A mouthwatering stewed pork belly in Phuket? I know just the place. How about some gorgeously creamy crab curry? There’s another place where they excel at that. In fact, after years of exploring Phuket’s culinary scene, I have a favourite spot for just about any Thai dish. But it wasn’t until recently, that I found a restaurant where you can enjoy so many of them in one place, prepared to perfection and served in some of the most romantic ambiences Phuket has to offer. It's called Ta Khai.
Keeping an open mind is an important part of my job as a food writer. But in all honesty, going to Ta Khai, I was less than excited. After all, they serve Thai food; what new could they do to impress? Having lived in Thailand for a couple of years now and travelled to some distant corners of the country, I thought I'd seen and tried it all – jumping shrimp salad, roasted silkworms and deep-fried scorpions included. But none of which are present on Ta Khai’s menu… and rightly so. The questionable pleasure of eating them is limited to a momentarily thrill they provide, an Instagram photo op. Ta Kahi offers an entirely different kind of sensory delight.
It begins at the gates, as you descend down the steps into what resembles a tropical garden more than a restaurant. I visited Ta Khai in the daylight hours and its lush greenery set against a backdrop of sapphire-blue sea, was a view to behold. But it’s when the sun sets that magic happens – the flickering light of lanterns extracting the distinct shapes of traditional Thai architecture form the night, cheerful chatter of the guests at candlelit tables, a monumental tree towering over it all - the first impression is breathtaking.
And it never wanes, in fact, it deepens with every dish that lands on the table. Prepared under the guidance of Uncle Nun and Aunt Yai – a Thai couple who, before taking helms at Ta Khai’s kitchen, spent 30 years behind local food stalls in Thailand’s south – each course is a delight and some, a jaw-dropping one.
Dishes as familiar as Yum Mamuang (prepared at an open-air salad bar) or Tom Kha Gai, made me look up from my plate with disbelief; the seafood comes straight from the restaurant’s own pond (and most of the herbs and spices from its own garden), and some more obscure recipes managed to rekindle the sense of adventure I enjoyed during my first ever encounters with Thai food some years ago.
Ta Khai means fishing net, and while it reflects the restaurant’s emphasis on fresh, local seafood, I think there is more to the name. It’s a net of discovery, a net that reaches down into the depths of Thai culinary tradition and brings the best it has to offer to the surface. And it’s a net I can’t wait to cast again.
Learn more at takhaiphuket.com