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Sowing the seeds of change: Seedlings restaurant at Laguna Phuket is authentic in every sense

As I make my way to Laguna Phuket and my venue for lunch, Seedlings restaurant, I reflect, like many of us, on getting older and how certain desires take on more importance whilst others dwindle into insignificance. As I reach a certain stage in life, I realise that the accumulation of possessions seems slightly pointless. I am now more concerned with an exercise regime and no longer yearn for a regular gourmet three-star Michelin experience.

Dining
By Chris Watson

Saturday 2 February 2019, 02:00PM


Of course, I’m still excited by the anticipation of that holy grail of cooking and undoubtedly my credit card statement will attest to that after my upcoming trip to the Côte d’Azur. However, I am now equally stimulated by a less elaborate southern soup of Gaeng Som, sour and spicy at the same time with young, crunchy coconut shoots. I so look forward to my Phuket trips so I may indulge in my favourite dish of local crab in yellow curry.

In addition, I find that social responsibility has also become a significant factor in my life and my wish to give something back to the community in which I now live. It is with this in mind that I arrive at my destination where I believe I can find both authentic Thai cooking combined with a big bowl of social responsibility.

Seedlings was established as a social enterprise concept to empower marginalised local young adults through vocational training and job opportunities and to equip them with the life skills required to forge successful careers in the hospitality business. The restaurant is one of Laguna Phuket’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and has been supported by the Banyan Tree Global Foundation since its inception. A percentage of the restaurant and merchandise profit is donated to Laguna Phuket Foundation’s Seedlings Fund.

The training programme begins with 10 months of food and beverage skills training at both Angsana and Banyan Tree properties, further strengthened with training in English language and computer skills. This is followed by two months working in Seedlings in either the restaurant or the kitchen.

In partnership with both the Prince of Songkla University, Phuket and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Welfare, Phuket, 75 interns have joined, 38 have now graduated, 22 of those were employed at Seedlings Phuket and eight are still working at the restaurant. Many of the graduates and previously-employed students are now working in the tourism and hospitality industry in Phuket and neighbouring provinces. Truly a great success.

The impact on the futures of these disadvantaged youths is enormous and creates a sustainable difference within the community too.

Arriving at the lobby, I am directed towards a brightly painted airy pagoda-style atrium looking out over the magnificently manicured greens of the golf course. The restaurant is simply furnished and, on looking towards the kitchen, I see a landscape of photos of past graduates in action poses, smiling infectiously from ear to ear. Whilst the restaurant is Thai-focused with Phuketian specialties featured, there are also a few Western dishes available.

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I begin with starters of crispy rice cakes with peanut sauce and fried tofu skin packages filled with prawns accompanied by a sweet chili dipping sauce. The peanut sauce is tasty, the prawns both tender and juicy combined with a flaky yet crunchy crust. A great start.

This is followed by a piping hot Tom Som Pla Krapong, a wonderfully clear, fragrant soup with fresh white snapper from the Andaman.

Then one of my favourites arrives: Moo Hong, a southern specialty of unctuous stewed pork belly cooked low and slow with a perfect balance of sweet and saltiness, reminding me ever so slightly of my Scottish roots and my partiality for oxtail.

Another southern classic of yellow curry with chunks of fresh local crab in a creamy sauce with a generous hit of spice is brought to the table along with a Seedlings signature dish of Mee Hokkien, a famous Phuket dish of Chinese influence with tasty egg noodles wrapped around fresh local seafood and coated in a rich dark sauce.

Be sure to leave room for dessert. The short selection includes Bee Ko Muay (dark, rich, sticky rice dressed with fresh coconut milk) and a refreshing Oh-Aew (banana jelly with red beans in delicate jasmine syrup).

I depart having been well taken care of by the team both in the restaurant and the kitchen. Seedlings itself has a pleasant setting and is well suited to a light lunch or early evening bite with family or friends. This venture is both authentic and heartwarming to the core. The food and service are undoubtedly a reflection of the young graduates’ enthusiasm and passion for their new careers. Flavours positively shine through. I urge you to experience this whilst making a small contribution to the Phuket that we all love.


Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who, following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.

 

 

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