By Marie Moon
We were just in-between delectable bites of vegetable croquettes
and Spanish tortilla when the lights were dimmed and the shaking
of bells took everyone by surprise. She breezed into the dining
room, all exotic with a jewel-encrusted midriff bodice, flowing
skirt, silk scarf draped about the shoulders and bells around her
ankles. With dark looks and a bright face she danced circles with
her belly, figure-eights with her hips to the mesmeric rhythms of
Middle Eastern music. Everyone watched as the belly-dancer spoke
with her body, the food, fine as it was, couldn’t compete with this
"We are trying to be different within the general market in
terms of entertainment, food and beverage." Mr. Alistair Why,
Managing Director of the Aspasia Resort, explained. "We recently
had a wine-making dinner at Columns Restaurant which was a huge
success and I want to have more interesting events like that in
the future. For example we have hired the belly-dancer to perform
every Friday evening to add to the Mediterranean flair."
Columns Restaurant at the Aspasia Resort serves authentic Mediterranean
cuisine that encompasses more than the usual Italian and Greek dishes.
Resort Manager, Mr. Alistair Why described, "Our chef is a
French-American and he has put together a Mediterranean menu that
resurrects some old forgotten dishes from countries like Morocco
On the evening that my fianc? and I dined at Columns, Chef Michel
Cottabarren was trying out a new tapas menu. As the Aspasia Resort
is a recent addition to the Phuket fold Chef, in his position of
Director of Culinary Operations, has had to go through the process
of setting up the new restaurants; Columns Mediterranean and Melina’s,
a bistro style outlet. This being his fifth restaurant opening,
Michel wasn’t fazed by the challenges posed, having gained many
years experience working in exotic locations like Bali and China.
"I am experienced at handling the challenges of opening a new
restaurant, finding staff setting up the kitchen etc. I actually
We sampled upwards of twelve dishes; some old favourites and a
few of Chef Michel’s twists. Escab?che is sardines lightly saut?ed
with onions, black pepper corns, coriander seeds, bay leaf, saffron,
thyme and vinegar; each herb adding to the subtle aroma of this
dish. The croquettes contained a smooth, creamy medley of Mediterranean
vegetables, smothered in velvety b?chamel sauce and lightly fried
to a nice crisp finish. The Spanish tortilla was delightful and
served in small enough portions so as not to fill you up too quickly.
Chef blends onion, garlic and extra virgin olive oil to create a
tasty salsa verde which he uses to accompany many of his dishes.
The slightly spicy condiment tastes different with each main ingredient,
ranging from champignons to chicken to river prawns.
The Spanish are famous for their seafood. Columns’ tapas menu includes
a number of simple but flavoursome seafood items. Squid was served
with lemon, garlic and dill, mussels were cooked with bell pepper,
onion, sugar and vinegar and Chef created prawns covered with a
paprika batter. Finely diced calamata olives and roasted bell peppers
added a new dimension to a simple potato and tuna salad. The dishes
were all delicious and subtle enough that the diner could switch
between flavours without being overpowered by any one taste. To
accompany our tapas menu Chef fixed us a long jug of sangria; the
refreshingly fruity drink complimented everything.
The belly dancer made two appearances during the evening, each
a welcome moratorium from the Spanish feast. As the restaurant is
small, the dancer is able to wind her way through the tables to
get up close and personal with all patrons. It was interesting to
see people of all ages and nationalities enthralled by her and her
The dessert menu was too tempting to resist despite the distinct
sense of our expanding waistlines. Columns offers English apple
tart with stilton shortbread crust and port jelly which sounds like
a treat. There is the obligatory tiramisu, this one flavoured with
chocolate and Grand Marnier and espresso cr?me anglaise. However
Chef Michel suggested the pan roasted strawberries. The fresh Chiang
Mai strawberries were served in coconut jus drizzled with balsamic
syrup. Chef enlightened, "You have to pan roast the strawberries
quickly so as to make the berries soft but not to lose texture.
The balsamic syrup is actually very sweet so it brings out the natural
sugars in the fruit. The coconut milk adds another layer to the
sweet dish." They were wonderful, the strawberries held their
lovely tartness while the syrup and coconut jus added just the right
amount of sweetness to offset the berries.
Columns tapas menu is available in addition to the regular menu
of Mediterranean dishes. The menu also incorporates some Thai dishes.
The belly dancing is performed every Friday night and groups can
be accommodated in the private dining room. Columns Restaurant is
open for lunch and dinner.