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Private island luxury in Koh Samui's Cape Fahn resort
“LOOK AT THE view. Is it not something you wish to stay with for a long time?”
Beyond the wooden deck we’re standing on, we see why some chefs make business decisions based on a few clouds floating by.
Especially when they’re connected to a blue sky, which is in turn attached to the deep blue sea, interrupted only by ragged rock outcrops sticking out like the sore thumbs nobody considers them to be.
So yes, ask David Thompson why he agreed to set up shop on a private island off the popular resort getaway of Koh Samui and the answer is right in front of you.
The veteran Bangkok-based chef who put Thai food in the global spotlight has opened his newest restaurant, Long Dtai, in Cape Fahn, a luxurious resort that is barely a five minute boat ride from the mainland. When the tide is low, you can hitch a ride on a modified truck with very large wheels which crunch their way across the sand and rocks underfoot.
“So near and yet so far” completely describes the contrast between your drive from the airport through the dusty city streets of Koh Samui to the waiting speedboat at your pickup point. In the blink of an eye, the hordes of sunbathing bodies stretched out on the beach disappear as you enter into the solitude offered by this tiny island that’s your home for the next few days.
All the trappings of luxury are yours in each of the 22 villas that make up this compact, sustainably-built resort.
Cape Fahn is part of Cape & Kantary Hotels - a Thai hospitality group owned by the Pangsrivongse family.
The story behind how Cape Fahn came to be is a charming one told by Timo Kuenzli, the hands-on general manager of the property. The island - officially named Koh Fan Yai - belonged to the family for many years since their grandmother bought it during one of her many trips aroundThailand. But the island is made up of two parts - Fan Yai (big) and Fan Noi (small), the latter being a thumbnail of beachfront land that, during high tide, becomes its own little islet.
“Fan Noi was owned by a Thai lady and a British guy who had a small house and a bar they would invite friends to,” relates Mr Kuenzil. When the British gentleman passed away, the Pangsrivongse matriarch got wind of it and bought over Fan Noi so she could own the whole island.
The island was left untouched for years until five years ago when the building permit was about to expire - so the family decided to build an eco-friendly resort. It took about four years to build Cape Fahn, which is now the group’s first and only six-star property with each villa boasting its own 8-metre pool, outdoor shower, living room and sundeck.
Sidestepping the stereotyped Thai architectural aesthetic, Cape Fahn is contemporary in look and feel with clean, neutral colour schemes. For even more privacy and luxury, wedding couples have been known to book out Koh Fan Noi - a two-bedroom villa surrounded by greenery and boasting an uninterrupted view of the Gulf of Thailand.It’s no wonder that Chef Thompson agreed to open Long Dtai at Cape Fahn on the basis of the view. “The rooms are so fantastic, and it seems to me a very interesting prospect to just do a small restaurant with a menu of just 20 items, with the food dictated by the ingredients rather than the recipes.”
Long Dtai - which means ‘heading South’ - emphasises family-style southern Thai cooking with a sustainability approach. Not everything in the menu may be available every day as the kitchen takes its cue from what’s freshest at the local markets.
Expect the kind of gutsy, real Thai flavours that Chef Thompson is known for, and that includes the eye-watering spicy dishes that he includes for authenticity rather than a wicked sadism.
Tuck into non-threatening starters such as sweet smoky grilled mussels on skewers and prawn and garuda claws - a local bitter vegetable seasoned with curry powder and deep-fried with prawns into crispy clawshaped fritters.
Of course, the chef goes in for the kill with smoky bonito relish - a deadly concoction of shredded mackerel-like fish meat tossed with chilli, black pepper and cashew nuts that works its way into your brain and tries to deep-fry it. Like a secret antidote, we’re given a strange garlic-like vegetable called luk niang which is sappy and astringent on its own but when eaten with the bonito it becomes almost sweet and crunchy and extinguishes the fire in your mouth.
But it’s a punishment we seek out simply because the flavours are beguiling, complex and just plain delicious. And don’t worry if you visit when Chef Thompson isn’t around, as his head chef Omo is there to keep the standards up.
The beauty of Cape Fahn, says Mr Kuenzil, is that “you can wake up in the morning to hear birds singing and waves crashing on those beautiful rock formations”, but “in three minutes, you can have the hustle and bustle of the city of Koh Samui, with shopping malls, restaurants and all the activities you want”.
But for us, it’s Cape Fahn’s combination of solitude, sea and southern spices that’s the real draw.
The writer was a guest of Cape Fahn