Cucina Restaurant at JW Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket Thailand
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Resort and Dining Out

 Cucina Chef Leads Kitchen Choir

We had just been served our meals when the lights were dimmed. There was a stir in the open kitchen before a procession of fifteen waiters, cooks and kitchen-hands, lead by Italian Chef Paolo Boi, emerged singing the Happy Birthday song with full vigour. A man sitting at the table behind us blushed and nervously looked around the room, only to find the troupe coming his way. His expression changed to delight once he realized the special treatment was in his honour. The birthday boy was a guest staying at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa, who decided to top-off his special day with an Italian meal at Cucina. The birthday song was, to say the least, unexpected in such a chic establishment, but it goes to show that in Thailand, nothing is as it seems.

Aesthetically, the design of Cucina resembles a quaint Italian square and this lay out evoked quite a conversation among my party. From the dining area the view up to the mezzanine level shows terraced windows exactly as you find them in a small Italian village. An intimate atmosphere is created by soft candlelight that radiates from classic pillar candles and uniquely large glass lamps placed in the middle of the tables. Admittedly, these elegant lamps can tend to block your view of the person sitting opposite, until they are removed to make room on the table. Without the light from the lamps, reading the menu may be difficult for weak eyes, but the personable waiters are able to attach small candelabras to the side of the table, so there is no sacrifice of mood for vision.

When we arrived, the popular Italian dance music seemed a little incompatible with this intimate ambience, but later the emotion was lifted by Antonio, an Argentine classical guitarist, who roamed the floor singing timeless Italian barcarolles. Antonio was, of course, involved with the tableside birthday serenade and raised the level of the performance somewhat, although the fun-loving staff was all too happy to break into song.

Our first palatable treat was some fresh, crusty bread served with pure extra virgin olive oil. Chef Paolo relayed a story about his search for a decent olive oil in Phuket, only to find that all brands were substandard to his requirements. He has opted to import the oil directly from Italy and he adds that approximately 80% of the food prepared at Cucina is made from goods that have been imported to Phuket from northern Thailand and Italy.

Our appetizers included an antipasti that had a wonderful mix of colour, texture and zesty flavours. The bruschetta was light and pleasantly tangy alongside a fine bottle of Gavi di Gavi Montafreddo 2000. Perhaps it was the excitement of the serenade or that the restaurant was fairly busy, but for some reason one person in our party received his appetizer while the three of us took our entrées. There was no drama involved, except that the three of us then drooled over our colleague's meal of clams and mussels in garlic and parsley olive oil. We ordered seabass with onions, tomato sauce and chili, beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce and farfalle with asparagus, basil and ricotta cheese. While all our meals were extremely tasty and well prepared, we all agreed that it was not the most exciting Italian we'd had; the menu is basic and leaves room for improvement. Speaking to Chef Paolo, we came to understand a bit more about the restaurant and the quality of cuisine. Cucina opened last December with a very enthusiastic staff that Chef Paolo has been training in order to bring them to the standard one expects of a food and beverage outlet in a JW Marriott hotel. The restaurant is young and as previously mentioned, appropriate materials are hard to come by, but Chef Paolo is excited about the future when his menu will feature more sophisticated courses.

Our main meal was accompanied by an outstanding bottle of red, a Chianti Classico Castello Banfi 1999 and we savoured each drop throughout our meal until it was time for dessert. We indulged in classic Tiramisu, frozen sabayon with a caramel frosting, and an intriguing creation of ice cream spaghetti with strawberry sauce and coconut. The desserts were all delectable and brought our evening to a sweet high that was prolonged by a round of aromatic Italian coffees.

The dining experience at Cucina was entirely enjoyable despite a little glitch in the timely service of the food. The birthday party had dined at Cucina the previous night and opted to return for the special occasion. Patrons like these suggest that Cucina is indeed a worthy location for a celebration of age, love or success and with Chef Paolo's drive to raise the esteem of the restaurant to higher levels, we can expect that a table at Cucina will be regarded as one of the hottest on the island.

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- August Issue, 2002

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