The premise of the Phuket Epic Food series is fairly simple – we focus on the remarkable. What is not simple though, is the food we present here. Only the most extraordinary, noteworthy, delightful, or in other words, epic dishes served at Phuket restaurants make it onto our list. This isn’t your daily bread, but meals for a special occasion.
Technically, each episode of this series should focus on one dish only. However, at Rustic Eatery and Bar, I ended up having a three-course meal, dessert included. And even though I wasn’t even that hungry, to begin with, I enjoyed it immensely. How come?
Two minutes into my chat with the culinary talent behind Rustic – chef Nikola Lesar – I knew how come. Chef Nikola oozes with passion for great food and is the very definition of a foodie –, not someone who just posts photos of his lunch on Instagram, but a man who lives and breathes cooking. I’d love to tell you more about his quick ascent from a home cook to a professional chef – the gap between his triumph in MasterChef show and the opening of a restaurant in Phuket is just 3 years – but that’s a story for a different time; here we focus on food.
Watching chef Nikola prepare the main dish of the day - black tagliatelle with freshly grilled Spanish octopus – was a pleasure comparable to eating it. Completely engrossed in what he was doing, totally in the moment, he never stopped explaining how he turns the carefully selected ingredients into a plate of pure perfection that I was about to enjoy - his TV culinary show experience showing throughout.
He begins by cooking the Spanish octopus’ tentacles, sous-vide, in a mixture of white wine, olive oil, thyme and capers. After 3 to 4 hours of such treatment, the tentacles are tender, infused with flavour and ready for the grill. While they are receiving a nice layer of crust over an open flame, the chef prepares a pasta sauce with octopus’ stock, crab meat, bell peppers, lightly sizzled cherry tomatoes and finished, French style, with butter. Into that lands homemade tagliatelle prepared with squid ink, which gives it its distinctive black hue. Then, right before serving, the plate is brushed with Thai sweet chilli sauce and dotted with deep-fried capers and the ready dish is sprinkled with fried Thai basil leaves.
The result is a bliss. This technically simple dish – it’s just pasta with grilled seafood, right? – provides a complex sensory experience of flavours and textures. Depending on where you dig in, you might enjoy a crunch of the octopus, a tangy pop of a deep-fried caper, a mouth feeling bite of the homemade pasta, or all of it at the same time. The sweetness of the Thai chilly, the tanginess of the sauce, the smokiness of the octopus, it all plays together like a well-tuned band. Fresh, flavorful, comforting or simply – delicious,
After such into, I had no need for a second course and no space left for dessert. Still, I had both and I don’t regret it. The lasagna that fallowed the tagliatelle had no less than 70 (!) layers of intense Bolognese sauce, mozzarella-based bechamel and homemade pasta, plus one side fried to recreate the best part of any lasagna – the burned edge; a homemade wonder. And then came the dessert – makrut lime cake with pineapple and coconut – a delightful combination of local flavours presented in a worldly fashion by Rustic’s pastry chef Mook Surajaroenjai, who happens to be Nikola’s fiancée and same as him, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Bangkok. What a team!
When I ask Nikola to describe Rustic to me, he says it’s a casual fine dining place, one where you can come in shorts and still have foie gras on your plate. That’s one way of putting it. Another would be to say that it’s a local seaside restaurant with friendly staff and a good selection of wines and craft beers. But if you ask me, all I have to say is that the food… is epic.
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