Where to stay in Phuket: La Flora Resort and Spa in Khaolak

I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit, many years ago and that love affair grows every time I return. It’s very appropriately called the Land of Smiles – there’s always plenty of smiling going on – which is extremely catching. This was my third visit to Phuket (my first to Khaolak), which makes it my favourite Thai destination – so far anyway.

Today we’re heading an hour’s drive north of Phuket International Airport to La Flora Resort & Spa in Khaolak.

The hotel’s set in beautiful gardens with two pools, overlooking the golden beach of Bang Liang and those perfect Andaman Sea vistas.

Here’s what I loved about La Flora.

The beach

La Flora sits on a beautiful bay framed by palm trees. The beach is perfect for long post-breakfast meanders before settling down for the inevitable sunbed session. I was often the only person paddling through the beautifully warm water and watching the lone fisherman in action.

The sweeping beach is perfect for sunny meanders

The heavenly view from my subbed

Colourful boats alongside the beach

The drinks on the beach

There’s great beach-side service at La Flora. From frothy cappuccinos, fruity shakes and daily cocktail specials, all delivered to your sunbed for you to savour.

A mango shake makes beach life better

Cucumber gin and tonic overlooking the sea

The pool-side rooms

We upgraded from a regular to a pool-side room. And what a good idea that was.

Our spacious and comfy room offered all the facilities on my really-want list: a fridge, kettle with coffee and tea, a safe, good air conditioning, plenty of fluffy towels and great wifi. The bathroom had a huge shower and a magnificent spa bath complete with lights that changed colour as you submerged yourself in clouds of bubbles. Very indulgent.

The comfortable, huge bed in our stylish room

The room opened out onto a deck complete with two sunbeds (a lot of sunbed action going on at La Flora, you can see). One more step and you were in the sparkling blueness of the pool – private for those lucky enough to be living alongside it.

The pools

Step out of your room for an early morning dip, swim up to the central pool bar or expend some energy doing lengths in perfect peace. The sparkling water and fluttering palm trees made a fantastic scene to open the blinds to in the morning.

Living the pool life – steps from our room

And here’s the jacuzzi. Simply press the button and enjoy some relaxing bubbles on the top step.

Our own personal jacuzzi right outside our stunning room

You’re spoilt for swimming choice at La Flora as there’s also the main pool adjacent to the beach. You’ll have to be up fairly early if you want to  nab one of the overlooking sunbeds. It’s an active pool with swimmers, paddlers and those simply enjoying the view.

The main pool is right on the edge of the beach

The food

How I love the breakfast buffets in South East Asia. The colourful platters of tropical fruit make for a delightful start to any day. My three favourites – the combination of Ps – Passion fruit, Pomelo and Papaya. All made to taste even more delicious by eating them overlooking the beach. And that’s just the start.

The perfect way to start the day

Gotta love a multi-course breakfast. The Asian selection was quite intimidating – all that decision making first thing in the morning. A couple of times a week there was a huge dim sum offering which I dived into.

Lift the lid to reveal myriad dim sum

The restaurant had tables right on the edge of the beach which we always headed for whatever the meal. You couldn’t find a nicer eating environment. For lunch we often tucked into starters from the a la carte menu, all of which were delightful, like these chicken satays.

Eating chicken satays overlooking the sea

On the beach just to the side of the hotel was a street food cart. Or should that be a beach food cart? Corn piled high, large, luscious spring rolls, satays and my favourite Thai salad – green papaya made in front of you.

Beach food delights right next door

We ate dinner several times off the a la carte menu which offered a great choice. And twice a week the hotel set up an incredible buffet spread showcasing a wide range of Asian and Western dishes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a decent selection of good, well-priced wine on offer which is not always the case in Thailand. As wine drinkers it made our La Flora experience just that little bit more enjoyable.

The service

Thailand is known for its friendly service and La Flora didn’t disappoint. Waiters made an effort to get to know you and make you feel welcome and everywhere you went you were greeted with a cheery sawsdee ka. One night the manager even got an extra table set up for us overlooking the beach when they were already all reserved.

The entertainment

We enjoyed listening to the duo from the Philippines who sang on a few of the nights, took requests and could perform a mean version of Candle in the Wind. Plus one night we were treated to beautifully elegant traditional Thai dancing. Here are the lovely ladies.

Beautiful, graceful and colourful traditional Thai dancers

The nearby town

Okay, this isn’t actually about the hotel but the fact that it was set just back from a charming little town is definitely worth a mention. Five minutes walk up the street to myriad massage opportunities, rustic al fresco restaurants and bars and shops for all your necessities. Oh and a marvellous array of street food, too.

The street food is great in Khaolak

An array of tasty skewers to dazzle

La Flora Resort & Spa is the perfect get-away-from-it-all spot for a relaxed beachside holiday with beach walks and plenty of swimming, delicious food and warm service. They do offer a range of excursions if you’re inclined to explore the area more, but as ever I found it hard to drag myself off that perfect beach.

 

Delicious dishes from Kata Beach, Thailand

One of the greatest pleasures about a holiday in Thailand is the food. Kata Beach in Phuket offers a versatile array of menus in a wide range of different settings. And it’s all such great value.

We went to Malila twice for dinner. It’s the first restaurant you come to in a street full of them…so many choices.

I’ve long wanted to try a larb salad in Thailand but have been scared off by concerned waiters shaking their heads and saying “Very chilli”. Well, tonight I threw caution to the wind and we ordered one to share as a starter.

There’s no denying this is a hot baby! Cleverly, it’s served with raw vegetables, as you can see, and mixing in the cucumber, cabbage, green beans and lettuce helps to cool it down. I loved it and managed my fair share – my chilli-ometer is definitely on the rise. As well as having a serious chilli bite, it’s also beautifully herby, with delightful minty flavours.

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Spicy, herby minced pork served with crunchy veg

The Phad Bai Graprao is an exquisite minced beef dish with sweet and spicy flavours, the most amazing texture and silken sauce all topped with deliciously crispy deep fried basil leaf. The dish of the holiday – my next challenge is to make it myself to that same standard. Wish me luck.

Our first dinner at Malila happened to be a day with 30% off the bill – so we ended up paying less than £20 for two courses each (really good ones, too) and a bottle of wine! No wonder we went back. Keep an eye out for special offers in restaurants. It was late in October and the main holiday season hadn’t quite started, so there were lots of deals around.

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An absolutely amazing beef dish topped with sweet Thai basil

Further down the road is Tom Yam Koong. Another comprehensive range of Thai and European dishes to choose from. These wonderful king prawns were quickly deep fried, giving them a wonderfully crunchy texture and served with a delicate red curry sauce drizzled over them.

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A different take on king prawn red curry

This simple and deceptively delicious rock lobster salad was served with a curry mayonnaise. My light dinner on the first night in Kata – the perfect welcome to Thailand.

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Sweet rock lobster, crunchy salad and a delectable curry mayo

There are several fine dining options in Kata and The Boathouse is widely recommended as being one of the best in the area. Plus you get to sit right on the edge of the beach which is always a good thing!

The menu offers French and Thai cuisine and you can opt for a tasting menu or go a la carte, which is what we did. We shared a starter which was a platter of Siam tapas. Grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, deep fried crab claw, spiced scallop salad served in the shell and deep fried duck spring roll served with sweet chilli sauce. All fabulous, especially the deliciously sweet and delicate scallops and the spicy crab claws. This is a substantial starter – plenty for two to share and a great mix of flavours.

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A starter platter of lovely flavours and textures

Being chilli-acclimatised by this stage I ordered the roasted duck in red curry with pineapple, grapes and tomatoes. It was pretty spicy but the combo of the fruit (who knew grapes could taste so nice in a curry), the chilli bite and the tender duck were just perfect.

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Tender roast duck, sweet fruit and sauce with a serious bite

There’s a section on the menu entitled Boathouse Legends, and one of them is their rock lobster ravioli served with shellfish morel. Rock lobster’s big in this part of Thailand and this wonderfully fishy, creamy and rich dish is a classic.

A more gourmet eating experience, The Boathouse is obviously a bit more expensive than your average Kata restaurant, but still great value. And it has a good wine list.

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Seafood ravioli in a silken sauce

Almost directly opposite the Kata Beach Resort, where we stayed, sits the Horn Grill Steakhouse. Through a narrow passageway and you emerge into a magical garden area with twinkling lights and live jazz playing. As is obvious from the name, they specialise in steaks here, though there is a comprehensive selection of Thai dishes, too.

Choose your cut of steak and select your sides and sauce. I had a tasty sirloin with roast vegetables and fried mushrooms and requested a Thai sauce from a different part of the menu, which they were happy to do. A beautifully tranquil place for a steak dinner.

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The oasis that is the Horn Grill Steakhouse’s garden

One night that desire for Indian food overtook us – luckily we’d already spotted Curry Delight. This delightful little restaurant serves an impressive array of authentic Indian food. We started with a large plate of spicy tandoori prawns, then tucked into chicken and mutton curries with rice and freshly made garlic naan. The menu offers small or large portions of the curries, such a good idea, I wish more restaurants did this. If you need an curry fix when you’re in Kata, this is undoubtedly the place to go.

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Beautifully fresh garlic naan straight from the tandoor

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My tasty smaller portion of Bhuna Gosht

And then there’s the lunches! At the one end of beautiful Kata Beach is a cluster of restaurants, where we wandered when the hunger pangs began, barefoot along the beach. A table with a sea view (well, all of them had sea views!), a bottle of Singha and we were settled. I’d recommend any of these restaurants, which are open for lunch and dinner.

Our favourite was Kata B-B-Q where we ate several times. We loved the spicy salads and sampled plenty of seafood and satays. Here are some of the mouth-watering lunches we enjoyed.

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A firm favourite – green papaya salad

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Pretty in pink – a luscious prawn cocktail

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Tender chicken satays and crispy chips

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Spicy seafood salad and the beach

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The satays of the week – beautifully tender and flavoursome pork

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More green papaya salad with seafood, wine and sea

Thank you Kata for all the glorious food.

Where to stay in Phuket: The Kata Beach Resort

Continuing my series about lovely hotels around the world that you really should stay in, today we’re at the Kata Beach Resort & Spa in Phuket, Thailand.

Phuket is a large and very diverse island. That means if you want to party up a storm, get active with watersports, explore temples and places of interest, indulge in gourmet food, shop, lie on the beach – or any combo of them, Thailand has plenty to offer.

We particularly like the Kata Beach area, having visited a few years ago. The beach is amazing, there are plenty of restaurants all serving great, well-priced food and the shopping’s also good. Plus it’s a bit quieter than some of the more party-focused areas of the island, there are no clubs and after a certain time of night a peace washes over the area. Love the peace.

We’d spotted the Kata Beach Resort on our ambles around the town last time and put it on our wish-list of hotels to stay in if we ever returned to the area. Sometimes wishes do come true.

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A trumpeting welcome to the Kata Beach Resort

So here’s what’s good about it.

The position

Set right on the absolutely stunning Kata Beach (more of that later), the hotel couldn’t be in a more convenient spot. You’re a minute’s walk (if that) from your room to the sand and only a few minutes walk away from a cluster of lovely beach restaurants. If you go in the other direction out the front of the hotel you’re right in the middle of the shops, markets and a generous selection of other restaurants.

Perfect if you love eating out, like us. A short walk, a short inspection of what’s on offer and you settle down to a delicious meal every time. At lunchtime we liked to amble down the beach and sit barefoot looking out at the sea (we soon stopped even taking our shoes with us), tucking into a range of Thai favourites. Top of the list was the spicy green papaya salad which tastes like health on a plate – in a good way.

green papya salad

One of my very favourite Thai dishes – zesty green papaya salad

The hotel is set back from the main road behind the amazing elephant fountain. So you’re only steps from the buzzy nightlife as well as being able to retreat into the cocoon of peace that surrounds the hotel. The food is really varied in Kata (more so than in many other parts of Thailand I’ve visited) and standards are high (more details coming soon in another post). Here’s a fabulous king prawn dish we had for dinner one night in a restaurant on the main road.

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Giant, juicy king prawns with a lovely red curry sauce

The beach

Kata Beach is nothing short of spectacular and the hotel is right on it. A sweeping bay beckons in front of you with the beautifully blue and warm Andaman sea just waiting for you to plunge into. Here’s a picture I took from my sunbed using my panorama function.

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Take me to the beautiful beach

I love a good daily walk and the extent of the beach meant about 45 minutes of power walking – with some strolling and several stops to take in the sights, of course. This is near the far end where a little house that intrigued me nestled in the trees. I want to know who it belongs to.

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Exercise is a pleasure on Kata Beach

The views

Of course, this is allied to both the position and the beach. Wow! To have views like this right in front of you wherever you look is totally uplifting. Here’s my daily vista through the leaning palms.

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It’s hard to get up from your bed with a view like this

The rooms

We arrived around 8 at night at Kata Beach and the first thing I did was walk through the room to the balcony door and out to the sound and sight of the sea. The perfect inspiration to go to bed and wake up to. The rooms are spacious with extremely comfortable beds. Boy did we sleep well here.

Air conditioning is good and easily adjustable, there’s a safe to leave your valuables in (always vital for me) and there’s a kettle with tea and coffee replenished daily. Plus an extremely chilly fridge to ensure there’s always a cold one to quench your thirst on those sultry Thai days. All the comforts of home, basically. Plus the wifi signal is excellent, another necessity for an internet junkie like me, after all I do have to blog and post on social media, don’t I?

Top tip: make sure you specify you want a sea-facing room. It costs a little more but is more than worth every penny.

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We soon felt at home in our spacious room

Oh and here’s the early morning view from our balcony – before the serious suntanners hit the pool.

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Happiness is a room with a view

The pool and its bar

As you can see our room looked over the pool to the sea. A real indulgence having two swimming areas right on your doorstep. The pool is lovely and warm and big enough to stretch out and have a bit of a swim. And it has the must-have swim-up pool bar. The joy of sitting in the water sipping a cocktail! The bar also does the most wonderful lattes, just what we needed to get our day off to the best start.

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

Here’s the view from the bar across the sunbeds to the azure sea. This was just after a rainstorm, which we sheltered from under the bar’s covered area. Very handy.

view from bar

Blue and more blue as far as you can see

The breakfast

How I love hotel breakfast. You’ve got plenty of time and you don’t have to do anything yourself, except decide what you want and eat it. Kata Beach Resort’s international buffet took some exploring every morning. Before doing that I helped myself to a huge plate of tropical fruit…I think I ate  more papaya than the average person does in a year!

There was also a good selection of pastries and a range of Western options including, sausages,  tomatoes, potatoes done any way as well as freshly cooked bacon and eggs made to your demand at the egg station. Being in Thailand I embarked on eating the Thai version every day – a helping of noodles or rice (or sometimes both!) sprinkled liberally with fish sauce and chilli. Amazing how I got into this, breakfast doesn’t seem the same anymore!

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Start the day with a plate of fresh tropical fruit

And a few other things

It’s fair to say you’re tripping over people wanting to give you a massage in Phuket, here you don’t even have to go looking for them. At the hotel there’s a little hut right on the beach where you can lie down, breathe in the sea air and listen to the soothing waves while all your cares are massaged away, though it’s hard to have any cares at this stage. An hour of intense massage that leaves you feeling totally revitalised costs 300 baht. That’s about £6. Really!

Then there’s all the beach sellers. You slowly watch the beach waking up as dozens of industrious vendors parade their wares up and down all day. They’re always pleasant, happy and take no for an answer without too much hassle. Needless to say the products are such good value (and there’s always room for bargaining) that I usually ended up buying something anyway. Summer wardrobe replenished!

If you’re more the kind of person who wants things made just for them, you’re also in the right place. There’s a tailor on-site and he’ll make sure your garments fit perfectly. Choose your fabric and he’ll measure you up and provide several fittings to make sure you get exactly what you want. It’s good value, too, my husband had three pairs of trousers made for 3,900 baht which is just under £80.

There is an impressive dinner buffet of changing themes, from Italian, international, seafood, steak and barbecue to classic Thai. Something for everyone. The wine list is extensive (the hotel even has its own wine shop) but like most places in Thailand, imported wines are pricey, especially when you consider what great value the food is. Oh well, treat yourself…

I’ve realised that this all sounds as much like a spotlight on Thailand generally as a review of the Kata Beach Resort. Well, that’s because that’s exactly what you get here. The best of everything that’s great about this wonderful holiday destination. Aah how I miss Kata Beach.

We’ve explored quite a bit of Thailand now and have used a range of tour operators as that’s the best way to get a really good deal. This year we travelled with a company called Eastravel. I can’t recommend them enough. They were friendly, helpful, efficient and went out of their way to secure the room we wanted and make sure all our needs were met. If you’re going to Thailand (or anywhere in the Far East actually) from the UK you really should check them out at www.eastravel.com

Do you have a favourite part of Thailand? Have you stayed somewhere special? I’d love to hear about it as I’m already thinking about my next visit there – so do get in touch.

Find out more about the hotel at www.katagroup.com

My holiday year in shoes

Okay, so today’s a day for unusual blogging subjects, but I just couldn’t resist this. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done quite a bit of travelling this year and as it happens, I’ve managed to buy a pair of shoes in every country…plus of course a couple more at home and generally all for bargain prices. I had to share them with you…so here goes.

Buying shoes definitely makes for happier holidays

1. Red “tackies” bought to wear to our Diamond Jubilee street party with blue top and white trousers. £3 from Sainsbury’s. (Patriotic).

2 Blue “jelly” flip flops with jewels, £12 from Tesco. (I splashed out this day, spending £12, obviously).

3. Blue wedges from Phuket, I’d just bought a top this exact colour. £4.

4. Sparkly flip flops from Riccione, Italy, €12. I should have bought three pairs.

5. Pink flip flops with heart detail, about £3 from Cape Town.

6. Mirrored detail flip flops from Cabo de Palos market, Spain, €3.

Oh dear, it looks like I’ve started a tradition! Shoe shops around the world watch out!

Where to eat in Kata, Phuket

As you can imagine, in a country known for its fabulous food, there are plenty of restaurants to try. Deciding where to eat dinner every night is the biggest challenge when you’re on holiday in Thailand, which should make you realise how amazing your holiday is going to be. Kata is teaming at night with people standing outside their restaurants trying to tempt you in with offers of discounts, free drinks and amazing seafood on display so you can pick your own. It’s a frantic business, conducted with great enthusiasm and energy. We tried different restaurants, but did have two favourites that we went back to as we felt the need to sample more of their menu. Here’s a selection of the restaurants we visited and what we feasted on. I haven’t included Re Ka Ta as it already has its very own blog post (see previous post).

When in Thailand you simply have to eat satay – and lots of it. We ate in our hotel the first night (jet-lag reducing strategy), which was where we tucked into the first of many. These chicken satays were tender and flavoursome and the satay sauce had a real chilli bite. I loved the way they were served, skewered into a large chunk of juicy pineapple.

The juiciest of chicken satays with spicy peanut sauce

Our hotel was set at the top of a very steep hill and one of our favourite restaurants was pretty much the first one you got to at the bottom of that hill. Set on the beach, it was called Kata B-B-Q and had a wonderful selection of tasty dishes. Our first port of call on our first visit to the beach on arrival, it immediately had a sentimental place in our hearts. We went there several times for a laid-back lunch. Their satays (both chicken and pork) were amazing.

The best prawn cocktail with huge, fresh prawns

Perfect pork satays – and not a small portion, either

One of our favourite places was called Mama. It’s just off the street in a really busy area packed with dining establishments, market stalls and plenty of vendors plying their trade. I even managed to do some of my Christmas shopping while I was having dinner. Oh, and they do a mean gin & tonic, too.

Thai mackerel salad with Thai herbs – fresh, crunchy and zesty

Our favourite curry of the holiday – chicken massaman

Rock lobster salad with tomatoes and garlic

Across the way from Mama was Natalies which was also good.

Prawn tempura with sweet chilli dip

Deliciously satisfying wonton soup

Chilli condiments to spice up your life

A little further down the road, but well worth the extra walk, we discovered the Kata Palace. Their four Thai chefs (all local) cook up a storm of food including basic European fare, traditional Thai and a great range of seafood. Rock lobster is everywhere in Kata (it’s kind of like crayfish but sweeter and a bit meatier) and I love it. Delicately flavoured with the most perfect texture, it worked perfectly with the cleverly crafted sauces the chefs came up with.

Rock lobster with oyster and lime sauce

Thai yellow chicken curry

Rock lobster with brandy

Tiger prawns with red curry and coconut sauce

Looking at these wonderful pictures is making me hungry – and I’ve had lunch. Looking back over them I realise how much seafood we ate, a real treat at great value prices. If you love seafood, you’re simply going to have to it them every day when you’re in Thailand.

It’s also reminds me that I really have to perfect a satay recipe that would be good enough to serve in a restaurant in Thailand – it’s going to take some practice! Watch this space.

We stayed in the Andaman Cannacia hotel which was lovely with spacious rooms and great views. It was at the top of a very steep hill, though, so be prepared for a serious walk at the end of the day or pay a maximum of 200 baht (about £4) for a tuk tuk to take you up there. We found walking down it was fine but the thought of walking up after a lovely dinner and a bottle of wine didn’t appeal at all! Taxis and tuk tuks are easy to find everywhere in Kata, just look for their little huts along the street with drivers watching Thai boxing or football while they wait for trade. You should agree your price with the driver before you set off, and hold on tight…the roads can be hectic.

Dinner at Re Ka Ta Beach Club, Phuket

Okay, so on the long list of things I love about Phuket is the fact that you can eat looking out over the sea. And at Re Ka Ta Beach Club, your table’s almost right on the sand. The Club is beautifully designed, modern, minimalist and all in blue and white, even some of the chairs light up blue as the sun goes down.

The beautiful seating area right next to the beach

We visited once for a pre-dinner g&t, loved the feel of the place and discovered they had what looked like a really lovely restaurant menu. Only one thing for it, back we went for dinner. We were seated at the absolutely best table in the house, right at the end, two small steps from Kata Beach. Stunning.

The chef’s called Bryan Burger and I found out later that he’s South African-born. If I’d known that at the time I’d have popped my head in to say hello! He focusses on using seasonal, local ingredients and his food was fabulous. Sitting by the sea, as we were, dinner simply had to be fish.

Starters of seared scallops on mango, mint and 42 below vodka salsa and soft shell crab with mountain pepper tempura and sour dip and cucumber salad were the perfect start. The scallops looked like a work of art and were beautifully cooked. The crab was surprisingly meaty and delicious.

The amazing scallop starter

Soft shell crab, a real delicacy

Main courses meant more scallops, this time with pea puree, shoots and cumin foam with air-dried serrano ham. The list read like my dream ingredients so I had to have it. Definitely on my list of best dishes I’ve eaten this year. So beautifully presented and each mouthful was a total joy.

The prettiest plate of scallops ever? And it tasted even better than it looked, if you can believe that…

There’s a grilled section on the menu, which included the grilled sea bass with wok tossed greens served with Re Ka Ta signature sauces. Perfectly cooked, sweet sea bass with three dipping sauces and a fresh salad. Phuket lobster is also available, and would you believe I asked the people on the next table if I could take a picture of theirs, as it looked so good. Couldn’t even believe my own cheek! Promise I won’t do that again.

Amazing fresh sea bass fillets

The lobster from the table next to us!

In the land of amazingly cheap restaurants, this is a step up to the more pricey category for Thailand. Having said that, the sea bass was a mere £11 and my scallops just over £15 so still incredible value.

Their salads sounded fabulous too, but sadly we ran out of time as it would have been perfect to step up from the sea and enjoy a light lunch.

A truly wonderful experience, I’ll be dreaming of those scallops with their creamy pea puree and crsipy serrano ham for a long time…