Quotes from Chefs and Explorers...
“Soneva Kiri is paradise. My kind of paradise. It's a place where you touch the stars, a place that combines a dream like ambiance with wonderful service, cuisine and wine. “
James Suckling is an American wine and cigar critic and former Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of Wine Spectator as well as European Editor of Cigar Aficionado and wine Editor of Asian Tatler. James is internationally regarded as one of the world's most influential wine critics, and one of the most experienced critics of vintage cigars.
What do you think of the gourmet experience at Soneva Kiri?
It was of a very high standard. I had been hoping to experience some quality Thai cuisine and I wasn’t disappointed. What really impressed me, though, was the scope of food available at just about any time of day. We all fancy a burger whilst on holiday but to find a handmade version in a homemade bun was a real treat.
I have two children – one spent the whole week eating hot and spicy local dishes whilst the other was well satisfied by the imaginative children’s menu available. Great use was made of local ingredients in both the traditional Thai cuisine but also in other aspects of the menu. We loved all the different freshly squeezed juices served before each meal, for example.
Special praise must go to the pastry department because I ate some of the finest pastries I’ve had anywhere in the world. Service was excellent. Every member of the front-of-house team was charming and always happy to help. As a restaurant owner I’m all too aware that 90% of my customers never get to meet me, so your staff ‘on the floor’ have to be the face of the business – I hope we do half as well as Soneva resorts.
On the drinks side the wine lists were excellent – even a fine Thai wine which was great. Cocktails were competently made and imaginatively served.
But the best bit was breakfast! A treat I rarely enjoy these days. The spread was magnificent – always fresh and much of it made to order in front of the customer.
How does the food compare to Michelin restaurants in Europe?
Sadly, much of Europe’s food is served in the most soulless of restaurants by waiters who are weighed down by rules and regulations governing food service which were probably written 100 years ago! One of the reasons I have moved away from ‘fine dining’ is simply because it involves so much pomp and ceremony. You’ve got it just about perfect: fabulous food served in relaxed surroundings and stunning scenery, all with a smile. I am certain if you were to pick up The View restaurant and plonk it in the middle of London it would be awarded a Michelin star.
Did you learn anything about Asian cooking /ingredients during your trip?
I am a big fan of world cuisine. I love experiencing food from different cultures from all parts of the world but Thai cuisine is something special. Anyone visiting Soneva Kiri must go to Benz restaurant – in fact, it should be compulsory in the terms and conditions! I have eaten five or six truly memorable meals in my life, meals that stand out due to their imagination and flair, and Benz has joined that list (see Khun Benz profile below).
I have come back to the UK brimming with ideas – on my first day back we were ordering lime leaf, lemon grass, galangal and coriander. We will be squeezing ginger, bashing lemongrass and pummelling chillis all summer! So yes, I learned lots in the kitchens at Soneva Kiri and that inspiration will live on in my menus.
Did anything surprise you?
I loved the ethos of Soneva. Here at the Victoria we are fully committed to responsible sourcing of all ingredients from suppliers who maintain a strong commitment to ethical farming, fishing and food production. I am an ambassador for the RSPCA’s Freedom Foods Campaign and also for an organization called Compassion in World Farming so it was great to find these ideals in place at Soneva. I wasn’t expecting to see such genuine commitment but was pleasantly surprised.
What did you create for Soneva Kiri guests and what was your favourite dish?
The main focus of my visit was a six course gastronomic tasting menu which featured dishes that have appeared on my menus back in the UK. I was delighted that each event sold out and we had some good feedback.
Funnily enough the most quirky dish was also the biggest hit. As a pre-dessert I hollowed out some raw egg shells and filled them with a coconut mousse and in the centre I spooned a little passionfruit syrup and served it with a finger of toasted brioche – like boiled egg and soldiers!
The finest cooking in Thailand?
Paul Merrett was obviously wowed by the food at Benz, our traditional Thai restaurant at Soneva Kiri. The delightful Khun Benz is the cook behind its success. She first met Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, the founders of Soneva, by chance over 15 years ago at a roadside shack in Thailand. So impressed were Sonu and Eva that they persuaded her to come and cook full-time for them in the Maldives. After a long tenure at Soneva Fushi Khun Benz is now back in her native land, running Benz restaurant on Koh Kood, a beautiful stilted wooden building among the mangroves fringing Klong Yai Kee, accessible only by boat, lit only by lanterns and fireflies. There’s no menu; Khun Benz simply creates new dishes every day from whatever is freshest at the market. The freshest fish, the freshest meat, the freshest vegetables, the freshest herbs. There's nowhere quite like it on the planet, and no better cook in Thailand.
Michelin-starred chef Paul Merrett, noted restaurateur, gastropub champion and regular presenter of cookery programmes on the BBC, visited Soneva Kiri over Easter to cook for guests. We wanted to hear his expert opinion of the culinary offering at Thailand's most luxurious island resort.
British TV Presenter and Explorer
Soneva Kiri on the Thai island of Koh Kood spoils senses you never even knew existed. Set on an island surrounded by tropical forest you are marooned in luxurious style. The open bath and shower looking out onto the water and Cambodia beyond and the wrap around private swimming pool were beyond indulgent.
The no shoes or news policy soon slows the pace of life and before long I had lost track of the time of day. The sustainability of the resort is astonishing and it manages to feel like it has merely joined the landscape rather than overwhelmed or ransacked it. Trees have been left in their original positions (there was one coming through our bathroom) and the architects have merely worked around them.
Eating fresh produce grown on the island and fish sustainably caught from the ocean makes you feel like you are a part of the environment working with it rather than against it. Heavenly doesn't even begin to describe Soneva Kiri.
Astronaut – first space craft landing on the moon 1969
“My family and I love Soneva Kiri because there is so much to do here. You could keep coming back and still find something new. I know about the ‘No News’ idea, but I have stayed in touch a little with the world’s going on whilst here, but it’s wonderful how much less important the emails seem from here. That’s a good thing! We’ve all enjoyed the scuba diving, snorkeling and even washing down the elephants. It’s great to relax on holiday, as I have maintained a travel schedule that most twenty-year-olds would have a hard time matching.”
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Round the world Sailor – 1st to sail single-handed non stop around the world in 1969
“We have loved Soneva Kiri – it is a fabulous place. And it has been fantastic to meet Buzz, something I’ve wanted to do all my life, so I’m very grateful to Sonu for having given me that opportunity. I offered to take Buzz sailing, but he grinned at me as if to say he thought it would be a bit slow for him! Holidays are a rare occurrence for me and this one has been very special indeed.”
TV presenter and world adventurer
Did you enjoy Soneva Kiri? What did you love about it?
I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was better than I could possibly have imagined, the most beautiful villas with their own swimming pools. I loved the attention to detail and genuine kindness of the people there which is what truly made it a wonderful place to stay and a pure piece of paradise.
Is it a resort you would recommend for families and why?
I would definitely recommend it 100% to families; it’s a very kid friendly place. When we were there, there were loads of kids and there are tons of things for kids to do.
Did you think Soneva Kiri and the surrounding island Koh Kood are good for adventurous activities (eg kayaking on mangroves)?
There’s a lot to do, as well as sailing and diving there are also plenty of staff on hand to help you with canoes and explore the neighbouring island, with its stunning white sand palm clad beach.
Did you meet any interesting people at Soneva Kiri and how did that make you feel?
We met a couple of families while we were there who had the same age children as ours which was fantastic but as well as that I had the honour of having dinner with Buzz Aldrin, the pilot of the first spacecraft to land on the moon. He was fascinating. There’s definitely something for everybody on the island!