My night at Phuket's Baan Rim Pa Group dining experience involved one sunset, three restaurants, multiple celeb stories and my very satisfied belly. Dashing out of the hotel lobby to my waiting taxi, the resort manager asked where I was hurrying. ‘Baan Rim Pa' I answered, not really having time for this conversation. Reading my mind he replied that I'd best hurry ‘so as not to miss sunset.
Be sure to sit in the far right corner, it's the best view in the house.' This particular local restaurant, located between Kalama beach and Patong beach, is famous for a fine dining experience by a beautiful cliff side sunset. Looking up at the sky I could see I didn't have long to make it. The taxi tried to hurry, but of course I get stuck in traffic - just minutes around the corner. Passing on the driver's suggestion of walking up a hill through Phuket's crazy prime-time roads, I watched the most beautiful sun I have ever seen begin it's descent down an orange and pink melting sky - from my romantic taxi window. With 5 minutes to spare I finally arrived. My stylish host, Alfredo, is front side waiting to greet me with a warm smile. Welcoming me inside Establishment Number One, I was able to experience several minutes of what was indeed a majestic setting. My personal menu for the evening involved a ‘dine around' night, where I was to visit three restaurants of the Baan Rim Pa Group, tasting a few dishes at each. The first eatery aptly named Baan Rim Pa, is the signature restaurant of the group. With luxe, kitsch Thai décor on a verandah style locale, the architecture perches high against the cliff, with tables and chairs perfectly positioned for the sun's daily grand finale. This was indeed a large and popular restaurant. Friends and tourists chatted away, laughing together after a day of lounging in the holiday sun - or at least that's what I surmised from the sight of everyone's relaxed faces and healthy appetites. Alfredo sat us in the corner to the far right (a top tip from my hotel manager, by far the best view) knowing just what to order. There are only two tastes I am not a fan of: pork, and the Thai version of spicy. By this, I mean a dish so hot you want to drown your head in an ice bucket and it still won't bring relief. I tried a Thai cooking class the other day, making simple Green Curry with Chicken - usually quite a safe choice on the spice factor. The teacher, a local chef, laughed at how mild I made my dish, and I know he secretly thought it just wasn't right. So I am aware that by ordering ‘medium spicy' in Thailand I'll get the equivalent to ‘super crazy spicy' on my western tongue. Not a problem for Alfredo. Presented to the table was a serving of Banana Blossom Salad - which can only be made from one type of Phuket island banana, served in a giant leaf of the same fruit. Then came Gratong Thong, a delightful miniature package of shredded sweet corn and chicken. And Yaam Polami; a surprisingly delicious combination of slightly spicy grapefruit with prawns, who would have thought? All dishes were presented with skillfully Thai-style carved salad vegetables garnishings. These dishes were so pretty I had to take a photo. Actually I took a few. ‘My good friend is a Photographer,' Alfredo is inspired to share, ‘we grew up together in Peru. He is very good, quite well-known, I want him to come here one day.' Alfredo speaks with a mixed Peru and posh English accent. ‘That's nice, what's his name?' I reach for one more of the delicious corn packages. ‘Mario Testino.' I nearly fall out of my chair. "The Mario Testino?" "Yes that's right, oh we went to school together in Peru and moved to London at the same time back in the seventies. He was not famous back then. Wasn't even really into photography in school, was very good at mathematics though, which you needed before the digital revolution." I love Mario Testino's photography. I became a fan way back when Princess Diana was the style queen of the late 90's. When she died, I was working as a photo editor on a glossy magazine in Sydney, where we had to source images that summed up Diana's life. Mario's shots were the most sought after pics by all of the mags. "I spoke with Diana quite a bit." Alfredo tells me, "I went on holiday with Mario and she called often, I would answer his phone and chat to her. She was always very friendly." Oh my god. I have two degrees of separation with Mario Testino. That is so my Facebook status for the next month. Alfredo takes me to Restaurant number two, conveniently located all the way ... downstairs. Suddenly I've entered an ultra hip world of sophistication, a trendy eatery that could be straight out London's Soho. 100% white deco in every direction lies before me and I'm told I'm in a venue Thai popstars frequent. Apparently Joe's downstairs was the first restaurant in Phuket to style everything completely in the non-color, and other social venues picked up on the trend or copied - whichever way you like to look at it. The night has fallen and chic lighting creates an uber hip ambience against that bleached décor. We are closer to the ocean now, I see fisherman on the rocks, which are lit up, enhancing the view. Fish happens to be in next course. This eatery is called Joe's Downstairs' (probably because it's located downstairs and was started by a guy called err, Joe.) The food and cocktail list here are flavours of the world. I try a refreshing Mohito, the bar's most popular drink. A cooling scented ocean breeze drifts to our seaside table, as modern dishes arrive in front of me. First up is mouth watering Pan friend Conoga Hills Goats cheese salad. Followed by more-ish Rock lobster quesadilla. Then Foie Gras Shie Mei with toasted tamarind, and my favourite by far - miso glazed black cod; it melts in your mouth so perfectly Nobu's would definitely lose it's famous clientele if Joe's Downstairs was located in LA. Back onto famous people, I've heard Kate Moss frequents Phuket. ‘Oh Kate. Yes, I know Kate through Mario. She came here with Jude Law. I saw her and thought now that face looks familiar. But I am not too fussed with the famous people and Kate was all - ‘don't be like that, Alfie!' Yes, she's lovely. She liked the bar too.' Who else has graced these fine restaurants? Upstairs the King of Denmark ‘I was speaking with my friends and had to excuse myself to go and greet the King of Denmark, now there's a sentence you don't say everyday.' Richard Branson also dined with his family there. Downstairs, the third and final restaurant where I dine next, has enjoyed the company of Leonardo Di Caprio and Roger Moore. This is an Italian restaurant, so close to the sand you could be on a night picnic. Instead you are sitting comfortably in a modern and colourful restaurant looking at a detailed Italian menu - lucky for me, Alfredo speaks Italian. Three dishes with really long Italian names arrive. Described in English they are delicious portions of sardines salad style (called filetto di sardine con vinaigrette di capperi e limone,) a tasty beetroot salad ( carpaccio di barbatietolu, pomelo e mascarpone con tartufo sott iolio tatta in casa ) and raw tuna with flavoursome toppings (ceviche de touno con pepperoni arrosto e zaffernaro.) and a side of Italian dips with bread crusquettes (Italian dips with bread crusquettes - probably how you translate it to the Italian!) All dishes were designed to evoke the five senses, umami style. Washed down with a sparkling glass of cab sav rose, imported from Australia's Yarra Valley. And so my lovely evening came to an end. I left with a warm feeling one gets from good company, beautiful scenery and fine cuisine. I know I'll be back.