For many people, the highlight of any holiday abroad is the opportunity to sample the different cuisines offered by distant cultures. Koh Samui is fast becoming a gourmet’s paradise as the range of options has exploded over the past five years or so, along with the island’s new status as a destination for discerning travellers. Everything from the abundant traditional Thai and Mediterranean chic dishes, through to the lesser known Brazilian, South African and even Austrian delicacies are all to be found here on this gourmet paradise island!
Thai people eat out more than most other nations: food is a not just a national hobby – it is an obsession! With a vast range of ready cooked meals on offer, many Thais living in Samui don’t even have access to their own cooking facilities: that’s right – many workers here have no kitchen of their own! Hence the plethora of traditional restaurants and food outlets, all of which provide exotic culinary experiences for just a handful of Euros. Although the surroundings are often scruffy, or smack of something less than ‘special’, these eateries are well worth trying – though they are often overlooked by tourists preferring haunts geared up to the expectations and standards of westerners.
The most adventurous visitors will enjoy plenty of opportunities to sample the wonders of deliciously fragrant, exotically spiced, genuine Thai food. Roadside vendors still abound, offering everything from freshly sliced tropical fruit to barbequed eggs(!), pancakes that give the exquisite French crepes a run for their money, and scrumptious satay skewers dripping with spicey peanut sauce. Yum!
If you are wondering if it is safe to eat then don’t worry – as long as the food is prepared and cooked there and then you have little to worry about regarding hygiene and food poisoning: just beware of anything that is precooked and slopped up after sitting in the flyblown heat of day! Incidentally, ice is bought by all eating establishments from ice manufacturers who use filtered water: ice is safe to consume throughout Samui.
In traditional Thai restaurants, unless they are purposely pandering to western ideas, don’t expect your order to be served as formal courses, nor will your French fries necessarily arrive at the same time as the main dish they are supposedly accompanying: the hungry locals expect their food to be served as soon as it is cooked, in whatever order comes! M
Plated meals are not normal either: the Thai style of eating is usually communal as nothing saddens a Thai more than seeing someone eat alone! Don’t be surprised if you are invited to eat with others even if you barely know them – it is traditional aspect of Thai hospitality – and an experience not to be missed if you get the chance.
Usually dinner is a noisy affair, with the whole family chattering away while sharing dishes that are eaten as they arrive at the table – with everyone dipping into these communal bowls and sampling the flavours on offer.
A couple of the best trad-Thai restaurants are described in the relevant beach sections of this guide, and include Pee Chet’s in Bophut and the Green Talay at Thong Krut, though you could also head to the working fishing villages of Hua Thanon and Taling Ngam, or the waterside restaurants lining the road heading into Nathon, for some exceptional dishes served at prices low enough to tempt the locals. Pretty much any eating establishment with lots of happy Thai diners is a recommendation in itself!
Unless you are keen to stick to a local diet with a budget to match, or you plumped for a rental villa as you plan to cook for yourself (in this heat???), then you will be tempted by the numerous smart, fashionable western style restaurants that have sprung up around the island.
In addition, it is worth noting that many of the island’s boutique resorts offer beautifully designed and decorated restaurants, often with views to take your breath away, while boasting some of the finest cuisine in Asia. These hotels welcome non-guests with open arms – as long as they have plenty of cash to spend – but be warned that their menus are priced to match their guests’ aspirations and expectations!
Below is our regularly updated selection of Samui’s best restaurants – as recommended by guests who have rented villas through the kohsamuirentals.com website, along with others regularly frequented and enthused over by local expats. Enjoy!
NB Some of these establishments offer a pick up service so please ask when booking a reservation (recommended for all of the following). I reckon we should start off with a list like the one below and then approach the restaurants directly to see if they will advertise. If they don’t, we can drop them and replace them. I think sticking with the high end will be best to fit with our aims for the villas. Let me know what you think mate – before I do much more! Needs a lot of research but should be worth it...
Ultra-cool all-day beachfront dining, specialising in Mediterranean and Tapas style cuisine, champagnes and cocktails – all served by an infinity pool drenched with mellow music. Totally chilled out and a great spot for eating under the stars. Their wagyu beef is a dream, and the Moroccan Spiced Beef Tenderloin Skewers are mouth watering. Check out the Beach Republic Special VIP Day Pass which offers a meal with a glass of wine, an hour massage and use of facilities (gym, loungers, towels, pool etc) for around 1600 baht inclusive. Otherwise expect to spend upwards of 1,000 baht on food with house wine another 700 baht plus for a carafe.
Excellent Italian and Thai cuisine served on a spectacular clifftop terrace located just off the main ring road between Chaweng and Lamai, with stunning views overlooking Chaweng Bay. Soon after opening, ‘Doc Frogs’ appeared in Thailand Tatler magazine’s best restaurants (in 2008) and is now a favoured spot for tourists and well heeled expats – especially during Friday’s happy hour (6pm to 9pm). Roasted Fillet of Salmon or the Grilled Lamb Cutlets are well recommended. Expect to spend about 1200 baht or more per head for a meal, with a glass of house wine for around 250 baht.
An Italian-Asian themed menu served on an elevated terrace with an ocean view by a beachfront infinity pool. Stylish and romantic, as you’d expect, this being part of the Anantara Resort, the standards are high: boasting Wine Spectator Magazine’s Award of Excellence – this is the only restaurant in Samui to achieve that status. Their signature dish, Samui Island Shellfish Hotpot, is a scrumptious festival of seafood served on fragrant pasta: a-roy mak (delicious)! Expect to spend well over a thousand baht per head, with a bottle of house wine at 1,500 baht plus.
A true lifestyle venue where food, drink, fashion, music and entertainment combine to create the unique atmosphere of this trendy global brand – one that’s recently found a welcome home in Samui! Fire shows, dancers and drummers perform here along with renowned local and international DJs. Nikki’s Global Signature Cuisine is served in informal yet fabulous surroundings, right on this quiet yet delightfully picturesque beach on the west of the island. A couple of thousand baht per head should cover an excellent meal, though drinkers should expect to more than double that as the bar prices reflect the venue’s status.
Sited on the Big Buddha beach with marvellous views over Koh Phangan this romantic little restaurant is perfect for dining under the stars. The delightful location and beautiful surroundings more than justify this being a firm favourite with many of the celebrities that have holiday homes here, but the food is truly exceptional too. The Pan Fried Scallops served with potato cakes are divine, and understandably a hugely popular dish, as is their amazing Chocolate Soufflé. Revel in the culinary delights on offer, soak up the relaxed and friendly atmosphere and enjoy a fine cigar from their extensive selection – and it will soon become clear why this gem has been recommended in the UK’s Sunday Times, the New York Times and The Lonely Planet! Expect to spend upwards of 2,000 baht on food and similar for an average bottle of wine.
For trendy beachside grazing head to the Centara Bhunhari Spa Resort and Villas, and sample their menu specialising in exquisite tapas. The must try dish is their Salt & Pepper Squid: tempura calamari rings stir fried with herbs, five spice peppers and salt. For those preferring something more substantial and highly romantic, book a specially themed private beach barbeque for an amazing dining experience – imported seafood or local delicacies by request. Tapas dishes are inexpensive mostly ranging between 100 and 200 baht, with a bottle of house wine at around 1,000 baht.
This restaurant is a feast for both the eye and the belly! The exquisite design and subtle lighting of the main restaurant, the views from the beautiful beachside deck area by the pool and the secluded tables perched on the rocks all combine to offer the dream tropical dining experience. Rocky’s will satisfy even the most discerning guests – and for those craving total privacy there is a well concealed private dining sala. The menu offers Thai and International fare, all served with a perfectionist’s attention to detail yet in a totally relaxed atmosphere. Try the Roasted Black Angus Tenderloin followed by Classic Belgian Crepes if your appetite and waistline allow! Sunday cabaret shows and Tuesday Thai nights are hugely popular. This being Lamai, the prices are very reasonable: dine for around a thousand baht per head with house wine at just 250 baht a glass.
On a mountainous section of Samui’s main ring road between Chaweng and Lamai, is this fabulous terrace restaurant. Watch the sea crashing onto scenic rocks below and take in the magnificent sweeping Chaweng Bay and the craggy headland separating the island’s main beach from Lamai. A regular haunt for locals enjoying a business lunch in amazing surroundings, this roomy, airy restaurant with its cool marble floored interior and tropical flowers is a real treat for all visitors. The delightfully presented Mediterranean cuisine includes spicy signature Portuguese Piri Piri sauces as well as other Spanish and Italian style dishes and a very popular Seafood Platter. An air conditioned bar offers drinks late into the night with a DJ playing most weekends – it is a terrific place to hang out as well as eat: The Cliff has been Thailand Tatler Magazine’s Best Restaurant for several years running since opening in 2004. Budget for 1,500 baht plus per head.
Candles flicker their soft yellow light at night at this hugely popular – and highly romantic – gourmet beachfront restaurant serving delightfully presented fusion cuisine: some guests have been known to describe the dishes as ‘delicious art on a plate’! The underground cellars (visible through a glass section in the floor) are home to what is almost certainly the most extensive selection of wines on Samui: the sommelier will happily escort you below to taste and select a bottle to accompany your meal. The Zazen Lobster Menu, with tasty fresh crustaceans from the Andaman Sea, is an understandable favourite here. Enjoy the food, the fabulous decor and laid back atmosphere – with warm terracotta tiles, exquisite Chiang Mai artefacts and relaxed jazz creating that unique Zazen experience. Expect to pay 1,000 plus per head for food and 300 baht for a glass of house wine.
For a true Thai cultural experience delivered in a beautifully crafted, sumptuously appointed Ayudhaya style teak house, then head to Baan Boran near Chaweng Lake. With seating for up to 150 guests this is a great venue for a birthday party or similar celebration with a difference – enjoy traditional cuisine while being enthralled by the fascinating Thai Puppetry shows and colourfully costumed and precisely choreographed Thai Classical Dance – not the tourist fare served up in the local hotels but performances of rare and ancient dance usually reserved for ambassadors and dignitaries at Royal Receptions. At the end of the show the performers (including the puppets) mingle with the diners – hilarious pretty much sums this up! The food is excellent too: Ian Kittichai oversees the cuisine – a chef renowned for the Kittichai Kitchen in New York.
Something of an institution in Samui, Poppies continues to figure highly as one of the most popular restaurants on the island. Like Baan Boran the building is an Ayudhaya style teak house but Poppies offers a much more intimate experience and is situated right on the beach. At weekends there is a Thai Night with traditional dancing and live music – booking is essential. They offer a popular dining option for two people – their Kantoke is a great way to sample several exotically flavoured dishes lovingly created by Poppies’ excellent Executive Chef who has been with the restaurant from its inception (1995). Allow around 1,000 baht for food and similar for a bottle of housewine.