Samui Wining & Dining
Traditional Spanish tapas are still rare on Samui, but at The Cliff Bar & Grill you’ll find them in glorious profusion.

Traditional Spanish tapas are still rare on Samui, but at The Cliff Bar & Grill you’ll find them in glorious profusion.Usually governments seek to restrain bars from selling their wares, rather than encourage them, but forward-thinking King Juan Carlos I of Spain had the opposite idea. In order to solve the problem of inebriation in the populace, he decreed that alcohol could no longer be sold unless the drinker had something to eat as well. No more drinking on an empty stomach for his subjects. And that’s how tapas came into being. These small dishes of appetizing food were presented along with each drink. Go to Spain today, and you’ll find tapas on sale just about everywhere. In fact there are now tapas bars the world over.


Out here in Asia, however, tapas has become a far more eclectic proposition; it covers just about any kind of small mouth-watering snack, and so there are now tapas dishes that you’d never be able to find in Spain itself. Tapas can now include spring rolls and sushi as well as even more exotic ingredients. The original dishes have been lost in a welter of fusion, and as often as not, confusion.

It’s far more rare, though not quite unheard of, to find the real thing, genuine Spanish tapas. You may have to go far afield to find it. However, on Samui, it’s no problem at all; simply head for The Cliff Bar & Grill. It’s located south of Chaweng, conveniently set on the ring-road just a kilometre before you get to Lamai. You can’t miss it as it’s wellsignposted. The Cliff’s open daily from midday, with last food orders at 9:45 pm.Traditional Spanish tapas are still rare on Samui, but at The Cliff Bar & Grill you’ll find them in glorious profusion. Drinks continue till a lot later, and on Friday’s DJs play in The Cliff’s air-con cocktail bar. The tapas menu however is only served during the day from noon until 6:00 pm.


The kitchen team is headed by Chef Sergio Martelli, who is a maestro at creating the Mediterranean-style food you can enjoy at The Cliff. The tapas, however comes under the charge of a highly skilled Spanish chef, Nicolas Vicens. He grew up between Valencia and Alicante, an area renowned for its tapas. He started his training in the Basque country, in its capital, Bilbao, before completing an internship in a three-star Michelin restaurant in nearby Azurmendi. As such, he knows all about tapas!


A bit like sushi in Japan, tapas is a form of cooking that has evolved into a whole cuisine of its own. Just as there are sushi chefs, so there are tapas chefs who are specialists in their field. Nico is one of these, and his tapas, though they’re far from their source, remain faithful to their origins. Nico was on holiday on Samui and dropped into see Sergio and Lionel Helena, the manager at The Cliff. It’s not every day that a tapas chef appears on your doorstep, and so they were eager to see what he could do. Impressed by his skills they immediately hired him.


There’s a whole array of exquisite treats in store for you. You can enjoy ‘raviolis de rabo de toro’, or cow’s tail wrapped in ravioli and cooked to perfection in a red wine sauce. It may be a staple in Spain, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s a cinch to prepare. At The Cliff, Nico first marinates the dish for a couple of days in a mix of rosemary, black pepper, bay leaf and vegetables, and after that it’s carefully stewed for four to five hours, guaranteeing it’s extremely succulent. Not only that but Nico also takes out the bones, making it a less crunchy experience than the original and more rustic one would be.Traditional Spanish tapas are still rare on Samui, but at The Cliff Bar & Grill you’ll find them in glorious profusion.“The flavour,” he says, “is exactly the same as you would have in Spain, if you were eating the dish there.”


One of Spain’s all-time favourites is also on the menu: ‘patatas bravas’. It’s one of the most traditional Iberian foods. The potatoes come with a duo of sauces, alioli and the slightly pungent harrissa, which adds bite to the dish.


The presentation of the dishes is a little bit different to how it would be originally, and at times, some of the flavours have been changed and are more contemporary in style, but this is basically tapas as you’d experience it in a neighbourhood bar in Spain.


You’ll also find ‘gambas alajillo’ or Spanish sizzling prawns, done in garlic and olive oil, ‘almejas con ajo fresco y chilli’, or fresh garlic and chilli prawns and the popular ‘navajas ajo jengibre y lima’, or razor clams with garlic, ginger and lime. Portions are larger than they would be back in Spain, however, so you won’t need to order so many of them. You can either order dishes individually, or as tasty combinations.


In Spain’s tapas bars, you’ll normally find people standing up to eat tapas; the plates line the bar itself, and are constantly being replenished. Guests drink wine or beer while eating them and it’s all very informal. It’s often a very indoor experience. However, at The Cliff, the setting couldn’t be more different. The restaurant is light and airy, open to the breezes from outside. It overlooks Thong Takian Bay, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, and has amazing views. The Cliff also has a wonderful terrace (but make absolutely sure you book in advance if you want to be seated here).


You’re sure to enjoy eating here as its popularity has been vouchsafed by Thailand Tatler, with The Cliff being designated as one of the country’s best restaurants. Not only that, it has received numerous wine awards, and at the back of the restaurant you’ll find a passage lined with chilled bottles that come from an astonishing variety of sources. There are 140 different wines from all over the world, so there’s always plenty of choice.


Wine Spectator magazine awarded The Cliff with an award of excellence ‘for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world’.


What better than to enjoy traditional tapas and quality wines than at The Cliff, a wonderful restaurant perched high over one of Samui’s most beautiful bays?


 Dimitri Waring


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