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The Nai Harn — truly iconic   by Chris Watson

Location, location, location ...

  Nai Harn

July 2019

Arriving at The Nai Harn, I am reminded that this landmark holds a cherished place in the hearts of most Phuketians. As the first luxury hotel built on the island, designed by a renowned local architect, brand changing seamlessly over the years, it remains a destination of memories of special moments.

Originally a hangout for the Hollywood glitterati, in its present form with General Manager Frank Grassmann at the helm, it is now a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.

I am here at Frank’s invitation to experience whether its iconic reputation is still exceeding expectations. Escorted to the reception lounge, I am warmly welcomed by both Frank and his Executive Chef, Mark Jones and whilst sipping a refreshing concoction of roselle and honey, with a signature, am efficiently registered.

I am accompanied to my room by a charming staff member and en-route, we pass a petite herb garden, now de rigueur for most serious culinary venues. I am delighted to see and smell multiple varieties of basil; sweet and lemon bordering an intriguing yuzu. There is nothing quite like freshly picked herbs to add a touch of finesse to dishes.

Throughout our ascent to the upper floors of the hotel, and on to my ocean view room, I am acutely aware that without exception, all rooms have a panoramic 180-degree sea view.

Upon entering my room, I am breathless; not because of the energy expended on my short trip, but because the space is truly spectacular, modern luxe: light wood, deep pile carpets and Egyptian cotton bedding amid calming pastel shades. I maintain an air of cool nonchalance whilst my hostess describes the room’s features and facilities. An incredible super-king bed, a spacious bathroom with a clever sliding door for privacy, a temptingly expansive sofa and an up to the minute smart HD TV. A stylish glass table is topped with a banquet-sized selection of delectable munchies, all of course, home-made. I also note an innovative DIY drink kit with premium local ingredients for me to ‘muddle’. She departs and gently reminds me of my ‘date’ with Mark at Rock Salt.

I briefly explore the outdoor terrace with space for a generous number of friends and a putting green! I recall earlier spotting a putter and roll up green in my wardrobe. Seriously!

I spy a tempting day bed draped in pea-green and positioned to maximise the views – and discreetly located on one of the day bed’s pillars, a button labeled “Press for bubbles”. They do think of everything! Before departing, I thumb through a small booklet outlining 20 activities to partake in during your stay; one catches my eye: a barbeque on one’s terrace – what a fabulous idea!

My baggage having arrived, I make my way beachside to join Chef. Awaiting the elevator, I see sand-filled ashtrays containing the hand stamped monogram of the Nai Harn; the legendary Plaza in New York began this a number of years ago and it is a demanding task to maintain, but this attention to detail is certainly Frank’s hallmark!

Rock Salt is one of several restaurants showcasing Mark and his team’s talents. An idyllic open-air beachside setting, it offers Mediterranean and Thai dishes. We begin with light salads, including a stunning Buratta salad, and a truly surprising hot smoked Lopburi chicken with creamy green goddess dressing speckled with fresh garden herbs. We follow with a mouth-watering piri piri chicken, the most popular dish on the menu and yes, ‘finger-licking good.’ Mark’s approach, whilst recognising the classics, serves them up with a modern twist. Drinks-wise, The Nai Harn is fortunate to have secured the services of internationally renowned James Suckling, who helps source some outstanding global offerings, many served by the glass.

Staff are extraordinarily attentive and, as I will discover, are across the whole hotel. All outlets helpfully present menu prices net so there are no surprises on payment of the bill; what you see is what you pay!

Despite a number of inviting desserts, I do have dinner this evening in their flagship restaurant, Prime, so head back to my oasis to freshen up.

Following a short recharge, I wander to Reflections, a rooftop terrace lounge for a sundowner. Extremely comfortable sunken furniture, another panoramic vista and chill out music in the background sets the scene perfectly. With glass in hand, I watch the sun go down. As I depart, I notice that set within the heart of Reflections is Hansha, the hotel’s Japanese sashimi bar. I have a chat with the chef, Khun Arnu, who informs me that opening only from Fridays to Tuesdays is because of their insistence on air-flown fish from Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Unfortunately, time pressing, I assure Chef Arnu that on a future visit, I will certainly dine with him. Deliberating my best route, I ponder, is there anywhere in this hotel that doesn’t have a breathtaking view?

Prime, located atop Rock Salt, “the home of smoke and fire”, with an open kitchen and majestic custom made chargrill, provides engaging theatre. Seating only 12, this is an exclusive and hopefully flawless gem in The Nai Harn’s crown. The menu showcases top-end local and imported products.

I begin with Mark’s signature bread, a time demanding, crusty, exquisite creation, exhibiting both his technical capability and love; a meticulous focus on detail. A refreshing amuse bouche of oyster with wasabi arrives followed by a sublime Cornish mackerel, torched Mediterranean style with a ceviche of heirloom tomatoes, red onion and drizzled with virgin olive oil. I also try a stylish variation on Tartare of Angus beef fillet with Italian summer truffles, powdered porcini mushrooms and smoked olive oil. This is decadent dining! Mains do not disappoint; an extremely difficult to source, local coral trout marinated in a delicate masala and accompanied with a swirl of curried mayonnaise.

Prime does, however, have a reputation for serving up the finest beef and in choosing a 400-day grain fed Wagyu flank steak, not an easy cut to cook, I challenge Mark to deliver! It arrives perfectly tender, accompanied by indulgent duck fat potatoes; the secret remains between Chef and myself! My evening is completed with an ethereal coconut and vanilla panna cotta which I devour whilst debating the pros and cons of Tahitian versus Madagascan. I return to my room, replete.

Following a deep sleep on what has to be the most comfortable mattress/sheet/pillow combination ever, I pop to the well-equipped gym, again with super sea views perched above a shaped swimming pool, and briefly visit both in a vain attempt to burn calories I have already consumed and those I am about to add!

Cosmo is the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant and venue for breakfast. Whilst breakfast in many establishments is an afterthought, here, it is a big deal. Chef Mark has implemented many initiatives including bread baked three times a day to ensure optimum freshness, cold pressed sugar cane juice delivered daily from a staff member’s farm, home-made charcuterie, home-made soft cheese, patisserie made exclusively with French butter and a wide range of home-made jams including a subtle, local Thep Prasit honeycomb. This alongside the usual juices, cereals, eggs and an award-winning signature chicken sausage which will truly make you rethink the whole chicken sausage equation. Served in a relaxing open-air setting, again with views, it is a perfect start to the day.

Returning to my room for the last time, I make a short detour to the Spa where a staff member gives me a show round this tranquil hideaway, highlighting their signature treatments of ‘Easy breezy’ and ‘Pearly shells.’ A must try on my next visit.

Having said a mental farewell to my room and with baggage awaiting me at reception, I have a speedy ‘guinea pig’ lunch at Cosmo with Mark to try out his new menu. This latest launch includes heritage Thai recipes from Khun Ann, who also leads cooking classes, (number four on the ‘next time’ list) a range of vegan dishes, an Italian section and some updated classics.

I enjoy a prosciutto and melon salad reinvented with crumbled goat cheese, sea bass with zucchini spaghetti and signature Thai dishes of crab curry and stewed pork. Unsurprisingly, I have no capacity left for dessert.

I mull over my experience and without doubt, The Nai Harn is an extremely special place, jam-packed with world class facilities for global vacationers seeking a luxury experience. This is complemented with stellar culinary offerings and throughout, charming, helpful staff always nearby. However, having only completed four from the 20 activities suggested, I gently ask Frank if I may return to complete them all? And he smiles, today’s goal achieved, yet another guest leaves, pledging to return…

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 writes regularly about hotels and restaurants in the kingdom.

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