The wonderful new Summer version of the ‘Prestige Menu’ set dinner experience at L’Arôme By The Sea restaurant is more than enough of a reason to make the pilgrimage to Phuket. The culinary scene in Phuket is more vibrant than ever these days, and one of the restaurants at the forefront of this gastronomic growth spurt is L’Arôme By The Sea, which first opened its doors in the spring of 2021. Skillfully balancing avant-garde approaches with traditional French culinary techniques, this seaside fine dining spot – located at Kalim Bay, just north of Patong ­– has gained a fervent foodie following, especially after the October 2021 hiring of Executive Chef Yannick Hollenstein, who took over the reins in the kitchen and revamped the menu.

Fast forward to spring of 2023 and it seems L’Arôme By The Sea – which is part of the France L’Arôme Group of restaurants – has undergone a few more changes, including the hiring of Alex Cufley (of Blue by Alain Ducasse) as Restaurant Director, and Mario Sirignano as Head Sommelier. As for Chef Yannick, he’s as delighted as ever to still be plying his craft in Phuket, and his latest tasting menu is proof that island life suits him just fine.

Officially launched to coincide with the June 21st solstice, Chef Yannick’s Summer menu celebrates seasonality; championing local produce while also featuring some wonderfully luxurious imported ingredients. I remember well visiting L’Arôme By The Sea in the spring of 2022, where I was blown away by the precision – not to mention the deliciousness – of each dish. And now, having just tried the latest iteration of the aptly titled ‘Prestige Menu’ (THB 4,500++), I am happy to report that it’s equally amazing. In fact, you could say it’s “better”, but I prefer to think of it as showing consistency, as well as growth. In short, I was dazzled the first time and I was dazzled the second time too – something that doesn’t happen often enough in the restaurant biz.

Our meal began as sunset was approaching. After enjoying some bubbly on the al fresco deck of the upstairs lounge – the more “bar focused” section of the venue – we were led to our table in the approximately 30-seat, main dining area below. Tastefully decorated, with lots of soothing shades of ocean blue, the interior design here makes the most of the spectacular beachfront setting, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the ocean.

For the very first bite the chef places a wooden box on the table, which he then opens to reveal – amidst of flourish of dry ice fog – a pair of oyster shells containing steamed oysters, blended to a cream, paired with local clams and topped with a slightly salty potato crisp painted to imitate an oyster shell (so convincingly, in fact, that I nearly set it aside thinking it was just decoration). It’s a fitting intro to a menu that showcases quite a bit of seafood (incidentally, a vegetarian version of the tasting menu is also available).

Next up comes a pair of exquisitely plated canapes, starting with crab salad – marinated with finger lime and pomelo – in a squid ink shell, topped with crispy rice, Oscietra caviar, and kombu. The other one-bite delight is a local pickled sardine served with bell pepper and smoked ricotta from Chiang Rai. As for the fourth and final amuse bouche that “commences your journey” (as written on the menu), it goes by the name ‘Cauliflower Royal’’ and is served in a beautiful white bowl – resembling a sea urchin shell – with Phuket lobster and purple carrot.

At this juncture we’re also treated to the chef’s signature pretzel bun, a yummy nod to his Swiss heritage, and shortly thereafter by the second of six wine pairing pours (THB 4,000++), in this case a splendid Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fume ‘Blanc Fume’. The wine sets the stage nicely for the arrival of the first “official” course, which is an either/or selection: Spanish red prawns or yellowfin tuna belly.

To be honest it’s an impossible choice to make, so be sure to dine with a companion and order one of each. If forced to choose, however, my vote would be cast for the tuna – locally caught, we’re surprised to learn – which is smoked with coconut husk and accompanied by cubes of slow-cooked French rhubarb and cubes of local watermelon, plus caper berries, pickled red onion, and watermelon chips on top. It’s an astonishingly good amalgamation of three flavours I never before imagined together. Just amazing!

Of course, the prawns are also fabulous – delicate and tender beyond belief – and beautifully accompanied on the plate by red shrimp (also from Spain), a kefir mousse with mascarpone, and a salad of wild leaves from Chiang Mai, all brought together with a sauce of cold-pressed cucumber juice and Granny Smith apple. The course that soon follows on the heels of this one is another rather difficult either/or selection: French foie gras or grilled octopus.

The octopus – from nearby Koh Racha Yai off the southern tip of Phuket – is wonderful, served here with roasted Chiang Mai tomatoes and fig leaf pesto, but the foie gras dish is so utterly glorious I’d have to give it my tie-breaker vote. Pan-seared, the wedge of foie gras sits atop a disc of BBQ’d pineapple, which sits atop a foie gras custard that’s been blowtorched to give it a crème brûlée feel. And topping everything is a freeform, gossamer-thin crispy cracker made from dehydrated pineapple juice. It’s a perfectly balanced creation; sweet enough to be a dessert but still rich and savoury. The wine to go with it, meanwhile, is a lovely 2021 Premières Grives, Domaine Tariquet, which Alex describes while pouring as “a Semillon with a nice sweetness and tropical flavours”.

Thankfully there’s no choice involved in the next course: a magnificent serving of aged and dried Brittany cod – bacalao style – poached and paired with local kohlrabi (turnip), snap peas, and wild clams, finished off with a bright green sauce made from roasted fish bone, green pea and chive oil. This is then followed by spätzle served with wild mushroom, roasted onion and cheese emulsion – another tip of the hat to Chef Yannick’s Swiss Alpine roots – and the only decision needed is to have it as is, or with shavings of pungent Australian black winter truffle (add THB 450++).

The main entrée is next on the agenda, and although the default is the kelp-aged duck, guests can opt for the rather decadent Binchotan grilled Saitama A3 Wagyu, paired with sweet corn and oxtail bordelaise (add THB 1,200++). Having tried both I can assure you the beef is beautiful, but the duck… is absolutely divine.

“We use a Muscovy duck, from Rayong, and we brine it in water with kombu, so we have the natural saltiness from the seaweed,” the chef explains. “Then we age it one week in beeswax and one week without, so it dries out the skin. Then we roast it in the oven. It took us about six months to get the right balance of crispy skin and tender meat.”

It’s an elaborate preparation, with Thai cherry plum, salt-baked beetroot, and black liver pate creating a ring in which a jus, made from the duck bone, is poured à la minute. By turns sweet, tart, salty, and savoury, I was completely enraptured by this dish. The wine for both red meat options, interestingly, is a 2021 Petit Ours, Domaine du Coulet, Matthieu Barret, which Alex describes as a “full bodied Grenache… really fruity and with good tannins.”

If you have room, the artisanal cheese plate add-on (THB 700++) is definitely worth indulging in – all the cheeses are made in Thailand, and supplied by VIVIN. After our fabulous cheeses we’re treated to a Thai basil granita with a ginger beer sorbet, followed by a sumptuous Phuket chocolate (75% dark chocolate sourced from Muang Mai) composition featuring chocolate-orange granita, chocolate sorbet, chocolate sponge cake, sea buckthorn, salted caramel, and a few more surprises. A suitably sweet adieu (followed, in time, with some parting petit fours).

With the tide having come in fully – and moonlight reflecting off white-capped, gently rolling waves – we’re more than happy to linger a little bit longer at our table and chat a bit with Chef Yannick about what the future holds. “We’ll be changing the menu every three months,” he tells us. “So this is the Summer menu, and we’ll change to our Autumn menu on the 19th of September, and then we’ll introduce the Winter menu in December.”


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