The Nai Harn Phuket
23/3 Moo 1, Vises Road, Rawai, Muang, Phuket 8313
Tel: +66 7638 0200-10
Approaching the elevated entrance of the landmark The Nai Harn, I recall that it has been a long time since I last stayed at this luxury Phuket hotel. I am both excited and intrigued to see if there have been any changes since my last overnight; positive or, indeed, negative as we are in the midst of this challenging period.
The hallmark of truly top hotels and restaurants is the ability to remain consistent regardless of what is happening outside the cosseting bubble created by the world’s great hoteliers and restaurateurs. As consumers, we are inevitably – certainly in the upper age scale – remarkably resistant to change, even as we seek innovative experiences that do not stray too far from our expectations. Oh, and not to forget, The Nai Harn has just been voted the second-best resort in Thailand in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Award 2020 – a huge accomplishment, which only raises my anticipated benchmark higher.
As we disembark, warmly greeted by a concierge, it dawns on me that I have made a huge mistake. Arriving at 8pm, the end result of a later than usual flight from Bangkok, I have missed that extra special time of day to be sipping something on the terrace of our suite, or even beginning to dine at any of the resorts restaurants, sunset! Sunsets at The Nai Harn are unmissable, well except on this occasion.
Following a welcome speedy check-in process strictly adhering to new hygiene regulations (The Nai Harn is now fully SHA accredited by Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration and also COVID ready certified by Hotel Resilient, an international leader in the field; special face masks are provided in all guest rooms along with disinfectant wet wipes and sanitizing gel as standard – very reassuring in this present situation.), I explain that we will go to our room slightly later as have a pressing dinner appointment with Executive Chef Mark Jones in Rock Salt and am keen not to keep him or the team waiting.
Walking briskly to the beachside venue, I suspect that we may well be the only diners at this slightly later hour of 8.30pm, understanding that hours have recently been slightly modified to an earlier last order of 9pm. How wrong could I be, Rock Salt is – as always – well populated with its trademark Mediterranean buzz.
Mark greets us and, after a short chat and welcome hug (with masks of course), we order and he heads to the kitchen to do what he does best! Even though the sun has set, and respectful of the many restaurants located at the ocean’s edge across Phuket, this has got to be one of the best; spectacular ocean and beach views with still a few fitness fanatics and dog walkers enjoying the surprisingly cool breeze and almost calm sea; yes, the season is changing.
I have left the choice of what we should eat up to Mark; however, I take a few moments whilst munching on the signature complimentary mezze of bread and dips to peruse Rock Salt’s latest offerings.
The à la carte menu still has the perennial favourites of grilled Lamb kofta and Piri piri chicken. However, the weekly specials have a tempting number of new dishes, which I sincerely hope Mark is feverishly preparing as on reading this, I am beginning to develop an appetite! I also note a wonderful selection of bin end specials by glass and bottle, offering tremendous bargains.
Mark arrives with a Steak tartare and a bucket of Moules marinière, the former, a stellar hand cut mound of Australian pasture-raised beef, both tenderloin and flank mixed 82%/18% to lend what Mark informs me is “mouthfeel – ensuring a dish has sufficient texture to satisfy the chewing sense”; we learn something every day! And in this case, the flank steak also adds flavour which tenderloin tends to lack. In Mark’s other hand are plump organic mussels from Port Philip bay, classically prepared and served with fries and aioli. This, a special which arrives fresh on Friday and be warned, is invariably sold out by Sunday.
My partner and I devour these plates, almost before Mark has started on our main courses. These are followed by two stunning specials of Rangers Valley black onyx tenderloin with patatas bravas, chimichurri and rocket and Mediterranean roasted octopus with gnocchi, eggplant and a silky-smooth emulsion of slow roasted capsicum. The level of attention to detail and precision in creating these two elegant platters is truly beyond my comprehension. Those of you who have also eaten at The Nai Harn will recognise these attributes as pure Mark Jones; intelligent ingredient flavour combinations and making the complex appear simple.
Conscious of time, we manage to squeeze in desserts of a Triple chocolate brownie, just too decadent for words, and a crunchy and refreshing tropical take on Eton mess with mango and passion fruit.
Bidding au-revoir to Mark, we head back to reception and an extremely kind duty manager, Khun Sunei, accompanies us to our room. As we make our way via elevator and a few flights of steps, I silently curse Frank Grassmann, the General Manager, for allocating possibly the furthest room from reception, and trust there is some other reasoning behind this other than to ensure I exercise sufficiently following a calorie-loaded dinner.
I am not disappointed; he has kindly given us what I discover the next day is referred to as The Royal Ocean View Suite, a spacious lounge and bedroom combo affording unrivalled views due to its elevated position and corner location, offering three awesome aspects. I am informed by Khun Sunei that this suite was previously the celebrity favourite, stayed in by superstars from around the globe. Thank you, Frank; whilst not superstars, we can certainly pretend, if only for one night!
Awaking at sunrise, and following a quick shower – in what must be the largest bathroom in Phuket – and a welcome shot of Illy coffee from the in-room machine sipped on the expansive terrace looking out on a picture-perfect seascape, we head for a bite of breakfast in Cosmo. Words elude me, but if I say, Eggs benedict and Jam financier, those you must remember.
Now is definitely the time to pamper yourselves at The Spa at the Nai Harn with offers galore at unbeatable prices. Following a muscle rescue for me and a Thai massage for my partner, including foot massage for both and complimentary coconut body scrub giveaways, we return to our celebrity suite to take a short nap before lunch.
Meeting Frank at Cosmo, he confidently informs me that this will be the highlight of my stay. Now, bearing in mind that I have already enjoyed a flawless dinner at Rock Salt, spa treatments galore and am still technically resident in a suite which has accommodated the late Peter Ustinov and former French President Jacques Chirac to name but two, I am sceptical of Frank’s rather cavalier boast. Saturday Social is a new initiative at Cosmo, offering a special price for a three-course menu with oodles of choices, including free flow and showcasing live music from Eric, an engaging vocalist.
The weekly changing dishes are as one would expect, truly delicious. On our menu today were a Poached organic egg with asparagus, prosciutto and hollandaise, a retro Chicken Kiev, oozing garlic butter and a moreish Wahoo mackerel with tomato ceviche. We finished with a modern take on Banana clafoutis, truly incredible and a dining experience which can even match the heights of our stellar dinner in Rock Salt. Frank also informs me that each couple who partake of this convivial event may receive a room at The Nai Harn for the night at a very friendly rate. There is also currently a Thai resident rate, which is also attractive, for those who can’t make it for Saturdays.
Sadly, we must depart and on closing the door on our corner suite and descending to the lobby, I can’t help but revisit my initial thoughts on arrival. At the Nai Harn, both management and staff are leading the way in reinventing themselves, focusing on delivering their signature quality experience at a perhaps more value driven price point; certainly, unrepeatable prices for the kind of premium products and stellar service that have become an integral part of the Nai Harn legacy. New initiatives abound and Saturday Social, I am confident, will soon become a ‘must-do-it’ element of the resort’s food and beverage repertoire.
The Nai Harn is beginning to feel almost a bit ‘Santoriniesque’; picturesque, dramatic ocean views, and now not only for the discerning, could we say, remarkably affordable luxury.
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.