Phuket’s east coast is quietly emerging as a fine dining haven. 

Love them or hate them, the busy beaches and booming beach clubs of Surin and beyond are the first thing that come to mind when thinking about Phuket. But over on the remarkably unspoiled east coast, canny developers are beginning to take advantage of the breathtaking views out over the still blue waters and craggy outcrops of Phang Nga Bay (it’s not for nothing that the island’s top marinas are all on this side of the island) with some world-class resorts and now a handful of serious dining destinations. And with the military-imposed curfew having been lifted, now’s a great time to get up there.

Among the most spectacular new spots is the development at Cape Yamu, a sliver of island halfway up the coast. Much of the property is given over to private villas, but it’s also now home to two of the best restaurants on the island.

Nahmyaa, at the still-in-soft-opening Point Yamu by COMO, focuses on spicy Southern Thai cooking and street food. It’s a casual space right by the poolside, enlivened with bright orange colors and a playful sea-inspired theme (fishscale walls, fish-shaped bowls, hanging lights like fish-eyes), though the cooking, under Executive Chef Dan Moran, previously of The Metropolitan, is seriously good and reassuringly spicy. (Moran tells us he’s inspired by the depth of flavor of southern Thai cooking, citing gkaeng dtai bplah as an example. “It’s this incendiary fish innards curry that’s freaky on your first encounter, but it grows on you!”)  Among the highlights of our visit: spiced oxtail Wagyu soup, coconut smoked duck (both THB300; $11.50), a dark southern curry with black kingfish (THB600; $23); a massaman lamb curry with sweet potato and cucumber (THB800; $31); and a humble but pretty wonderful stir-fried spinach in coconut milk (THB400; $15.40). There’s a strong signature cocktail list, too, with creations like The Fighting Duck (plum jam, ginger and hoisin, shaken with ruby port and reposado (barrel-aged) tequila, served over ice with cherry wood smoke) nicely judged to accompany the meal.

Nearby Breeze is part of the same development, though unconnected to the hotel. Launched in 2012, this open-on-all-sides spot is still a relative newcomer, though their Sunday sharing brunches by the pool (12:30-4pm, THB1,650 ($63) or THB2,800 ($108) with freeflow drinks) have built up a deserved reputation on the island. But it’s what goes on in the kitchen that’s really interesting. Alongside a number of locals, many of the kitchen staff are here, effectively on stage, from Montreal’s acclaimed Toqué! restaurant. It’s an idea dreamed up by the latter’s former sous-chef and now Exec Chef here, Cheryl Johnson. The dinner menu changes every few days, but the focus is on fine dining, using local ingredients wherever possible. Expect dishes like duck confit with kale, baby corn, leeks, shitake and a honey glaze; and scallops with endives and radicchio flambéed with brandy, snowpeas, orange and mint (both THB750, $29). The in-house pastry chef knocks out some pretty special creations, too. You’ll need to watch out for mozzies if you’re dining there after dark, but the trade-off is widescreen views out over the water.

The east coast might be under-developed, but boat owners have been wise to its charms for years, and a short drive down the coast from Yamu, tucked away on the quieter side of one of the more upmarket marinas, is Le Winch. It’s not new, but this 40-seat spot draws a loyal crowd, at least in part due to the fantastic outdoor deck right by the waterfront and facing the lighthouse; it’s perfect for daydreaming about that yacht you’ve always wanted to own. The food tends toward Gallic classics—bacon crust asparagus, frog legs “en persillade”, pork cordon bleu—and, if it’s more solid than spectacular, that’s made up for with charmingly personal service (it’s pretty much a one-man show for chef-proprietor Vincent Meuwly). The plat du jour is a great way to sample the best of what’s on offer and the daily lunch sets are deservedly popular, too. Mains go for $20 and up.


Three other places for a good meal on the quieter side of Phuket

Suay Restaurant
A popular spot in old-world Phuket Town (not to be confused with the busier, better-known and much-less-appealing Patong), this Thai eatery, helmed by an ex-Banyan Tree chef, is set back in a garden and serves up zingy dishes like samurai chicken skewers and the frankly baffling “Mrs Piggy took sun bath” (deep fried pork jerky).

Blue Elephant

It might be a worldwide brand, but it’s hard to beat the location of this outlet: a stunning, century-old Sino-Portuguese mansion in Phuket Town. Expect classic Royal Thai food—and prices to match.

Baba Soul Food

Perched at the far southeastern tip of the island, the Sri Panwa resort is a long way from the bustle of Patong. Its restaurant is focused on Southern regional food, with nearly everything sourced from the organic Royal Projects. Get the unusual red curry with pork and pineapple ($14).


ESSENTIALS

Getting There

Jetstar, Tigerair, AirAsia and SilkAir all fly direct from Singapore to Phuket. Jetstar is the best after-work option: the flight leaves at 8:30pm, arriving at 9:20pm. Prices start from as low as $92 return, including taxes. In-flight meals ($12 for a pre-ordered main) aren’t gourmet, but we enjoyed the vegetarian Thai curry in our recent in-flight taste test.

Stay

Aside from Point Yamu, another highly-regarded newcomer on the east coast is Regent Phuket Cape Panwa, where rooms start from $180. For something more affordable, the very cool Phuket 346 in Phuket Town offers a dose of Sino-Portugese charm, an on-site art gallery (the proprietor is also behind Bangkok’s beloved WTF) and rooms from just $33.

Exchange Rate

THB26 = $1