Perhaps Thailand’s most celebrated chef is Alessandro Frau, owner/chef of Acqua at Kalim Beach, who has collected so many culinary awards there is no longer enough space on his walls to display them. From 2011 until last year he was named Chef of the Year by the prestigious Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards as well as Icon of the Year and King of Kitchens. He has also won Iron Chef Thailand. His restaurant has been recognised by the Miele guide as one the top five restaurants in Thailand and acknowledged by the Thailand Tatler best restaurants guide as the best upcountry restaurant.
All rather remarkable for a young man from Cagliari, Sardinia, who went to London to learn English and is now one of Southeast Asia’s leading chefs.
“I was fortunate to work at Grosvenor House in La Terrazza, their signature Italian restaurant, where I became obsessed with making fine cuisine. I was strongly influenced by the culinary creations of Marco Pierre White, called the godfather of modern cooking, and used to stand outside his restaurant just hoping for inspiration.”
Alessandro came to Phuket with his partner Marcella in 2003 and, like so many before him, fell in love with the warmth and new culinary influences. He was offered a position at what was the Sheraton Laguna Phuket and after a year was promoted to Executive Chef. He was only 28 years old and put in charge of 140 cooks in 12 outlets.
“A great experience but too much management. I wanted my own restaurant where I could cook and interact with my guests. So 10 years ago I resigned. Then I designed and built every corner of what has become Acqua.”
This weekend he celebrates a decade of success with his many friends. He’s invited guest chefs from Bangkok to provide haute cuisine from serving stations set up around Acqua. These chefs include Olivier Limousin from L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Bangkok (one Michelin star), David Tamburini from La Scala Restaurant at the Sukhothai Bangkok, Tammasak Chootong from Suay Restaurant Phuket and Nino Scognamillo from La Casa Nostra Bangkok.
“We will also have two pop-up surprises, a famous Italian mixologist who will present signature cocktails for all customers and a famous Italian sommelier from Hong Kong (three Michelin star) that will make signature lemon sorbet.”
The other Sardinian culinary star in Phuket’s hospitality universe is Salvatore Cossu who arrived 30 years ago to open his first Italian trattoria on Patong Beach. He could count on over 150 Italian guests each night due to his contract with international tour operator Francorosso. He served traditional Italian foods on the main floor of Casanova and operated a lucrative karaoke business upstairs which stayed open until 3am.
“I had just opened my restaurant in 1989 and within a year Casanova became the most popular place in Patong Beach for Mediterranean cuisine. But I had many challenges. When I arrived, there was no good bread on Phuket. I found a source for Canadian wheat and made the yeast using Singha so I could develop my own line of bread products including traditional bruschettas. But there was no coffee nor cheese and only small amounts of butter on the island back then. Every month, I would drive to Singapore and load up on what I needed to run my busy restaurant.”
Salvatore was no stranger to the restaurant business when he opened Casanova. Born near Cagliari, Sardinia, he migrated to Holland as a young man and opened his first restaurant, Costa Esmeralda, using the recipes he learned from his grandmother mixed with his own homemade pastas. After a dozen years, he came to Phuket on a winter holiday and it changed his life.
“I loved swimming in the warm sea. I decided to close my operations in the Netherlands and move to Patong Beach which was then only a small village with a couple of little restaurants.”
After building Casanova into a restaurant destination over the next 10 years, he decided to again move, this time to Phuket Town.
“Patong had grown and changed and I had a new family and wanted to live a more normal life. I opened Salvatore on Rasada Rd 20 years ago where I am still offering my classic Italian cuisine based on my grandmother’s Sardinian recipes.”
The restaurant is a temple to Italian country design complete with Corinthian columns, art and Salvatore’s very welcoming personality. His guests these days are mostly local Thais who thrive on his grilled Australian lamb and traditional Sardinian pasta with bottarga.
Acqua Restaurant is located at 324/15 Prabaramee Rd, Kalim Bay, Patong, Kathu, 83150.
Salvatore's Restaurant is located at 15 Rasada Rd, Taladyai, Phuket Town, 83100.