With a birthday on the menu in the explorekohchang camp, it was time for a day off and a long lesiurely lunch by the sea. Time, indeed, to revisit an old favourite, Saffron on the Sea down in Pearl Beach, one of Koh Chang’s very best Thai restaurants.
Pearl Beach is an understated, pretty area of the island between White Sand Beach and Chai Chet, with a few resorts, the island Post Office, the main Tesco’s and a shingle beach. Saffron sits at the end of a little street off the main road in a charming location down on the rocks, its restaurant area either on the sun terrace or up on a small wooden deck. There are a few rooms to rent in the garden too and overall, the spot has a lovely air of relaxed calm, with the ocean as its backdrop.
Saffron is not a big restaurant and on our visit, we had the place to ourselves, what you would expect on a lunchtime in the lowest of low season; come back in high and it’s always nicely busy with a contented hum of diners. As we pored through the menu – it’s long as they serve food from breakfast onwards – Birthday Girl got the ball rolling with a Caipirinha made with local rum, sparky, fun and hitting the mark.
We started with fresh spring rolls, por pia sod, a delicate appetiser of tofu, shredded lettuce and cabbage, wrapped in uncooked rice paper, served with a simple peanut sauce. The dish looked as fresh and summery as it is tasted.
The main event was a centerpiece of white snapper cooked in 3 flavour sauce, pla sam rot. The 3 flavours in question are the essential Thai tastes of salty, sweet and sour, here provided by fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind. Chillies are added to give some fire to proceedings with handfuls of fresh or crisply fried sweet basil leaves as garnish. The presentation was wonderfully contrived with the fish posed as though swimming, the cooking top notch, crispy skin, firm white flesh, a rich sauce to spoon on every mouthful.
We accompanied that with a Thai seafood salad, so often a disappointment as kitchens skimp on the ingredients, offering up prawns and squid pieces only and then swamp things in an an overly spiced dressing. Saffron’s version, listed as paar in the menu and served in a banana leaf, was spot on, throwing caution to the wind and piling up generous chunks of fish and a good few scallops too. Fungus mushrooms were another great surprise in among the shallots and seafood, with the whole dish lightly coated in their perfectly balanced lemon grass, chilli and lime dressing.
A prawn spicy coconut soup, tom yam goong, was our final choice, a favourite of Thais and tourists alike. The broth, with its deep taste provided by galangal, chilli, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, was awash with chunky, firm, tasty prawns, straw mushrooms and the odd Thai cherry tomato, halved. This was a classic dish executed properly and served spicy hot as requested, its fiery kick contrasting our other two mains as intended. Jasmine rice came by the plate.
The Thai owner of Saffron on the Sea is a delightfully exuberant character who arrived on Koh Chang’s shores some 15 years ago, having previously lived in Australia working as a chef. Here, on the island, he has imbued his kitchen staff with all his expertise and panache, ensuring that the food they are preparing, cooking and presenting is of the highest quality. Make no mistake, this is a very good restaurant indeed and one against which other aspiring Koh Chang restaurants will need to judge themselves if they want to eat at the top table.
The Birthday Girl finished the meal as she started with another cocktail, this time a powerful, palate cleansing mojito, before we headed off, back over the mountain down the coast to home. Pleased as punch in fact with our choice of Saffron on the Sea as the day’s venue.
The bill was 1,200bt.