PHUKET: Ask any smattering of food lovers what the great world cuisines are and the same old raspberries will turn up time after time: French, Italian, Japanese and even Thai, but generally speaking, the National Cuisine that more than often ends up in the culinary equivalent of the odd-sock drawer will be that of the Philippines.
Okay, the Philippines do have some tasty paella and the like, but in the main, even to be extremely generous, one couldn’t say that it’s a particularly distinguished gastronomic destination – and this, coming from an Englishman.
And yet, in an ironic twist, typical of this multinational island, one of the most celebrated, award-winning and inventive Master Chefs in Phuket is a Filipino. Meet Ronnie Macuja, the man who is helming the ever-popular Vset restaurant down at Chalong Pier.
Vset has recently doubled in size and now features a temperature-controlled wine room, large, chunky wooden tables, intimate lighting and a high thatched roof. The original section of the restaurant has an open kitchen where Ronnie cooks up his fusion wonders, and there’s an elegant al fresco section with faux water hyacinth sofas as well as a snazzy bar with views out over the bay.
Obviously there’s been a lot of thought and planning (not to mention investment) put into this, and as a result Vset is certainly one of the classiest dining-out places in the south of the island.
With acres of parking space there’s no need to be preyed upon by the less-than-honest parking ‘attendants’ who demand (illegal) fees at the municipal pier parking lot, and sooner than you can say “My other car is a yellow Lamborghini” you’ll be seated and nibbling away on a complimentary amuse-bouche and surveying the extensive menu which features the innovative, fruity and well-balanced dishes that are Ron’s trademark.
Highly recommended examples include blue swimmer crab raviolis (280 baht) – a veritable mélange of subtle flavor and texture with Asian wanton wrapping – and a Remy Martin-based tangy lobster bisque (280 baht), all complemented by a freshly baked bread selection with salted butter.
I didn’t recognize any of the artistes on the piped-in music, but the tunes are remarkable for their unobtrusiveness and effortlessly fit into the sophisticated atmosphere. At any rate, they pleasantly smother the elongated business calls made by a neighboring Ukrainian.
The carnivorous cameraman is more than pleased with his mains of Black Angus beef and slides a knife into his steak with a glint in his eye that would chill an apprentice vampire’s soul. “See? No effort,” he drools, and doesn’t utter a word for the next 15 minutes.
Red snapper (480 baht) with fruity hints, dill purée and basil-burnt sauce is my choice for mains and is, well, wishing to avoid clichés, extremely well done and representative of Ronnie’s dab hand in the kitchen.
The happy juice selection is extensive and we plump for a Sacha Lichine Le Poussin rosé. I met the great vintner a few years ago and he expressed a barely veiled incredulity that a ros bif (English) person could, in fact, conjugate more than three French verbs, thus proving that the Brits’ dubious linguistic-skills reputation far outstrips their bad cuisine on the international scene.
Chef Ronnie’s reputation precedes him and rightly so. He’s a star, but a hard-working star and he deserves all the accolades thrown his way. ‘Vset’ is Thai for ‘extraordinary’ and it’s an apt moniker for this stellar restaurant.
Vset Restaurant is located at Chalong pier, next to Kan Eang @pier.
Open 11:30-23:30. Tel: 076-381159. Email: email@example.com
— Sam Wilko
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