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Menu changes mark new ‘season’

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PHUKET: The soft sounds of warm hands playing on a baby grand in the bar area of Mom Tri’s Villa Royale rise gently above the sound of the waves splashing onto the rocks at the north end of Kata Noi Beach.

It’s already high season, so the waves, catching the light of a three-quarter moon, are rolling in small and steady against the empty beach nestled between the rock outcroppings of one of the many stunning shores on the island. Though the atmosphere itself inspires the desire to at least return for a cocktail, the changes in the menu at Mom Tri’s Villa Royale are in fact what brings the Phuket Gazette back to a restaurant we know so well.

Changes in restaurant menus are, for a foodie, like the changing of seasons in temperate zones: they build on the base of a much loved place, offering new smells, feelings and tastes – but remaining, in essence, something we are delightedly familiar with.

For Chef Darren Wiper, who has 20 years’ experience working in gourmet restaurants, hotels and cruise ships, the change in the menu for this high season is about giving classic dishes a light twist and focusing on presentation – creating a fresh experience for guests.

“People want change. People come back sometimes a couple times a year for anniversaries, birthdays and other special events: that’s why we have daily specials,” Chef Wiper says as he presents the Tuna Trio: a beautifully plated selection of seared tuna sashimi, tuna spring roll and tuna tartar.

Without a doubt, the ‘daily special’ has for time immemorial been the testing grounds for new dishes. It allows for customer feedback to help morph a chefs’ creativity into something that is in line with his guests’ pallets. Then, once a dish has proven itself, it has the opportunity to join the ranks of numerous classic dishes that have already been well established on the menu and in the hearts of diners.

One such classic that is being plated up this season with some modern flare is the prawn cocktail, which takes advantage of the monstrous fresh-water crustaceans found in Thailand.

Sipping on a well-paired wine, selected by one of the restaurant’s sommeliers, it’s easy to become lost in the pace of life set by the ocean below. Ebbing in and out of your awareness are the attentive servers, who ensure the meal flows forward without unnecessary interruption.

Following an exquisite surf appetizer and a cleansing of the palate with cold sorbet, the turf arrives.

Tonight, it’s a classic – not something from the new menu, a truly established, rustic dish: slow cooked veal cheek in red wine with porcini mushrooms and herbs. However, one could hardly go wrong with any other signature dish on the menu: Gung Ravioli (rock lobster ravioli in a fresh herb, morel and white wine cream sauce); Kata Noi Crab Cake (Andaman fish, blue crab and buffalo mozzarella cake, sun-dried tomato aioli, mango and coriander relish); or one of the chef’s Thai-menu suggestions, such as lamb krapao (marinated grilled Australian lamb chops with a spicy, garlic, Thai hot basil sauce served with green vegetables).

No matter which entree does the lion’s share of the work at Mom Tri’s Villa Royale, the finishing touches are essential. This particular evening ends with a simple Americano and desert, Trio of Creme Brulee – if only the threesomes carried further into the night.

Of the three flavors – traditional, citrus and Thai basil – it was the sweetness and herbal complexity of the basil contained in the smooth, rich custard that lingers not only on the tongue, but in the mind.

Quietly eating the beautifully enhanced traditional dish, and once again becoming aware of the waves playing on the rocks, it was clear that despite the extraordinary dishes served that night, it was this trio that would be remembered long after deep flavors of the slow-cooked veal cheek dissipated.

And in that lingering moment, one that could be so easily returned to, there’s the realization that too often we, expats, forget how easy and cheap it is to bathe in the beauty and atmosphere that brings high-end tourists from around the world to our island; there is nothing wrong with just settling in for dessert.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

 

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