SANDS GOOD

A beach­side restau­rant on Koh Sa­mui is a haven of style and sus­te­nance, says Susan Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IT feels like the restau­rant at the end of the uni­verse, an oa­sis of blue and green. We have been driv­ing around the is­land of Koh Sa­mui, that most be­guil­ing speck in the Gulf of Thai­land, on the clas­sic sight­see­ing cir­cuit. Tem­per­a­tures are at the lively end of the 30s and vi­sions of icy Singha beers are danc­ing in our heads.

We drive down a bumpy palm­bor­dered track, off the main road be­tween Tal­ing Ngam and Thong Yang on the west­ern (and less de­vel­oped) side of the is­land. De­vel­op­ment is a rel­a­tive term on this trop­i­cal hol­i­day isle, how­ever; even this part of Koh Sa­mui, well away from the wallto-wall re­sorts of La­mai and Chaweng to the east, is lat­ticed with bam­boo scaf­fold­ing and con­struc­tion sites.

Right on Na Sai beach, past guardian ele­phant stat­ues and a small tem­ple, our des­ti­na­tion ap­pears: the Five Is­lands Restau­rant, so named for the quin­tet of lime­stone is­lands in the bay. (We see only four, but one, the waiter later whis­pers, is hid­den be­hind an­other.) Open-sided and with a high thatched roof, the restau­rant is con­tem­po­rary in de­sign, low-ly­ing, sur­rounded on three sides by well-clipped lawn and, on the fourth, a stretch of clean beach.

A tiled floor, ceil­ing fans, plain wooden ta­bles and chairs and an open kitchen with staff in white caps: there’s noth­ing fussy or for­mal here.

At the pip of noon, we are the first cus­tomers of the day; other din­ers drift in well af­ter 1pm, slow starters this Sun­day af­ter a typ­i­cal Koh Sa­mui Satur­day night (this is def­i­nitely a party is­land).

We or­der fresh pineap­ple juices (140 baht, $5), which promptly ap­pear in tall, frosted glasses, cuffed with foam and dec­o­rated with or­chids.

It’s a style of dainty dec­o­ra­tion that con­tin­ues through­out the meal: all our dishes are gar­nished with carved car­rot lo­tuses and art­fully po­si­tioned leaves. A starter of Thai fish cakes (190 baht) ar­rives on a white ob­long plat­ter in a ba­nana-leaf bas­ket on a bed of shred­ded car­rot and cab­bage. Th­ese are not the flat, of­ten rub­bery discs we rou­tinely see in Thai restau­rants in Aus­tralia; each cake is crisply ir­reg­u­lar, mouth-sized in the style of crinkly cock­tail food and ut­terly fresh, soft and de­li­cious.

Dip­ping sauces of hot and sweet chilli ac­com­pany the starters, the sec­ond of which is a plate of veg­e­tar­ian spring rolls (180 baht), cut at an an­gle and sit­ting pert and plump, stuffed with crunchy, finely cut ve­g­ies.

Our lunchtime ap­petites on this glow­ing day are not able to do the menu jus­tice. We share a main of green mus­sels steamed in white wine, gar­lic and Thai herbs (260 baht), mop­ping up the co­rian­der-rich sauce with la­dles of steamed rice.

But then, as the af­ter­noon is flow­ing so agree­ably and the sea breeze is beau­ti­fully cool­ing, we or­der a sec­ond main: a large dish of pa­paya salad (290 baht), fired with the hottest of tiny red chill­ies. This as­trin­gent, cit­rus-smelling dish is in­stant Thai­land on a plate: the fra­grance, the zesty fresh­ness, the crunch and burn. It’s like eat­ing sun­shine.

Other din­ers seem to be or­der­ing more com­pre­hen­sively: there are long ta­bles in the pitched-roof pavil­ion and also on the sand. Wait­ers are weav­ing with plat­ters of whole sea bass, well crisped and shiny with sweet-and-sour sauce, and co­conut shells, scooped out and filled with mixed seafood baked in yel­low spices. With fish­ing boats pulled up on the beach, it makes sense to or­der seafood here.

There goes a tray

of

cock­tails: mar­gar­i­tas, maitais, daz­zling con­coc­tions swirled with ruby-orange gre­na­dine. There is high im­port duty on wine in Thai­land but, hap­pily, many restau­rants favoured by ex­pats and tourists in hol­i­day cen­tres such as Phuket and Koh Sa­mui do house wine by the glass. There would be lit­tle value, in other cir­cum­stances, to pay 250 baht for a glass of South African bulk wine, but at least it is avail­able (stick to the Singha beer, I reckon, or freshly pulped juices).

Sit­ting out­side the Five Is­lands Restau­rant is a pret­tied-up Bangkok tuk-tuk, in which din­ers can be whipped down the gar­den paths and off a few blocks to a sis­ter cafe (homemade ice cream in scrump­tious flavours such as lemon­grass) and small gift gallery.

The en­tre­pre­neur­ial owner also runs tours around the bay in long­tailed boats, in­clud­ing a lunch on the beach. Ap­par­ently he is Aus­tralian but we don’t see him, un­less he is one of in­nu­mer­able bare­foot chaps in pony­tails and pull-on cot­ton pants who are host­ing those long and in­creas­ingly loud ta­bles. They seem set­tled in for the af­ter­noon, the cock­tail hour and, pos­si­bly, the tan­ger­ine sun­set. The Five Is­lands isn’t a place for the hur­ried or har­ried. We’ll drink to that. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Pic­ture: Susan Kuro­sawa

Thai break: Five Is­lands Restau­rant on the west of Koh Sa­mui, with a tuk-tuk on standby

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