Dining Solo in Santiago – fine dining at Borago

Dining solo in Santiago – Borago

Staying on in Santiago for a few days after my travelling companions depart gives me a wonderful opportunity to try out some of Chile’s finest food and drink, as well as testing Chilean service attitudes to solo diners. And Borago, rated in the top 50 South American restaurants, does not disappoint. One of the nicest touches is being seated with a clear view of the kitchen at work – combine this with the conversation with the staff around every plate (and bottle) as they were brought out and described one by one, and for once there was no need of the solo diner’s crutch, the book to read between courses.

I loved each and every plate, the great intensity of flavours plus the humour of the plating –  if I had to pick favourites from this night, they would be both the savoury and sweet mushroom dishes and the conger eel.

Starting with the snacks

The degustation is described as 10 dishes, but that doesn’t include the 6 “snacks” offered first, in two sets of three.

The first includes a potted cactus breadstick made from black lipped oysters; abalone and seaweed between crunchy papery thin crackers; and the unusual local shellfish, piure, filled with mandarine.

The second is a dish call “pig in stone” including a crackling cracker; a pate filled bricohe made to look like a popular breakfast sweet; and a take on the standard marraqueta (bread roll) and pepper paste, including a layer of ash on the paste, with the bread roll coming in a paper bag, as though I’m about to take it to work for lunch. With the snacks came Laurent Zapphire, Viognier 2013, D.O. Padre Hurtado.

Starting the main menu:

  1. Crudo of Venison from Patagonia (Deer tartare) was almost hidden under its forest of standing edible leaves – with a glass of Aquitania, Sol de Sol, Chardonnoir, 2010, D.O. Malleco.
  2. Salad of Plants from the Andes includes tiny apples and fermented quinoa, with a side of frozen snow – with Zarander Muscat, 2011, D.O. Itata.
  3. Chupe of Wild Pine Mushrooms is the most intensely rich flavoured mushroom pate, with mushroom crackers and edible wild leaves – with Polkura, G+ 1, Syrah, 2010, D.O. Marchigue, Colchagua.
  4. the Quails Nest is the most spectacular plating, with the edible nest, straw and egg nestled into a small tree, bonsai style.

    The menu then moves into the “rock sequence” with:

  5. Cremoso of rock plants, samphire/sea asparagus,  – with Koyle, Costa, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, D.O. Colchagua.
  6. Conger Eel (a saltwater eel from the ocean) in Quintay cooked with the blackened wrapping layer on the left, with a strong fishy paste covering the rock on the right – with Close Des Fous, Pucalan Arenaria, Pinot Noir, 2013 D.O. Aconcagua Costa.
  7. Veal in milk from a specific farm in Parral, – with  Re, Syragnan, Ensamblaje 2012, D.O.Casablanca

     And then the desserts

  8. Camanchaca and Rica Rica from Atacama – the coastal fog (camanchaca) inspires the egg in the atacama bush, while the the pink Rica-Rica flowers cover a sweet yoghurt dessert log among the stones.
  9. White Strawberries from Puren with sheeps milk ice-cream and an acidic herbal frozen snow – with Erasmo, Late Harvest, Torrontel 2010, Maule Leche de Alpiste-Melisa
  10. And the dessert of Pine Mushrooms – yes, a mushroom ice-cream, it is sweet, rich and delicious, with a sand of nuts and spices – with a Gonzales Bastias, Matorral, pais 2012, D.O. Maule Ulpo de Almendras – Safas.
  11. plus the surprise ‘frio glacial’, which looks like a spoon of ice-cream, and sends frozen vapour out your mouth and nose, a nice chocolately-mint to freshen at the end, you can’t help but laugh.

     

     

What (and where) has been your favourite “great food, great price” restaurant find in your travels?

 

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, I paid full price for this meal, and at $99 including matching wines it has to be the steal of the century! see here for my full disclosure policy

Kata Yai – the best beach in Phuket

Imagine opening the door to your balcony, stepping out into the humid night air, lowering yourself down the pool ladder and submersing yourself into the deliciously cool water of the black tiled infinity pool, with tiny colourful night lights in the bottom. When they call this a “pool access” room they really mean it, and after a nine hour flight arriving in the middle of the night, this is the perfect antidote.
I have arrived at SugarPalm Grand Hillside in Kata Beach, which is just south of Karon and Patong, on Phuket Island. Not only do the rooms cascade down the hillside at the southern end of the beach, so do a total of eleven black tiled pools, with the water flowing between each level via waterfalls. My room opens directly into the one with the swim up bar – for a random internet booking, this could not have worked out any better. The benefit of coming in the low season is that great hotels are really cheap.

the black pools at Sugar Palm Grand Hillside, Kata Yai, Phuket
the black pools at Sugar Palm Grand Hillside, Kata Yai, Phuket

Kata Beach, the perfect Thai beach?

Kata Beach is the archetypal curve of white sand and turquoise waters of Thailand. It’s on the west coast of Phuket, looking out to the Andaman sea, so the seas can reputedly get large and dangerous in the monsoon months from May to October. But I am in luck this year, its unseasonably good weather, nothing but sunshine for the first seven days of May and then only a couple of midnight rains since, not the daily thunderstorms expected this time of the year. It is however, intensely hot and humid.

The ocean is a lagoon most days, and deliciously warm at 31 C but still cooler than the sun. Kata is not as overdeveloped as many Thai beaches, but this is not the place for a desert island fantasy. There is a continuous line of sun-lounges under the palms from one end of the beach to the other, but the rest of the sand is open for all. “Lady, lady, wanna massage, buy watch, coconut, sarong…” is always going to be a constant refrain, but a polite no thanks and they happily move to the next sun-lounge.

beach at Kata Yai, Phuket
beach at Kata Yai, Phuket

My only complaint is that the beautiful clarity of water makes it impossible to ignore the rubbish left behind by at least some of the tourists – a regular tide of cans, bottle, plastic wrap, chocolate wrappers, even cigarette lighters wash past each time you swim.

It’s so hot that the day turns into a series of swims – pool, breakfast, beach, pool, beach, pool, until its time for sunset drinks and dinner and probably another late night swim. Most of the development is on the two headlands at either end of the beach, because a gigantic Club Med sprawls over the flat in the middle – including golf course and circus aerial trapeze lessons. I find it amusing that the “girly bar” area of Kata (very mild compared to Patong) runs right along the street behind Club Med, very family friendly indeed. On the headlands there is a fine selection of tailors, massages (about $10 for an hour of reflexology), shops, bars and restaurants.

My favourite food and cocktails in Kata Beach:

  • Best beer – a cold Singha in a stubby holder during happy hour in the swim up bar (happy hour somewhat strangely being between noon and 4pm)
  • Most refreshing cocktail: the Boathouse Lemonade – run, triple sec, lime juice, blended with ginger and mint, topped with soda water
  • Best Mojitos (note: too many Thai bars ruin cocktails by adding lots of extra sugar, the following ones didn’t): Kata BBQ – perfect beachside table to watch the sunset and extra marks for the fresh prawn crisps; Boathouse – luxe sunset watching and a very civilised Mojito; Bella Vista, on a treehouse platform above the rocks on the south end of the beach, this superstrength mojito I dedicate to Rach and Dennis, as after one of these delicious “Cuban pour your own” superstrength drinks, you may not be able to get back down the stairs again.
  • Best Iced Coffee- the Italian Job – great for icecream too.
  • Worst for Icecream, the Tangerine with iberry icecream, next to the Kata Hotel – the icecream smelled of fish and tasted of bitter chemicals – avoid at all costs.
  • Best all round ambience: Dino Park –this dinosaur themed “Fred Flintsone meets Tiki Bar” food/drink/mini golf emporium should be terrible but it is brilliant. At the north end of beach on the headland to Karon, it has “rock” tables and chairs scattered amongst rain forest, fish ponds, bridges, an erupting volcano and dinosaur skeletons, with staff in Fred Flintstone uniforms. The top of the trees emit a cooling mist to combat the heat. There’s a great selection of cocktails and good local food, reasonably priced. I still don’t know how, or why, but there was a young elephant wandering around the bar last night. Yes, a real one, and no, I was still on my first drink!
  • Best Pork with Hot Chilli Basil – Bella Vista wins hands down, they do an excellent spicy version
  • Best food any day, any time – banana pancakes, from any of the roadside stalls, always perfect

    Chatachuk market, Phuket
    Chatachuk market, Phuket

Kata Noi – the other half of Kata Beach.

A five minute walk over the headland south of Kata Yai is Kata Noi, a smaller very quiet bay with a handful of upmarket resorts, the beach, and not much else. It’s a great bay to escape to for uncrowded sunbathing and swimming. And on the rocky headland between sits Mom Tri’s Kitchen. This is a great stopping off point for a cooling drink or a lunch on some of the best food in the area – it’s the “little sister” to the Boathouse restaurant and is much better value.

Phuket: Best market

It is possible to shop while lying on the beach, and on every road near every beach on Phuket, all touts and stalls selling pretty much the same stuff. But the hands down winner is the huge Chatuchak night market held Saturday and Sunday from 4.30pm to 10pm. All the other night markets in Phuket pale into insignificance when compared to the 1000+ stalls at this weekend market on the outskirts of Phuket Town -it has everything you’ve seen before and a whole lot more. On the edge of the market are an amazing array of food stalls, perfect for dinner, while the circular open bar right in the middle of the market is a great place for a refreshing beer break half way through. Come early as it gets really, really busy as the night goes on.