And so, the gal asks Andy Kunz, GM of Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa, why should anyone choose this particular luxury hotel over all the other great places here on Thailand’s biggest island? He said two things. Peace and quiet. Food. Right, first the calm. Look out from your villa, one of only 77 total, and you hear birds and, in the evenings, cicadas. Look out over the ocean and you see people kayaking or snorkelling, but there is nothing motorised. Although the 1,000-ft ‘private’ beach is in fact public, no-one other than hotel guests appear (for those who must see the outside world, choose Sala Pool Villa 17, the most-likely spot to see local fishermen seeking catch the other side of a quiet stream).
The 165 people who work here must all be employed not only for skill, aptitude and charming smiles but for low voices. They say Sawadee Ka when greeting you, but in such a quiet tone. Two women, in yellow hard hats over sun-protecting neck cloths, sweep the street outside the main entrance – in silence. I almost feel guilty putting BBC World on quite loud, up in the excellent, and 24/7, Technogym, but no-one outside the glass-walled fitness area can hear. This is a contemplative place. The books in villa 11 range from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Journeys with Anantara, via Thai Cooking. Read, and soak up the incense – I have both jasmine and lavender provided.
Thai cooking. Well, I could head up to dee plee, the Thai restaurant that is, like the wedding chapel, cantilevered out over the steep hillside. I could stay in my villa’s separate salon and gorge alone, on spicy Tom yam goong prawn soup with lemongrass. Keeping it hot, I could go on to Pla krapong neung manow, steam seabass with chilli and lime. Keeping it a bit dangerous, I might have a Penicillin, apparently the blended scotch, ginger, honey syrup and Islay whisky concoction drink that Sam Ross invented in New York in 2005. In fact I have a sip of the welcome cocktail, in silver shaker with attendant martini glass, that is part of the nice-to-have-you array, but I cannot identify it (I am later tod it is local rum, lime juice, lemongrass and basil). My villa set-up also has my name, on a golden plaque on the bed, and my personal butler’s name is written on a leaf protruding out of a bottle of mixed-colour sands in the bathroom, next to orchids.
Seabass. Actually that was what I ate, at Sala Layan, the all-day dining up 18 wood stairs from the main reception down by the 100-foot lap pool, by the beach. We sat up on the terrace of the restaurant, with enough light from overhead, and tiny electric candle-type lights on the table. A waiter, in a silk pyjama set, came out carrying a two-foot tree in a pot. No, this was not a mistake. Hanging from its branches were four outsize metal earrings, each holding a one-bit Kalamata olive ball. This was going to be a fun meal. As I tasted the – excellent – chilled Pinot I was reminded, rather naughtily, of Spanish research that is currently showing that red wine could well prevent mouth decay (if you want to know more, see The Economist, May 31st, 2014, page 77).
A steak tartare came under a big glass dome. Take it off and what looks like dry ice foam emerges as a momentary fog. Most dishes on this Mediterranean menu, incidentally, are paired with an extra virgin olive oil or a specialty salt – the chef, Umberto Piccolini, is Italian. My seabass arrives dressed in oodles of parchment paper. It is taken outside for treatment, and re-emerges naked, on a slate, and I drizzle Val di Mazara over it. The chef’s special dessert comes in bowl-shaped glasses that are somewhat deformed: lay them down, and the opening is diagonal, on top, so you can dig in to what turns out to be 90 percent different chocolates with a modicum of fruit. But I got lots-a fruit next morning, at breakfast.
Now, from seven o’clock, Sala Layan is transformed into health+art+real food = buffet. The interior part of the restaurant is one large display area that encompasses the practical cooking area. The chefs are actually working. Get right up to them to see how they cook the noodles, portion them out. Want western style? Your eggs come in a skillet on a tray, with complimentary tiniest dolls-house salad, salsa and home-cut fries. Want health drinks? You have red (beetroot) and green (anyone’s guess). Individual home-made yoghurt pots are carefully labelled, the names stuck in tiny trees. This entire place is exquisite. Yes, Andy Kunz, food is one big reason for choosing this particular luxury hotel – I can only add thank goodness for my pool and running up and down to the gym.