A three-starred chef puts Phuket on the global fine-dining map.
The most logical place to locate Iniala Beach House, Thailand's newest and most lavish retreat, would have been on Phuket's flashy "millionaire's mile" at Kamala Beach. But the flamboyant 10-bedroom seafront property is an hour's drive north along the Andaman coast, in the farming village of Baan Natai. Opened in December, the resort is the latest project of British philanthropist Mark Weingard.
Phuket isn't really considered a fine-dining destination, so it's also surprising that Iniala's restaurant, Aziamendi, is the first overseas outpost for one of Spain's hottest young chefs, Eneko Atxa. At 35, he's the youngest chef in Spain to receive three Michelin stars. Atxa eschewed the glitz of San Sebastián for a rural idyll in 2005 when he established Azurmendi in the mountains close to Bilbao.
In a similarly left-of-centre move he chose Phuket rather than Bangkok for his first offshore project. Atxa and his team - chef de cuisine Alex Burger, formerly of Daniel in New York, restaurant manager Behzad Davarkia and sommelier Fabien Etienne, both from Heston Blumenthal's Dinner in London - have devised a Thai-influenced Basque menu, served in a striking restaurant designed by Spanish architecture studio A-cero under a ceiling of timber waves.
Atxa, known for his playful creations, says his techniques at Aziamendi are simply tools to serve the ingredients, which are seasonal and sourced locally. "In Bilbao, our food is influenced by the environment around us - the mountains, the sea, the four seasons, the fresh produce in the markets," he says. "In Thailand, we have the sea right here, mountains nearby, different seasons and so much beautiful produce."
A minimum three-day "Gastronomy and Spa" package, including transfers, driver and vehicle, butler, chef, housekeeper, meals and spa treatments, costs from $11,500 per couple. Aziamendi is open to guests and non-guests; a 14-course tasting menu costs $250.