“Set in a stunning traditional northern Thai house, Black Ginger offers diners a unique, enchanting experience. Upon arrival, a raft carries guests across a blue-lit lagoon, tracing a journey back to the Ayutthaya period, to the cocktail bar for a welcoming drink,” is how the Michelin guide describes this fine-dining modern Thai restaurant.
To get a feel of this eatery, I have booked the final dinner of my Phuket trip there. As I approach it, Black Ginger seems to float above the tropical lagoon that encircles it.
Housed under an all-black, arched roof, its wooden stilted structure is done up in the traditional royal Ayutthaya-style sala architecture of Thailand. As the guide states, it is accessible only by a bedecked wooden raft, that’s pulled across by a boatman from the main entrance foyer—one that features a stone pathway flanked on either side by backlit warrior shields.
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Part of The Slate hotel, which stands along Phuket’s Nai Yang Lagoon Beach, Black Ginger with its THB 3,000 (around ₹7,500) per person, dinner-only degustation menu is clearly an “occasion restaurant”. In fact, it was recently voted as one of the Top 10 Best Special Occasion Restaurants in Thailand at the first ever Asia’s Best Awards 2022 by Travel+Leisure magazine. It was also certified by the Michelin Guide in 2021 and 2022. The cocktails are not part of the degustation menu and need to be ordered separately.
I am welcomed into the main restaurant by the hostess and her army of ever-smiling servers. I am informed that the black silk peddle pusher and halter top uniforms, which the ladies sport, have been inspired by the outfits of Lady Chan and Lady Mook from Phuket, who led the fight against Burmese intruders over two centuries ago. Such subtle nuances reveal themselves as I am offered a cold towel scented with champaka and ginger oils out of a conical topped wooden container called a pa-op, which was used in ancient times to store trinkets.
The restaurant gets its name from a particular type of black ginger that’s been used as both food and medicine for over a thousand years in Thailand. It is helmed by Chef Anongrat ‘Piak’ Meklai, a Phuket native with almost three decades of cooking experience. Each of the three courses reflects Thailand’s unsung cuisine from its Andaman coast. These regional culinary genres are often overshadowed by the more popular and tourist-friendly central and southern Thai ones.
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I sip on a signature cocktail called The Hidden Petals. Sent from the equally dark, standalone ‘bar mansion’ that sits on the deck next to the raft’s docking station, this libation is the delicious sum of its Phraya rum, passion fruit juice and jasmine syrup parts.
It goes perfectly with my appetisers platter—one that sees a duo of the tempura-like bua tod and por pia sod Phuket jostling for space. While the former is a tasty, if a tad oily, dish of deep fried cha-plu or betel leaves and tiger prawns with a sweet-spicy side sauce (served in the hollow of an upturned rose petal), the latter is a derivative of a Fujianese-style fresh spring roll stuffed with minced pork and mushrooms, brought to Phuket by immigrants from China’s Fujian province.
I notice more such foreign influences in my main course dishes such as the moo hong braised pork with star anise and cinnamon. This one is a dead ringer for the Nyonya pork stew called tau you bak from nearby Penang in Malaysia and also for the Shanghainese hong shao rou. But what’s uniquely Thai and more so Phuket is the full-bodied, rustic crab jungle curry with zesty betel leaf, called gaeng pou bai cha-plu, which is served to me with a side of fragrant pandan rice.
Providing a final dramatic ending to an almost-symphonic evening is my tripartite dessert course, which is a sight to behold. The turquoise blue (derived from the butterfly pea) rice flour dumplings with coconut flesh and lashings of coconut milk make up the restaurant’s signature dessert bua loy ma praow onn. The blushing pink oh aeiw banana jelly on shaved ice and drizzled with magnolia champaka flower syrup is served with a side of history. Apparently, this refreshing dessert was introduced by Hokkien Chinese settlers who made Phuket their home during the boom in the tin mining industry, which lasted from the mid 19th century right up to the early 20th century.
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The final bites before my raft ride back to reality are of the luk chup gub foi thong, served alongside a steaming pot of smoky, fermented pu-erh tea. These exquisite miniature fruits and vegetables are fashioned out of malleable, sweet mung bean paste and then dipped in an agar agar mirror glaze for a shiny finish. These tiny morsels of perfection expertly reference the same crazy attention to detail that seems to be a leitmotif of this place.