Long associated with raucous beachfront nightlife, Phuket is playing catch-up with Bangkok when it comes to fine-dining options. Three years after the Michelin Guide expanded its coverage to the balmy island, only one restaurant has clinched the prestigious star, alongside a Green star for its sustainability efforts.
As more fine-dining restaurants open in Phuket, one hotly tipped name has been making its rounds among gourmands is Hom, which opened at the InterContinental Phuket in May. The innovative restaurant fuses two concepts that are well-played out in the fine-dining world: locavorism (or the use of local ingredients) and fermentation.
The resort in the upmarket Kamala beach area has high hopes for Hom to headline its dining offerings, which include modern Thai restaurant Jaras, which has received Bib Gourmand status. Hom occupies a stunning white palatial building, Sawaan Pavilion, which is reminiscent of a Thai temple, and sits at a focal point of the resort
Afterall, the hotel has brought in Portuguese chef Ricardo Nunes, who was the sous chef of one Michelin-starred progressive Thai-Chinese restaurant Potong in Bangkok. He has also clocked in fine-dining stints at the two-starred Ikoyi and Le Dame de Pic, both in London.
Fermentation is familiar ground for Nunes. “I have always been fascinated by the transformative power of fermentation,” he shares with The Peak. “That interest was strengthened during the pandemic when I spent a significant amount of time playing around with fermentation and analysing the impact it has on different ingredients.”
That explains why a towering library well-stocked with jars of fermented ingredients greet diners at the restaurant’s entrance. They can sip on a grass-engulfed glass of sour and tangy fermented passion fruit juice that sets the tone for the meal.
The shelves are a mere snapshot of more than 80 ingredients that the team is experimenting in the fermentation sphere. They include vinegars, peasos (or misos), shio kojis, pickled blackened fruit, preserves, infusions, and garums. Red kumquat syrup, pandan vinegar, red curry peasos, and pumpkin seed miso are the brainchild of Nunes and team. The fermentation process ranges from one or two weeks for sauerkraut to up to a year for miso.
Nunes also tinkles with the duration of the fermentation period to tease out the desired flavour profile of ingredients and enhances flavours in the 10-course Experience tasting menu (THB3,750 or S$142).
He explains: “What I love the most is the depth of flavour that can be achieved through using fermented ingredients. Fermented ingredients possess a complexity and richness that adds a whole new dimension to dishes.”
Besides fermentation, Nunes is using Hom as a platform to “embrace locavorism and showcase the incredible diversity of produce available in Phuket”. The team sources 90 per cent of the ingredients from Phuket, including the duck, wild boar, and lobster, while most of the seafood is caught off the Andaman Sea.
What I love the most is the depth of flavour that can be achieved through using fermented ingredients. Fermented ingredients possess a complexity and richness that adds a whole new dimension to dishes.Hom’s chef Ricardo Nunes
Celebrating Phuket’s local produce
One of the stand-out dishes, Coconut, Caviar, Salted Macadamia is an ode to coconuts, an ubiquitous sight in Phuket. The humble everyday ingredient is served in its bowl with a thin sliver of young coconut meat peppered with zesty kaffir lime leaves. Countering the sweetness is Hua Hin caviar and a dash of savouriness from the smoked salted macadamia sauce. Glance closely and you might just see bits of cured scoby, which mimics the texture of young coconut meat.
The Baby Squid and Tea Leaves spotlights fermented hmiang tea from Chiang Mai, where locals chew on it as a snack. The springy coils of squid are cooked in yeast butter and served with a fermented hmiang and squid broth. The bitter and sour notes from the tea is a superb foil to the sweetness of the squid.
Another intriguing dish is the Black Grouper, Cabbage and Pandan doused in frothy lacto-fermented green apple and pandan juice that straddles between sweet and sour. Adding a dose of earthiness to the dish is the tucupi glaze, which is an indigenous Amazonian sauce made from fermented yuca. The glaze also has cassava, ants, and local herbs added to it for a crisp and nutty touch.
The Rock Lobster and Kumquat Kosho is a winning combination. The shio koji glaze accentuates the sweetness of the lobster, while the bright citrus-like kumquat kosho gives a fiery uplift on the palate.
The main dish of Duck and Greens was born when Nunes discovered “a remarkable duck supplier during a visit to a local farmhouse”. The hulking slab of duck comes cured in aspergillus sojae and dry-aged for nine days to yield deeper flavours. The fork-tender duck is then smoked with sugar cane and grilled to an intoxicatingly smoky finish.
Nunes hopes to follow the microseasonality of Phuket ingredients more closely to maximise flavours from the produce for future editions of Hom’s tasting menu. He says: “I’ve realised that Thailand has an incredible amount of ingredients that have their own specific harvest periods, often lasting only a very short period of time. We will play with those to highlight the best of each micro-season.”