whites for some of these remarkable young talents.

Samut

Phuket fine dining : Samut Exterior
Courtesy of Samut

Chef Chatchawan “Bank” Varahajeerakul serves an all coastal menu at this restaurant that takes its name from mahasamut, the Thai word for ocean. Samut’s name suggests the vast expanses of the sea and the endless culinary possibilities that the waters around Thailand offer. The printed menu features a map that runs the length of the Thai peninsula, from Prachuap Khiri Khan to the deep-south provinces of Yala and Narathiwat. The half-way point is Phuket, where much of the menu draws its inspiration.

The tasting menu gets tweaked depending on the catch of the day, but expect a dazzling succession of reinvented Thai dishes. There is no meat on the menu, and the fish and seafood are locally and sustainably sourced. Look for blue crab nestled in a passion fruit, an artful spray of herbs for dipping in the fresh prawn chili relish or a new age khao yam, usually a rice salad but here served on a rice cracker. 

Phuket fine dining : Khao Yum, Samut
Khao Yum. Courtesy of Samut

Samut is part of the ever-expanding fine-dining empire of celebrity chef Thithid Tassanakajohn and his first foray into Phuket. Chef Ton, as he is better known, has already won international acclaim for restaurants like his Michelin-starred flagship Le Du in Bangkok. We say Samut is a jewel he can proudly add to his crown. 

Samut; tasting menu Bt2,290; wine pairing Bt2,200.

L’arôme by the Sea 

Phuket fine dining : Chef Yannick Hollenstein; set of amuse-bouche at L’arôme by the Sea
FROM LEFT: Chef Yannick Hollenstein; amuse-bouches. Courtesy of L’arôme by the Sea

You’d be mistaken if you think that L’arôme by the Sea is only about the atmospheric sunsets – though you definitely want to be seated in time to enjoy twilight creeping over the Andaman Sea. Nature may offer a dazzling show, but the real sparks are in the kitchen. At just 28, executive chef Yannick Hollenstein runs a tight ship and his exacting attention to detail shines in every stellar dish he sends out. 

You’d also need to reconsider if you think that a chef from landlocked Switzerland would be out of his depths in a restaurant that has “by the Sea” in its name. He grew up fishing with his father and, on his days off, you’ll often find him around Phuket with a fishing rod in hand. He’s as inspired by Phuket lobster as he is by imported French quail; he’s as at home with duo of foie gras served both as a terrine and a pan-seared escalope, as he is with Hokkaido scallop and petits pois under a frilly rice cracker. He’s not afraid to take his country’s national dish of cheese fondue and transform it into a smoky bowl of cheesy, potato-y goodness. 

Phuket fine dining : Pan Seared Hokkaido Scallop, L’arôme by the Sea
Pan Seared Hokkaido Scallop. Courtesy of L’arôme by the Sea

L’arôme by the Sea; five-course menu Bt3,100, seven-course menu Bt3,800; wine pairings from Bt2,100 to Bt3,400. 

Royd 

Phuket fine dining : Royd's exterior
Restaurant’s exterior. Courtesy of Royd

This new restaurant isn’t exactly a newcomer to Old Town. It got its start as Mizulim, a once-a-week pop-up and occasional supper club that gave Suwijak ‘Mond’ Kunghae, a space to research the subtleties of Southern Thai food. 

Winning an episode of the popular Iron Chef Thailand competition gave Mond even more of a following, well beyond Phuket, and the drive to share “how Southern people eat,” in a fine dining setting He lights up when he talks about different degrees of fermentation in shrimp paste, a key ingredient in the south. 

Along with friends and partners Wynn Chaokitiwut, the brilliant mixologist behind Dibuk House, one of the island’s best bars located just around the corner, and Korn Sinpradit, a chef in his own right, Mond opened Royd earlier this year. The name is play on aroy, meaning “delicious” in Thai, but also means “rad” or “cool” with a southern lilt. 

Phuket fine dining : Royd
FROM LEFT: The smears of turmeric in the cocktail glass; restaurant bar. Courtesy of Royd (2)

Response to the smears of turmeric or herbal decoctions in the cocktail glass and a host of untranslatable indigenous tubers, stems and barks on the plate has been tremendous. A gaeng som (sour curry) comes out jet black with squid ink, and a single, wafery bite of Hat Yai-style fried chicken is better than finger lickin’ good. 

Royd; nine courses plus nine bites Bt2,890; drinks pairing (nine alcohols) Bt1,490.

Nitan

Phuket fine dining : NITAN Interior
Restaurant Interior. Courtesy of NITAN

Executive chef Naphat ‘Pom’ Thienarrom, whose previous credits include turns in the fine-dining kitchens of the Okura Prestige and 80/20 in Bangkok, recently took over at this Phuket restaurant that gives a unique spin on Thai ingredients from across the country. Assisted by chef Pritsana ‘May’ Mahatham who has been with the restaurant since it opened, Pom uses garcinia for its souring properties, luk choak palm sugar for its distinctive sweetness, and produce from the restaurant’s own farm in Surat Thani to give classic Thai dishes a refreshing twist. 

Some dishes stay close to the original: the octopus golek is a clever substitute for a classic marinated grilled chicken dish and southern crab curry with Phuket pineapple is instantly recognizable, even with additions like fried soft shell crab, crispy noodles and a heady crab bisque. Baby squid in squid ink with a whiff of gorgonzola is more surprising (in a good way), and the salt fish ice cream will have you asking for seconds. 

Phuket fine dining : Octopus Golek, NITAN
Octopus Golek. Courtesy of NITAN

The name is derived from panitan, Thai for “determination” or “aspiration.” The minimalist dining room that looks onto the glassed-in kitchen feels more Nordic than Asian, and the plating and techniques may be more inspired by classic French cuisine, but there is no mistaking the drive to deliver a meal that is both original and deliciously, unmistakably Thai. 

Nitan; five-course menu Bt1,800; seven-course “Full Experience” menu Bt2,500; wine pairing Bt1,500.

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