Tonight, (Dec 13) is not my first occasion dining at the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, having previously enjoyed the rustic Italian dishes offered at the hotel’s La Trattoria, incidentally, well worth a visit. This evening I am to experience Ruen Thai, the hotel’s signature Thai restaurant.
The hotel was opened in 1987 and on arriving at the lobby entrance, it has not lost the ambiance of a classic grand dame; perfectly manicured lawns wrap around open air Thai pagodas mixing a neo colonial theme with modern Thai touches. This hotel is a true example of the days when space was not yet at a premium, the lobby and arrival areas are generous. Located in the heart of the Laguna, it has an unrivaled position overlooking the Andaman sea amidst acres of tropical gardens planted with native casuarinas and coconut palms, yet easily navigated through buggies and leisurely cruising along the serene waterways in small shuttle boats.
Ruen Thai, has held a sought-after Michelin Plate for the past two years of the renowned red book’s presence in Phuket. As a result, my anticipation is high, as I make my way along a characterful, quaintly lit wooden covered walkway. En route however I meet General Manager Ben Perera who joined the hotel a year ago but has been a part of the Dusit family for many years in a number of locations. He is in fact on his way to a staff event to celebrate the hotel’s long service employees and wanted to welcome me before presiding over this special evening.
The hotel is 32 years old and is in the privileged position of being able to say that they have several staff who have served them since the hotel opened. Tonight, is to honour forty-nine valued colleagues with service from five years to thirty years; of the forty-nine attending, seventeen have thirty years under their belt! Truly a milestone to be deservedly acknowledged!
Thanking Ben for his hospitality in advance and wishing him a successful evening, I bid farewell and continue the remaining short journey to arrive at my destination. Ruen Thai is located in a meticulously maintained Thai teak house set on the edges of the lagoon with an elegant terrace affording a truly romantic setting. My dining companion and I opt to dine indoors and once seated observe that the restaurant is almost full and on chatting with the restaurant staff, I am informed that many of the diners this evening, are in fact returnees, these are admirable indicators.
I am introduced to Khun Sudaluk Seansut, Executive Sous Chef and Head Chef of Ruen Thai. Hailing from Isan she joined the hotel relatively recently compared to the staff members honoured elsewhere this evening. Ruen Thai specializes in Royal Thai cuisine. These recipes were created many generations ago and when cooking for the Royal household, to cater for everyone’s differing palate, there must be no extremes in flavour or seasoning. Dishes must be in perfect balance. Fruits and vegetables are trimmed to attractive size and often carved into elaborate shapes. Presentation must be aesthetically attractive including the crockery. But the recipes themselves are usually dishes that Thais will in fact eat every day. I leave our choice of dishes up to the effervescent Chef Sudaluk.
We begin with Kratong Thong, a classic appetizer of crispy golden pastry cups filled with a refreshing prawn, chicken and corn mixture, exquisitely presented. This is followed by a classic Tom Yam Goong containing tender and juicy fresh local prawns, the soup striking a delicate balance between sweet and sour, each mouthful oscillating between the two. We continue with a signature dish of local Phuket lobster, Mungkorn Lui Fai, dramatically flambeed at tableside and served with a decadent sweet red curry sauce. A truly memorable dish. To follow, Chef Sudaluk recommends a sliced barbecued sirloin of beef served with a garlic and chili sauce, Kawee La-moon which is accompanied with steamed jasmine rice and a tasty morning glory in oyster sauce. The ensemble does not disappoint! Chef Sudaluk persuades us to end our meal with a beautifully presented Tago Maprao Onn, young coconut milk cake in pandanus leaf cups, a picture on the plate! We leave and thank Chef Sudaluk and her teams of both kitchen and service staff, who also have looked after us incredibly well; knowledgeable, helpful and efficient! As we stroll back to the lobby, I am confident that although Chef Sudaluk has a few years to go to rival this evening’s long service employees, judging by her clearly evident happiness in her current role and indeed her equally discernable culinary talent I sense that she will be at the helm of Ruen Thai, cooking signature Royal Thai dishes for many more years to come.
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.