Thai Experiments and Basque Cuisine at Aziamendi Phuket? Who would have thought. Certainly not us. But that’s exactly what’s happening down at sleepy Baan Natai in Thailand’s South.
You might expect Iniala Beach House, Thailand’s newest and most lavish luxury retreat, designed by some of the world’s foremost architects and designers, to be located on Phuket’s flashy ‘Millionaire’s Mile’ at Kamala Beach.
But the flamboyant 10-villa sea-front property, home to what’s set to become one of Thailand’s finest restaurants, Aziamendi Phuket, is one-hour’s drive north, in the sleepy farming village of Baan Natai, just over the bridge to the island.
We were lucky to spend a couple of nights at the property during the opening days – and even luckier to spend some time with the Basque chef, Eneko Atxa, who is overseeing Aziamendi Phuket.
Thai Experiments and Basque Cuisine at Aziamendi Phuket
Phuket has never been a dining destination. For haute cuisine, gastronomes go to Bangkok. So we were very surprised to learn that Iniala’s restaurant, Aziamendi, was set to become the first outpost of Spain’s hottest young chef, Eneko Atxa.
At 35 years old, Eneko is Spain’s youngest chef to receive three Michelin stars for his audacious restaurant, Azurmendi, located in the Basque Country of Northern Spain.
Like Iniala Beach House’s philanthropist owner Mark Weingard, Eneko shunned the glitz and glamour of San Sebastian for a quiet rural idyll when he established Azurmendi in the mountains ten minutes out of arty Bilbao.
It was not so strange then after all to find the passionate, reflective Eneko and his team – chef de cuisine Alex Burger, formerly of Daniel Boulud in New York, who was Atxa’s sous-chef in Spain, and restaurant manager Behzad Davarkia and sommelier Fabien Etienne from Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in London – serving up their pioneering Thai-infused Basque cuisine amongst the casuarinas on this sleepy, scrubby stretch of Andaman coast.
Such extraordinary culinary talent didn’t end up in southern Thailand by accident.
Iniala’s owner, Mark Weingard, had long been a fan of Eneko’s cuisine and eating at his restaurant a number of times. A former trader turned full-time philanthropist, Weingard once lived in a house on the land (now absorbed into the Iniala property) with his fiancé Annika Linden, who died in the Bali bombing in 2002.
Two years later, he was at Natai Beach with friends when the tsunami hit, destroying everything around them. Those two events motivated him to establish a foundation in Linden’s name, which he later called Inspirasia, dedicated to supporting projects for the underprivileged right across Southeast.
The idea of Iniala Beach House was to generate funds for those projects. Creating Thailand’s most luxurious accommodation with a fine dining restaurant directed by one of Europe’s hottest chefs would surely do the trick.
While Eneko is regarded as a modernist chef, revered for his playful molecular creations, such as an egg yolk carefully pierced with warm truffle broth that explodes in the mouth, Eneko told us that the techniques are simply tools to serve the ingredients, which at Aziamendi will be primarily Thai, local and seasonal.
“In Bilbao, my food is influenced by the environment around me – the mountains, the sea, the four seasons, the fresh produce in the markets,” Eneko told us in a lengthy interview, which we’ll publish here. “In Thailand, we have the sea here, mountains nearby, different seasons, and so much beautiful produce!”
While the tasting menu at Aziamendi is reasonably priced for 14 exquisite courses of Eneko Atxa’s cuisine (THB 7,500/A$250), a fully-inclusive seven-day villa stay (which is what the Weingard is hoping for) starts at A$20,000. It does, however, include all transfers, driver and vehicle at your beck and call, a butler, chef, spa therapist, and housekeeper, all spa treatments, activities, day trips, and meals, including picnics, barbecues, canapés at cocktail hour, and two tasting dinners at Aziamendi.
If you’re not staying at Iniala you can still dine at Aziamendi. See our guide to Phuket’s best resorts and hotels for nearby accommodation. The closest property, Aleenta, is one of our favourite resorts in Thailand, and it’s just down the road.
Iniala Beach House & Aziamendi
UPDATED January 2017: Aziamendi has closed so this year we’re planning a trip to Bilbao to dine at Eneko’s restaurant, Azurmendi. A new seafood restaurant by Tim Butler of Eat Me in Bangkok has opened in the same space, however, we’ve not tried it yet. We’ll report back once we have.