Beaches, the Big Buddha and backpackers: once upon a time, these were the calling cards of Koh Samui, Thailand's second largest island. As of mid-December, travellers have a new, deeply compelling reason to brave the crowds on the tourist destination: Long Dtai, the latest restaurant opening from Australian-born, best tattoo-free chef nominee and Thai food authority, David Thompson.
Translating to "heading south", the restaurant's name is both a geographical reference for Bangkok-based Thompson (Koh Samui is an hour south by air from the Thai capital) as well as a statement of intent.
"Southern Thai cooking is rich with coconut, coloured with turmeric and redolent with shrimp paste and a slap of chilli," says Thompson. "We'll be doing seafood mainly plus a smattering of local chicken, pork and vegetable dishes."
The restaurant quietly launched on 14 December with a tight eight-dish opening menu zeroing in on quality rather than quantity. There are a couple of meaty options – the minced pork and green peppercorn curry, say, but seafood is the focus. Think skewers of grilled mussels, betel leaf-wrapped miang parcels cradling gapi (shrimp paste), and a rich, fragrant curry of coconut and turmeric with mashed prawns, a dish already in rotation at Thompson's Long Chim restaurant in Perth.
Running the kitchen is Yingyod "Ommo" Raktham, a long-time Thompson collaborator who's relocating to Koh Samui after overseeing the now-shuttered Long Chim in Singapore's Marina Bay Sands. Just as Long Chim remains faithful to the streets of Bangkok, Thompson and Raktham want Long Dtai to be in the spirit of its breezy island home.
"It's casual, easy-going food where you're not confronted by too much choice," says Thompson. "Southern Thailand has such a rich culinary tradition and I will do my utmost to present the best of it."
Long Dtai is the showcase diner of Cape Fahn, a five-star hillside resort located on two private islands off Choeng Mon Beach in the island's north-east. Private pools come standard with each of the resort's 22 sala-inspired villas while green-thinking is a recurring theme (Long Dtai pledges to only serve line-caught fish). Plastic straws and bottles are banned on the island, recycled water is used on the garden, and the on-site spa uses organic products in its treatments - all of which are very good reasons to book the next flight out to Koh Samui.