“There are four great restaurants in Phuket
and Carte Blanche is one of them.” says proprietor, Howard
Digby-Johns. The latest addition to the island’s gastronomic
life is situated on the first floor of the Green Man Country Pub.
The pub is an authentic re-creation of classic Tudor style. Says
Howard, with his enormous sense of humour, “The Green Man Country
Pub is incongruous, confident, almost arrogant, standing three floors
tall and daring you to say it’s not the real thing. But it
Howard Digby-Johns is a semi-retired Price-Waterhouse-Coopers partner
and now, an apprentice publican. He bubbles with enthusiasm; his
overwhelming passion for the Green Man Country Pub and obsession
with the minutiae is evident within minutes of meeting him.
Chef Sandeep Pande, hailed from The Oberoi’s in New Delhi
has been described by his peers as ‘one of the most exciting
chefs in Asia.’ “Sandeep Pande is to Mediterranean food
what Ravi Shankar was to the Beatles,” says Howard.
Carte Blanche is a small (5 tables only) intimate, elegant and
laid back restaurant. The Mediterranean-influenced menu contains
enough variety to make you linger over a cocktail while you make
up your mind. Fortunately, the staff is used to malingering menu
readers like myself and did not rush us at all.
I was particularly delighted to see the vegetarian and vegan options;
the only place on the island to cater to this group as sophisticated
gastronomes. But then again, “At this restaurant, you have
Carte Blanche,” says Chef Sandeep, “if you don’t
want what’s on the menu, you decide. I’m just the facilitator”.
As long as Sandeep has the ingredients, he will prepare a feast
that is bound to delight the most discerning patron.
We were served Mojito’s, (voted ‘cocktail of the year’
by Bon Apetit) in the cocktail lounge and a large platter of tapas
– garlic sizzled prawns, fried squid rings, marinated pepper, olives
and roasted almonds; accompanied by marvellous dips such as baba-ganoush
Howard was discussing haute cuisine with another guest who joined
in with our conversation. “Haute cuisine,” said Howard,
with much authority, “is all about the cunning of the chef
in disguising the nature of the food, so it comes with much artifice,
with commis chefs forcing sauces through muslin. Our food, on the
other hand, is inherited knowledge from generations of peasant food
producers honing the ideal cuisine from their region.” It’s
all very well sitting there, listening to the owner enthusing about
his favourite subject whilst enjoying a big blow-out at his expense,
but I sat wondering if Carte Blanche was what Howard and Sandeep
meant it to be?
Time now to move to the French country-style dining room to find
out. For our evening at Carte Blanche, we gave Chef Sandeep Carte
Blanche – with one request, seafood only.
We were served roasted pepper artichoke and tomato salad followed
by Gambas piri-piri – tiger prawns prepared from a recipe Howard
found in Mozambique. I pointed out Mozambique was hardly Mediterranean,
but Howard countered, “Portuguese counts.” Prepared with
olive oil, garlic, lemon, chillies, and coriander, it was served
with wilted spring onion and salsa. A superb starter that made us
sit up and take notice – Sandeep now had us completely captivated
– we waited with anticipation for the next course.
He served us pasta with olive oil, white winter truffles and Pecorino-Romano
cheese. This is as simple a recipe as can be imagined, relying entirely
on the quality of homemade pasta and highest quality ingredients.
“I let the ingredients speak for themselves,” says Sandeep.
Though deceptively simple, it was stunning.
Howard was enjoying his rack of lamb, or ‘lack of ram’
as he spoonerised, a perfect English-Thai rendition. He said the
lamb was cooked to perfection; the sauce was perfectly complimentary,
scented with orange oil – imported at no small expense. We had sea
bass Carte Blanche served with warm oysters in white wine, shallot
and cream sauce (Howard’s own recipe). Simply marvellous; a
toast to Chef Sandeep was in order.
Then it was on to desserts, which are all named after old films.
I had African Queen (fruits preserved in cognac with ice-cream)
and my chocoholic companion had The Duchess of Malfi (the dessert,
I mean) -all to the strains of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What
a wonderful world’.
It is indeed a wonderful world at Carte Blanche; recommended only
to those wishing to have one of the best dining experience on the
island. Advanced reservations required.
The Green Man Pub and Restaurant opened in Phuket last year with
the traditional pagan festival, Birth of the Green Man. The annual
mega-party was once again being celebrated beginning May 1st. The
weeklong festivities included Maypole dancing, carnivals and fireworks.
Tel: (+66 76) 280 757; 281 445 – 52
Fax: (+66 76) 280 453