The big players on Surin’s beachfront dining scene are well known: Taste, Pla Seafood and Catch Beach Club. Every year, they keep notching up the Wow Factor with new designs, new menus and new ‘lifestyle’ enticements including yacht charters, stretching ever more broadly across the beachfront (perhaps a little too broadly for some people’s tastes). As a change we thought we’d try out some of the lesser-known Surin dining spots to see how they stack up. Cefalù, next to Taste, is a simple, bright place with white tables set under swaying casuarina trees, with authentic Italian right down to the friendly, fussy Italian host who rushes around constantly checking on his guests. Lunches are especially inviting with all salads at 99 baht, pastas 149 baht, pizzas 169 baht, and a set menu for 250 baht. Those seeking a light lunch won’t find it here: even the salads are gigantic! With a good range of wine to boot, we found Cefalù to be truly magnifico. It also offers free delivery service, though dining at the beach is hard to beat.
Good value is sometimes elusive at Surin, so we perked up upon seeing the ‘99 baht happy-hour cocktail’ sign in front of the long-running beachfront Nok Seafood restaurant. The food is fairly well priced, too, with a great selection of tasty Thai seafood dishes, plus some decent pizza for those who pine for a European meal. The casual setting, wooden tables on a sandy floor shaded by white parasols and screw pines, is pretty much the postcard-perfect tropical scene. Here, happily, happy hour extends into three, from 4pm-7pm, with 50-baht glasses of Chang beer also on offer.
Off the beach, a Hollywood celebrity chef has been making waves since his recent arrival at Surin Gate Kitchen, especially with his four-course set dinner on Wednesdays for 750 baht that has had Phuket foodies scrambling to book a table. Cudos, meanwhile, has been chalking up some kudos of its own, with its terrific tapas, Australian beef, duck breast and other hearty specialties, all in a swanky setting reminiscent of a classic big-city eatery. Its elegant interior and stylish walled garden makes this a perfect place for either a power lunch or a mad martini night on the weekend. Be sure to save some space for the divine crème brûlée or chocolate tart with mixed berry compote.
Basic beachwear, sarongs and gaudy cover-ups are as easy to find here as anywhere else on the island, but Surin also brings more elegant tropical fashions to the more discerning sunseeker set. Paul Ropp features handmade Balinese clothing, shoes and jewellery that are quite simply wearable works of art. The silks and cottons are a vision of intricacy, rich colour and tropical flair, from chic chiffon lingerie to cotton and silk tops with exquisite embroidery. Looking beach-ready fabulous doesn’t come cheap, however, with most items priced between 5,000 and 10,000 baht.
Just across the road is Island Bliss, with cotton and silk leisurewear by Australian designer Cassandra McMillan, who’s extended her range into this bright and friendly Phuket shop after years in Phnom Penh. Her attention to detail and eye for colour add a lavish touch to a distinctly Bohemian style. Our favourites include the hot-pink silk party dress, the soft and billowy white cotton tunics, and the sparkling Indian bangles.
Adding to Surin’s abundant assemblage of luxury villas is Vertigo, a new collection of 16 modern villas at truly dizzying heights on Surin Hill. The first villa to appear at Vertigo is the developer’s own Villa Zamani, which has quickly emerged as one of the island’s most popular rental villas, complete with a team of live-in staff, a huge cinema room with hot-red leather theatre seats and fantastic views over Bangtao and Surin bays.
From the Vertigo site, you also get a bird’s eye view of another villa project underway at the impeccable Amanpuri. The luxury villa resort that’s discreetly welcomed royals and rock stars since opening in 1988 is now reaching over to the other side of the cape with a new set of villas, all of which, we hear, have already sold out. World renowned architect Ed Tuttle, who was the original designer of the property and villas 23 years ago, is also the designer of the new villas. Next to Amanpuri, there’s been a shifting of sands, too, at The Surin, which reopened in mid-December after an extensive renovation. The former Chedi resort’s beachside cottages have been superbly spruced up and from what we’ve seen we’re certain they'll bowl over guests yet again with their unbeatable position on the peaceful, pristine Pansea Beach.
Not so Hot
After years as a jet-ski-free zone, the Surin scene now has its share of these buzzing little vessels. We’d love to see them zoom away into the sunset, never to return, but as we’ve seen at other west-coast Phuket beaches, these ‘no-insurance’ nuisances are likely here to stay.