Here we are, looking out as the sun sets, west over the Andaman Sea. The gal is on Langkawi island, off Malaysia. She is making her first visit to The Datai.
Feel at home, with drinks on a villa terrace. I am in for a mega surprise. Not only is a bottle of Dom Pérignon produced, but the inimitable Vikram Singh – he who has a collection of over 600 Hermès ties – always travels with his own personalised sabre sword (and yes, it is Laguiole).
This is a first. He obviously never flies hand-baggage! Anyway, Vikram takes his sword, takes the bottle and slices off the top, with the cork, in one fell swoop.
We enjoy the result, drinking the health of mutual friends (Raymond Bickson, Georg Rafael, oh so many more, your ears should be burning).
We are on the terrace of one of 14 Beach Villas that The Datai, now managed by Archipelago Hotels & Resorts, will open this September. Two are already finished. Designed by LTW, the 2,200 sq ft interiors consist of two buildings.
The main villa is L-shaped, with bevelled dark hardwood floors, and rush-mat or glass walls bordered with light Maccak wood. You have an indoor glass-walled shower and an outdoor shower, in your private garden. The other building is a glass-walled air-conditioned sala salon.
A big deck holds a 25-ft swimming pool, and seating for six. A gate leads directly to the beach, but the entire compound is surrounded by fencing or six-foot granite-block walls for total privacy.
So we finished our DP and headed for dinner, tonight right on the beach. A white canopy supported by four poles in the sand is lit by a single hanging light (electric, thanks to a wire barely visible through the sand).
Around the canopy there are several multi-pronged wrought iron candelabra, each sporting eight night lights, their glass sleeves carefully wrapped in white napkins to keep off the wind.
The chairs are completely covered in white fabric, as is our table. We are eating local, the menu written on a banana leaf.
Dishes, cooked under the eagle eye of Swedish chef Conny Andersson on a barbeque a few yards away, are served family-style. Starters include mango salad with anchovies, seafood tubes wrapped in banana leaves and lentil fritters with coconut chutney.
Then we go on to main courses, which seem to be an unending supply of chicken and fillet mignon skewers, and plates of spicy grilled snapper, garoupa and tiger prawn, biryani rice and fabulous garlic naan.
Dessert is sago in coconut milk with palm sugar and it is jolly good. We are drinking a New Zealand Pinot Noir, Vicar’s Choice St Clair, from Marlborough.
Thinking of the south Pacific, I recall another memorable meal, also sitting in the sand. Go back a decade to Vanuatu, when eccentric White Russian Nicolai Michoutouchkine, a tie-dye specialist who always wore two pairs of spectacles – both broken – round his neck, invited me to lunch at his beach-set home.
He had a permanent table set up in the sand, with benches either side. Shade was provided by banana leaves hanging overhead. Banana leaves also acted as mats for the whole leg of lamb that was presented for the six of us to nibble at, with, if I remember correctly, an assortment of breads.
I do remember correctly that the drink was Veuve Clicquot, as one of the other guests, an Australian woman wearing a bikini and a turban, emerged from the ocean bearing a miraculously-chilled orange-label bottle.
I see from Wikipedia that Michoutouchkine died, aged 81, in 2010 – he must now be meeting just as many Important people as he did in his earthly lifetime. Look him up.
The girl digresses. Back to the divine Datai, with its 110 rooms scattered up steep rainforest slopes occupying just some of the 400 acres of the whole area. Cicadas and frogs chirped merrily and noisily as I made my way to bed.