We arrived at Nikki Beach Koh Samui, Thailand, a little after lunch, and a little famished. We flew to Surat Thani with Thai Smile Airways. Because Surat Thani was on the mainland, we then had to take a bus and a catamaran to reach the island of Koh Smaui. Although we had a little snack on our Thai Smile flight, and I had some peanut M&Ms on the ferry, I was starving when we arrived.
Our friend, Scott, greeted us minutes after we arrived at the resort. He had been posting fabulous food photos on his Twitter account from the prior few days, having arrived at Nikki Beach Koh Samui a few days earlier than us. I had been a little jealous of his good eats, and hoped the feast would continue.
But, when I arrived I didn’t care what I ate, so long as it was in high volume. As I mentioned, I was a little famished.
We sat down at a table overlooking the Nikki Beach Koh Smaui pool, with the Gulf of Thailand in the distance. Chef Julian emerged at the table. A big guy, looking even bigger in his chef whites, with a scruffy beard and big smile. He asked what we wanted for lunch, we told him “Surprise us.”
Lunch at Nikki Beach Koh Samui
We started with something light. Grilled squid and zucchini with tomato, kalamata olives, and chorizo.The squid was perfectly cooked and the zucchini fresh. The best part was the chorizo. I was left at the end just picking off the pieces of perfectly grilled chorizo.
In fact, I kind of assumed that we would be limited to typical beach club fare. Club sandwiches. Beef burgers. Tuna sandwiches. The presentation alone on the grilled squid made me realize we were in for something special. Then, the tuna arrived.
One of Chef Julian’s specialities is tom yum tuna, with galangal, kaffir lime leaf, chilis, chili paste, and fish sauce. It was, essentially, all of the flavors of the Thai tom yum soup, but mixed in tuna tartare. It was so good, I was left scraping the plate. What I learned later is that Chef Julian is allergic to all seafood and fish, so he doesn’t even know how good his tuna was. He will make the sauce for the tuna to taste, and then have one of his cooks taste the final product.
Yes, I am sharing three photos of the tuna tartare. That’s how pretty, and delicious, it was.
Burgers at Nikki Beach Koh Samui
Chef Julian, noting that we were craving some western food, and in particular burgers, rose to the challenge with a series of sliders, each better than the last.
The first included Wagyu beef, with red onion jam, and whipped blue cheese, topped with home cured black pepper bacon. Scott couldn’t stop asking for the red onion jam. I don’t eat onions. They are one of the few things I don’t eat. And, although I wasn’t as infatuated with the jam as Scott was, I have to admit the jam had a pretty good flavor.
The second slider plate included Banh Mi burgers. The banh mi burgers were a Vietnamese interpretation of sliders, complete with pickled vegetables, including carrots and daikon, but flavored with lemongrass and pepper aioli. These were my favorite!
Although getting full, we asked for one more dish. Scott led the charge, and gluttony seemed to rule. Chef Julian complied with grilled prawns with Kho Yum, a curried rice salad. He served it alongside grilled barramundi set over fried morning glory. The entire plate was drizzled with a creamy panang curry sauce.
Our desserts included a deconstructed banoffee, which included bananas and chocolate cookies, topped with salted caramel, fresh whipped cream, and walnuts. I love anything with salted caramel, and this was no exception.
To keep things “healthy” the chef served a passion fruit mousse with lime and rum macerated berries.
Inspiring a Chef?
When we first sat down to eat this mega meal, it seemed that the service was a bit slow. Even Scott commented on it, and I certainly noticed that other tables received their food a lot quicker. We found out after our meal that Chef Julian was preparing each dish specially for us, which was why it was taking longer than normal.
What was most interesting was that Chef Julian had just come off a few weeks break, where he wasn’t cooking. And, when he returned to the kitchen he was cooking the Nikki Beach Koh Samui menu. Although they often supplement the menu with special dishes, they do so less in the off season, when we were visiting. I felt special that Chef Julian was creating dishes for us.
After this first lunch with Chef Julian, we dined at Nikki Beach Koh Samui for dinner as well. This time, with Scott’s friend who owns and manages luxury villa rentals in Koh Samui. I was still stuffed from lunch, which started around 2 and ended at 4. For dinner, the four of us just snacked on some additional sliders, with a repeat of the Wagyu blue cheese sliders, and some other treats. The highlight of the evening though, was Chef Julian’s version of an Italian American treat we grew up with in New Jersey: zeppolis. Deep fried dough, covered in powdered sugar. Think Italian beignets.
But, these were not just any old zeppolis. Chef Julian calls them the ultimate milk and cookies because the zeppolis were stuffed with Oreo cookies and served with thick, warm milk. Oh my goodness. Talk about comfort food.
Towards the end of the meal, and after our zeppolis, we celebrated National Donut Day with a true surprise. Story to follow.
Then, we just chatted with Chef Julian. He mentioned his time away from the kitchen and that he was enjoying himself, cooking for us. He tested new dishes and walked away from the regular menu for a bit. He was so giddy that he even said “I’m gonna go home and think about what to feed you guys tomorrow.” Even though we had just met, I could tell he meant it. That we were inspiring him to push himself a little more in that kitchen, just for us. I loved seeing his passion.
Throughout the rest of our stay at Nikki Beach Koh Samui, we ate more great food from Chef Julian. Although his speciality is really creating western comfort food, like we saw in the sliders, he also cooks amazing Thai food, often with a contemporary twist.
For a more Thai inspired meal during one particular lunch, we started with chicken wings. You might not think this is a Thai dish, but it’s possible to find fried chicken wings on almost every street corner in Bangkok. Chef Julian’s version laced the wings with sweet chili sauce, lime juice, lemongrass, sesame seeds, sesame oil, herbs, and chunks of garlic.
He made traditional fried spring rolls, but with curry sauce inside.
His pad ka-prao, included tender beef with fresh basil, which he took from Nikki Beach’s roof top garden.
We finished our Thai lunch with a traditional nam tok, or beef salad, but cooked with black Angus ribeye instead of the typical Thai beef. He coated the beef in toasted rice, and tossed it in mint, coriander, chilis, and fish sauce. It was tender, sweet, and spicy.
All together, eating at Nikki Beach Koh Samui was my favorite part of the trip. Well, that, and hanging with our friends. The room was great, and the pools were fun. But, frankly, it was low season, and it rained a bunch. So long as Chef Julian was happy to cook for us, though, I was in hog heaven. I only hope he can expand the current menu, to include some of these amazing dishes as occasional specials. To let his passion truly shine through.
Listen to our interview with Chef Julian on Episode 5 of the With Husband In Tow Podcast.
We were hosted by Nikki Beach Koh Samui for our weekend stay, but all opinions and yummy sounds are, as always, my own. You can follow Chef Julian Pou on Instagram and Twitter. We were also supported by Thai Smile Airways, who flew us to Surat Thani, on the mainland close to Koh Samui.
For more on dining in Thailand, see our Southeast Asia Food Travel Guide.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.