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Banyan Tree Phuket’s best kept secret: Tre!

It has been little more than a year to the day since I last visited Tre, which is currently only open for the high season. Tre is one of Banyan Tree Phuket’s stable of leading-edge restaurants. The other outlets, perhaps slightly better known to you, are the Japanese Taihei and the heirloom recipe signature Thai restaurant, Saffron.

By Chris Watson

Sunday 5 January 2020, 02:00PM

Chef Claudio Barzano

Chef Claudio Barzano

Executive Chef Chandra clearly has an extremely busy role coordinating these, in my humble opinion, world-class offerings along with others and many upcoming additions including newly launching dedicated wellness villas and the six-month residency of the culinary theatre Le Petit Chef, which has just arrived. On my last dinner, I experienced innovative dishes created by a previous Chef de Cuisine, Kreaton, subsequently and deservedly promoted to a new destination; the benchmark was set high!

I am informed by the dynamic and charming Director of Marketing and Communications for the hotel, Filipa Sousa, that the newly arrived Chef de Cuisine, Claudio Barzano, will continue Banyan Tree’s global core commitment to protecting and sustaining the environment by sourcing as much produce as possible locally to ensure a minimum carbon footprint and a drive towards zero waste. Chef Claudio brings with him a star-studded background of working with globally renowned chefs, Giorgio Locatelli and Guillaume Brahimi; they need no introduction! Italian and hailing from Brugherio in Lombardy, he combines his French techniques with his passion for fresh produce. His first time in Thailand, he has been bowled over by the abundance of quality ingredients available from artisan farmers and fishermen.

Currently, around 75% of produce used is local but this is a work in progress. I am truly excited to experience his first menu and am greeted on arrival by restaurant manager Paulina, another new addition, from an equally international background. She professionally guides me and my dining partner to our table. At this juncture I would normally extol the virtues of the location and décor of the restaurant but will abstain to devote as much of my allocated space as possible to the food itself. Chef Claudio currently offers an extensive a la carte menu, however plans to introduce a tasting menu as soon as he is settled. He has put together a showcase menu of his specialties for this evening. Following a beginning of breads, a choice of semolina or multi grain, one of Chef Claudio’s fortes, somewhat unusual for a chef from a hot kitchen background.

We begin with a technically intricate and successful amuse bouche of asparagus royale with blue swimmer crab and pumpkin seeds and then onto an appetiser of deliciously refreshing local river prawn tartare topped with yuzu caviar and drizzled almond foam with tapioca crackers adding texture. A very clever dish. This is followed by Chef Claudio’s take on malfatti. Malfatti is not often seen in high end restaurants, it has so far remained a dish for home cooking for the family. The name literally translates to “poorly made”.

There’s nothing poor about Chef Claudio’s take; what elevates it is the use of pumpkin instead of the usual spinach and finished off in the pan with a perfectly burnt brown butter to add crispness to this “rustic gnocchi”. It is also dressed with pickled peach and crunchy prosciutto, adding multi layers of flavour and texture. As I type this, I recall this dish with a smile and a yearning for more. A true flavour bomb! Next on the menu is Andaman sea bass with pearl onions and delicate balls of potato Parisienne accompanied with a perfectly balanced oyster mayonnaise; really quite stunning. Next, the piece de resistance arrives at the table, a smoked wagyu striploin, a picture on a bed of edible soil and garnished with parsnip, mushrooms, and shallots. The beef with a slightly charred aroma literally melts in the mouth with a distinctive smoky taste that lingers pleasantly on the palate.

Having almost reached capacity, we have just enough room for his signature dessert, Chiang Mai strawberry, a plate of silky yogurt mousse partnered with a scented rose mini meringue and accompanied with local strawberry. A stylish finish. Paulina and her team have taken exceptional care of us helpfully suggesting appropriate and unique pairings to match Claudio’s dishes.

I understand that “the management” is considering keeping Tre open throughout 2020, which I sincerely hope they will do. However, in any event, I urge you to book Tre soon to catch Claudio’s creations. This is indeed a valuable addition to Phuket’s culinary offerings and I am delighted that we have yet another new restaurant where one can enjoy seriously intelligent dining. Claudio, keep pushing that envelope!

Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.

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