Just as he was about to sell up and ship out, he met the current owner, a visitor to Phuket who had missed his returning flight, and told him of the land’s future as a shrimp farm. Following this chance meeting, the current owner promptly bought the land and integrated it into what is considered to be one of the first luxury resorts on the island: Cape Panwa Hotel.
The resort has its roots proudly in the conservation of tradition. Over 30 years since the completion of the hotel in 1987, the coconut groves remain lush, the powder-fine sand beach immaculate and Panwa House a grand spectacle, extended and lovingly restored using the very same Portuguese Azulejo floor tiles and Chinese teak furniture from decades ago. Access to the restaurant is by a vintage funicular that creaks down the hillside past suites and pool villas shrouded by dense vegetation.
Panwa House has had an illustrious on-screen career, having played a British Embassy in HBO mini-series Tsunami: The Aftermath and an American colonial-style home in the Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor disaster drama film The Impossible, alongside featuring in numerous ad campaigns. In order to keep Panwa House open year-round as a restaurant, the resort has to bat away requests from film producers like hungry mosquitoes.
The history of the house is suspended yet also alive in every hallway and room, and perhaps explains why this review leans towards anthropomorphising it. Rows of dusty books, faded magazines and empty medicine jars fill cabinets upstairs while homely floral rugs and decorative vases furnish the downstairs dining areas.
Arriving early during low season, it’s possible to be the only guests in the house for a while, leaving you free to explore and imagine you’re an aristocratic tin mogul, foreign diplomat or indeed a wealthy octogenarian relaxing after a long day’s coconut farming.
Once settled, and out of character, there’s a host of authentic Thai dishes to choose from on the à la carte menu. Alternatively, the ‘BKK’ and ‘Southern’ set menu platters do the work of navigating the menu for you. Comprised of five dishes served in delicate Chinese porcelain on a rattan tray, they’re a great way to sample the best Panwa House has to offer.
The BKK platter celebrates central Thai cuisine, offering spicy Thai soup with seafood, mushrooms and lemongrass; roasted duck in red curry with grapes, tomato and pineapple; spicy crispy morning glory salad with prawn and minced chicken; deep-fried marinated chicken wrapped in pandan leaf; and deep-fried shrimp cakes.
Highlights are the soup, the well-loved tom yum talay, carefully spiced with juicy tiger prawns, and the chicken parcels, or kai hor bai toey, aroma of the pandan leaf infused into the meat, and accompanied by a rich soy and sesame sauce. The platter balances salty, sour, spicy and sweet flavours beautifully.
The Southern platter is, of course, a nod to the south, featuring stir-fried crab meat with curry powder; fried tiger prawn with tamarind sauce; sour soup with Thai fish and young coconut shoots; smoked shrimps with spicy shrimp paste served with vegetables; and deep-fried fish with lemongrass.
Dishes are seafood-focused and pack more of a punch. The shrimp paste, or nam prik koong seab, is a must-try, fiery, briny and accompanied by crunchy peppercorn, sugar snap peas, thinly-sliced, battered courgette and other seasonal vegetables. The deep-fried seabass retains its moisture and flake and is complemented, but not overpowered, by the lemongrass.
The tamarind sherbet dessert is in one mouthful sweet and in another sharp, and is an excellent palate cleanser to round off a rich and flavourful meal.
Before you leave, choose from the carefully crafted list of beverages and raise a toast to another century of Panwa House, a two-storey, lily-white slice of history.
Cape Panwa Hotel is located at 27, 27/2, Mu 8, Sakdidej Rd, Cape Panwa, 83000.
Open from 6:30pm-11pm daily. Closed Mondays from May to October. Set menu platters available Tuesday to Sunday.
66 (0)76 391 123-5