During our days at Salinda, the five-star luxury resort and spa on Phu Quoc Island, I had the chance to try an assortment of specialities, prepared by the fabulous chefs of Salinda Restaurant.
The restaurant is on the ground floor, right below the picturesque Phu Quoc honeymoon villas. Its decoration is tasteful and the open kitchen is spacious and well lit. The first joy upon entering the restaurant (and admiring a part of the largest wine collection of Phu Quoc Island) is to watch the masters at work. Whether you sit inside or outside, or even dine by the pool or on the beach, every location has its own charm. Just pick the corner you enjoy the most. And since we were just talking about the cozy honeymoon villas, there is room service as well.
Like all the other staff members at Salinda, the waiters and waitresses carry open smiles naturally. Since I am receptive to chatting, we had great conversation at times. Mostly about food of course, but also about Vietnam and, surprisingly, about the gardens of our respective hometowns, where mothers or aunts grow fruit and vegetables.
Honestly, there is nothing better for breakfast than a coffee and a smile.
Vietnam, Italy and India - Salinda’s culinary triumvirate
A look into the menu shows three distinct cuisines, each one brought into the restaurant by a native master chef of his trade:
The Vietnamese executive chef puts the best dishes of Vietnam on the menu. Mango salad, banana flower salad, braised pork belly, grilled grouper in banana leaves and many more.
The Vietnamese cuisine at Salinda restaurant is actually the most popular among foreign and native tourists on Phu Quoc Island. Of course, it’s Vietnam! Foreign tourists want to experience Vietnamese cuisine as a part of their visit, and Vietnamese couples and families love to taste the high-end options of their country’s amazing food.
The Italian chef is responsible for the marvelous Italian salads, desserts and pasta dishes. Personally, I consider Italian cuisine some of the best of Europe. In my Austrian hometown, we have a selection of excellent restaurants, run by Italian families. So it does not come as a surprise that the Italian items on the menu got my attention immediately. I mean how to better test the quality of food than to compare it with something you already know by heart and stomach?
I guess it is also no surprise when I tell you, the chef at Salinda restaurant can stand proud before mamma and papa of every family-owned restaurant I know.
And now we come to the third man of the culinary triumvirate at Salinda Restaurant. The Indian chef. While I consider Italian cuisine as some of the best of Europe, Indian food, in my opinion, is some of the best in the world. In the past six millennia, the cooks, chefs and housewives of the subcontinent have created and perfected flavors like no other culture. And here at Salinda restaurant, we meet a master of his trade.
The wine sortiment
Before I start to focus on the marvelous dishes, which we had the privilege to sample, I would like to take a look at the extensive wine menu. Salinda resort has two perfectly tempered wine storages with 1,200 bottles in total. I am not a sommelier, but the collection is impressive. Reds, whites, and rosés from all over the world. I see names that I only know from James Bond movies.
I see a Cabernet Sauvignon from Château Margaux in France, a Shiraz from Penfolds Grange in South Australia and even Grüner Veltliner from Weingut Prechtl in Austria’s Weinviertel.
What an amazing collection!
By the way, for breakfast, they offer an amazing buffet that satisfies every culinary wish from the morning until it’s time to head for lunch. Unfortunately we did not try the breakfast. But the espresso was good and strong, the perfect kick I needed in the morning.
But now, without further ado, let’s get to business and discuss the dishes I tried at Salinda restaurant.
Meals at Salinda restaurant
On the first day for dinner, I ordered:
Grilled, line-caught grouper in banana leaves
I was actually really surprised to find pumpkin soup on the five-star specialities menu, but since it’s one of my favorite soups and a little private signature dish of mine, I had to try it. And it was amazing, how a skilled chef can transform a simple dish into something mouthwatering and delicious. The surprise was a big and butter-soft scallop, and the whole taste experience was rounded with candied ginger and olive oil.
The fish was a well-rounded flavorful gift from Thien Hau the goddess of the sea, wrapped in fresh banana leaves. When I opened the banana leaf package, the refreshing scent of lemongrass caressed my nose, and the taste did not stand behind! One of the great things I discovered since I came to Southeast Asia are the banana leaves. They lock in all the flavors of a dish and perfectly distribute the heat, so especially fish cooks equally and stays juicy. Opening a banana leaf package that contains Vietnamese food is one of the great joys every gourmand should experience once in a while.
I love making strawberry tiramisu, and my friends love eating it – if they can get some, that is. So naturally, I picked this dish to compare tastes and steal... I mean, get inspired by how a five-star chef creates tiramisu. It was beautiful and creamy and sweet and the homemade sauce tasted of a thousand ripe strawberries... Just delicious and yes, addictive.
At the restaurant of Salinda Resort and Spa, they buy the ingredients as fresh and local as possible. What the chefs cannot buy on Phu Quoc Island, they try to get from other places in Vietnam. For example, they are in a partnership with organic farmers in Da Lat. Only if the resources can't be found in Vietnam at all, they import.
On the second day, I had a delicious lunch as follows:
Penne pesto? You might say I am weird, ordering penne pesto when I could have had steak, seafood or other five-star dishes. Let me tell you something: creating a good pesto requires a mix of culinary high-end science, experience and a good measure of love for cooking. Well... sort of. I guess the love for cooking alone can create a good pesto, but without it, there is no way.
As a matter of fact, I had good pesto such a long time ago, that I barely remembered the taste. And how to test an Italian chef other than with pasta? So, the penne were al dente as it is the proper way of cooking them. You could taste the freshness of the ingredients of highest quality. Basil, olive oil, pignoli... and a few things the master added as a friendly nod towards Vietnam. Chopped cashews for example, and they fit well. It was more than delicious pasta. Basta.
Now that chocolate cake was very, very chocolaty. To call it a dream would be not quite right, because the firm consistency and strong chocolate taste made it a grounded, powerful dessert. To compare it to yesterday's dessert at Salinda restaurant, the strawberry tiramisu was a cloud, light and fluffy. The chocolate cake was a mountain, but one of the sort you love to climb, and would love to climb at least twice a week. It was accompanied by a scoop of homemade, fresh and marvelous vanilla ice cream. So good!
For dinner on the second day, I decided to challenge the Indian chef by ordering:
Chicken tikka masala
Black currant sorbet with Phu Quoc pepper
The samosas were like little, triangular pillows. When I opened them, they revealed fragrant, soft vegetable fillings, seasoned to perfection. It is hard to describe, but I started smiling when I took the first bite, and I smiled all the time during the whole meal. I don't know what it is, that makes me love Indian food so much, the spices, the way they prepare the dishes, the flavors, enhancing and supplementing each other until everything tastes so... whole?
Now, tikka masala is one of my favorites of all time and the chef at Salinda restaurant met all my expectations by pampering my taste buds with this wonderful dish. It was actually a bit sweeter, finer and rounder in the taste than I had expected, because I am used to the Southern style of Indian cuisine, which is a bit more rustic. The lemon chutney was the first of its kind I ate and its spicy, zesty taste complemented the full gravy of the masala. This dish left me speechless.
And even more!
I know, I know... All of you wonder what on earth can top the chicken tikka masala at Salinda restaurant. The answer is nothing. But one dessert is so rich and intense in it's unique composition, that it is more than worthy to be admitted into this succession of culinary delights.
Imagine a sorbet from fresh and ripe black currants. Now that in itself is a taste like no other, but combine this strong flavor with the aromatic, warm and round feeling of ground, black Phu Quoc pepper.
Have I ever tasted anything better?
Well, leaving the cooking skills of my mother and grandmother aside - I mean nothing can ever match grandma's kettle - the kitchen at Salinda five-star luxury resort can match most of my favorite, dedicated restaurants in Saigon and other places where I have lived.
Why didn't I sample more Vietnamese dishes?
Oh, I would have loved to! Even if I recently read a rather sad post by some food critic, who did not think too well of Vietnamese food, I still believe that Vietnam has some unique and amazing flavors and kitchen styles to introduce to our culinary universe.
Especially fresh ingredients and seafood are an area where Vietnamese chefs can teach the world. But my purpose was to test and challenge the kitchen at Salinda restaurant on Phu Quoc island. And I can only compare things I know.
Also, I was not alone. My colleague, Mr. Thoai sampled an array of Vietnamese dishes, and he loved them!
Salinda restaurant belongs to the Salinda five-star luxury resort, but it’s open to the public and not just to resident guests. The food is amazing, so if you are traveling to beautiful Phu Quoc Island, drop by and book a table for a masala. Believe me, it’s delicious!
More about Phu Quoc Island
While you are enjoying your stay at Salinda Resort, you may also want to take a look at the beautiful Phu Quoc Island and the many attractions there.