By Maciek Klimowicz
Since its arrival to Phuket just three years ago, Iniala has established itself as the pinnacle of the island’s hospitality. The celebratory birthday dinner, served recently at its newly opened Esenzi restaurant, made that even more clear.
It’s been just two weeks since Esenzi opening, and as staff at Iniala told me, some finishing touches are still being put on the experience. However, haven’t they informed me about it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. The fine dining experience I had the pleasure of enjoying at Esenzi, was a complete one, and one to remember.
What was announced as a three course dinner paired with three wines, turned into a full-on dining session, filled with surprises and excitement. The focus was – not surprisingly – on seafood. Though Esenzi features some non-seafood items on its a la carte and degustation menus, it’s the flavours of the ocean that takes the first place at the restaurant, whose name rhymes with “the essence of the sea”.
And a truly seaworthy experience it was, comparable to taking a dive in an ocean. It begun at the surface, with simpler dishes and straightforward honest flavours, and went deeper with every plateful, getting more complex and sophisticated over time. The opener – an amuse-bouche taking the form of a kumamoto Oyster with a touch of caviar, set the bar high for the rest of the evening with its flavour which was nothing less than the pure essence of the ocean. The dishes that followed, including a plate of Dutch harbor king crab salad with heirloom tomatoes and a wild Bali Hamachi collar dipped in clam chowder, took the guests even further into the deep blue sea.
As at Esenzi’s predecessor, the revered Aziamendi restaurant, wine pairings authored by sommelier Fabien Etienne were as big part of the experience as the food itself. Pairing wines with Chef’s Tim Butler’s inventive flavour combinations must have been a challenge, but Etienne reached for wines from some lesser known wine regions and grape varieties, that not just matched the food, but elevated it. One memorable pairing was a glass of a slightly nutty Portuguese Redoma Nieport served with crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside Hamachi fish, though according to Etienne, the most challenging pairing that evening, was that of succulent monk fish served with oxtail and polenta. A pinot noir from Santa Barbara he selected, suited the complex concoction of flavours perfectly.
Last to land on our table was the dessert of caramelized banana with salted caramel ice cream, paired with apricot-scented sweet wine from the Basque Country. The delicate aftertaste left by the ice cream, brought to mind that salty taste you find lingering in your mouth when you take a deep breath by the ocean.
Iniala hails its Esenzi restaurant as an “immersive dining experience”, and those who attended the resort’s birthday dinner, know that it’s more than just talk. That evening’s immersion in Esenzi flavours was as refreshing as a swim in the ocean. If this is what they can do two weeks after the opening, we can’t wait for the surprises that await in the future.
Find out more on esenzirestaurants.com