Patio Al Fresco, Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach Resort, Phuket, Thailand

Next time, I’m just going to eat local instead.

The aptly named Patio Al Fresco functions as the resort’s pool and seaside diner. Compared to Mosaic, it’s a significantly smaller eatery, and it’s overall a tad more casual. The indoor seating evokes the sensation of dining in a contemporary style wine cellar while the seating outside is typical “beachside” manner. Despite being an Italian restaurant, the non-Italian options outweigh the Italian ones two to one. There are only two pastas and three pizzas to choose from; a handful of familiar Italian sides and salad but that’s it. The rest of the repertoire includes a few Thai classics such as the minced chicken ball soup, Tom Yam soup, and a few western options such as burgers and sandwiches. Lunch was at our discretion, but four of us came together and we decided to each order something different to have a sample of the restaurant’s dishes.

We ordered two starters. The Bruschette which came in first, was woefully inadequate. Though toasted, it wasn’t crisp and tasted like it had been kept as a leftover from the breakfast buffet. Without any garnish of any sort on the loaf, not even butter, garlic or olive oil, the diced tomato sat there sparsely spiced. This is one dish that everybody can make, and so hard to get wrong, that it really started the meal rather negatively.

Fortunately, the Insalata Caprese was nearly flawless. A simple salad of buffalo mozzarella, sliced tomato, basil and a douse of olive oil, this light and refreshing course was invigorating perk-me-up on this hot and humid tropical day.

The Linguine Alla Marinara hit all the right technical notes, but was ultimately a let-down. Despite a pasta served perfectly al dente, and a generous portion of seafood including mussels, calamari rings, shrimp and fish, it was curiously too salty. With virtually no white wine, and far too little olive oil, the aglio olio was unimpressive. Not only was it salty, there was a hint of Thai fish sauce in it, which gave the Linguine a decidedly Asian flavor. Initially, I place the sodium to an insanely fresh seafood – Phuket, was after all, an island, and it had wide access to the abundance of the Andaman Sea at its doorstep – but it was ruled out after I was told that all of Phuket’s seafood comes through Bangkok. Either way, whether or not the Asian flavor was the intention or not doesn’t matter. There was no hint of it being Asian on the menu, and when the results don’t meet expectations, bad reviews come your way, particularly if the Executive Chef is a native Italian.

Expecting the pizza to falter, I was admittedly, not enthusiastic by now and ready to write Patio Al Fresco off as a place to not visit for any meal of any kind. The proposition of heading to old town or even Patong was now ever more alluring than ever. My taste compass had gone absolutely haywire. My soul hungered not for just something, but that extra something. I couldn’t sit there hearing anyone utter a compliment to the food, genuine or not. The pizza tried to atone for lunch but by then, it was too late. I’d be much more inclined to forgive it for the mistakes had I not heard that the Executive Chef was Italian. I could close an eye on the less than satisfying fare, going with the assumption that the local staff were thrown head first into the deep end of the pool, but the truth is out, and I can’t hide it.

Having just had a very unsatisfying meal, someone suggested we order desserts, which seemed like a really good idea at the time. So we ordered them to share, including a tartufo, panna cotta and a tiramisu. It’s not the best thing I’ve had, but it was still of decent quality. Writing this after the trip, I’ve the gift of hindsight, and I thought it was curious that when the same thing was served the very next evening at the barbecue dinner, it was nearing horrible. It wasn’t that bad, but when you look at the expenses paid to bring in an Italian chef, the presentation of the dishes and all, and the fact that it’s a five-star hotel, you do expect more. I wasn’t expecting five-star quality, all I was looking for is authenticity and a little professionalism.

Tiramisu

Tartufo

Panna Cotta

And that’s what this is all about. If a restaurant can have as many hits as there are misses, it’s not a problem of expertise, but quality control.

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