Our host suggests we arrive early at The Cove for the renowned sunset. Sadly, in the evening´s only `blip´, leaden skies at Ao Yon obscure the setting sun. But the view from this secluded spot on Cape Panwa is still spectacular: out in the darkening bay, the wooded shapes of Lone, Coral and Aew islands and, in the distance, a misty Koh Racha.
And everything that can be controlled by human agency is perfect. Edina, our host, emerges from the low-rise villas (for this is also an exclusive resort) to greet us warmly and guide us to scrubbed wooden tables (seating for 25) at the beach´s edge. With sand underfoot and coconut palms above, the sense of a sea-shore dining experience is palpable.
The main menu, sensibly laminated in plastic, makes for anticipatory reading; predictably strong on seafood, most is sourced daily from the local fish market while fresh vegetables come from Hydrofarm. Exotic cocktails are a house speciality, so we kick-start our evening with a splendid Margarita. The wine list is small but world-wide in range: six whites, eight reds and rosés.
On cue, the so-called `small dishes´ arrive, complemented by a glass of house wine, a Signus merlot from Chile. The portions are in fact not `small´ but generous: a melt-in-the mouth Tuna carpaccio with mojito dressing, thin slices of Parma ham classically garnished with melon, and - the pièce de resistance - a superb Crab mayonnaise: creamy meat inside an upturned crab shell surrounded by triangles of crisp pitta bread. Utterly delectable.
The main course menu features nine `fishy´ dishes - from Japanese sashimi-grade tuna steak to fish and chips - and five meat offerings including Oz rib-eye steak, pork ribs and a tasty-looking beef-burger. 13 sourdough wood-fired pizzas, with authentic Italian ingredients, are attractively priced.
Fernando, Edina´s Spanish partner, recommends the fish of the day and my partner opts for the Stir-fried, black pepper crab. They arrive accompanied by individual bowls of green salad, French fries and various garnishes and sauces. A nice touch. My dish, a local Jack fish (trevally) cooked in foil, is fresh and delicately flavoured. The pepper crab, one of The Cove´s signature dishes, is remarkably fine: large pieces of crab cooked in a rich, semi-sweet sauce. My Thai partner pronounces it one of the best crab dishes she has tasted. We finish with a plate-cleansing pistachio ice-cream.
In the bar area, where there is covered seating for more diners, the wooden slatted doors still allow the sea-breezes to waft in from the cove. Sand underfoot, palms and sea almonds add to the sense of being at one with nature.
The Cove, in existence for a mere nine months, is Saigon based Deck Group 2´s first Thai venture. It deserves to succeed. Just 20 minutes´ drive from Phuket Town, the restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, but the journey is well worth the effort.
Edina and Fernando run the enterprise with enormous charm. The atmosphere is reposeful and idyllic, the service discreet. Indeed, if you are looking for an `alfresco´ beach-side dining experience, reasonable prices and a fresh, invigorating cuisine, then this is the place to be.