You may have seen road signs near BTS for a new place called “Ruan Soifra.” The signs are a long way from the turning to the restaurant hence the following further guidance. If you turn towards Puk Tien, going past the Alila turnoff, turn right at the first crossroads just after the road has curved to the left and go down to the sea, you cannot miss it. It is about 3 kilometres from BTS. (Note: the very next morning after our visit, many, many more of their signs popped up – much bigger ones.)
The car park looks a bit like a disused film set with a lot of old furniture and junk lying around. As you approach the restaurant building a girl in Thai costume and speaking impressively good English greets you and suggests a table on the terrace overlooking the beach. As soon as you are seated, menus in good English are flourished, plus a serous drinks menu complete with a cocktail list. Ruan Soifra is an ambitious restaurant, quite elegant: looking somewhat like Coco51 when empty, but larger. There all similarities end, unfortunately.
When we visited on a recent evening, the proprietor proudly informed us that his Bangkok nephew aged 7 created the English menu. They knew to ask for our drinks order first, but no one, it seems, actually transmitted the orders to the barman, who spent most of his time juggling with bottles al la Tom Cruise in Bartender but with zero skill
Mama and two or three waitresses (at least one was a daughter) joined the proprietor at our table, discussing each English sentence/question amongst each other before turning back to us and agreeing with whatever we asked, instead of providing an actual answer. Eventually we got our drinks, with Mama personally rushing Dianna’s freshly squeezed – and carefully salted - orange juice, to the table.
The English speaker (heavy American accent and with braces) then attempted to read back our order – we should have realised at this stage that the evening was going to be eventful! None of the items we had carefully chosen appeared but the lobster which we had briefly enquired about did. We went through our order again and she dutifully re-wrote it.
We had been able to get the English speaker to suggest a couple of Chef’s Specialities – the Curry Steamed Seafood in Coconut and the Stir Fried Chang Skin Crab with Curry Powder – which we happily spooned up accompanied with yum-yums. We had also ordered the always-reliable grilled prawns (loudly repeating “BBQ”) which had to be returned after we tried one – six little-finger sized cold, stale, pre-steamed prawns just like we can get back in the UK.
Thinking the prawns were an aberration, we ordered more dishes. At the proprietor’s recommendation, we ordered grilled chicken, which when it turned up proved to be cold, tough, pre-steamed gobs stuck on sticks, along with stale bits of fruit and veg, and accompanied by a plain-ketchup dip. We explained that ketchup dips were anathema to Europeans, except with fries, and they nodded happily and gratefully. In a seafood restaurant and even though it wasn’t on the menu, Michael insisted on ordering suckling pig (“BABY pig” he emphasised repeatedly); their version turned out to be thinly sliced, cold, tough, OLD pig threaded onto skewers – but this time lovingly drizzled with ketchup as well as accompanied by the same plain-ketchup dip, just in case the ketchup lavished on the pork strips wasn’t enough.
At this point we gave up but Michael – ever the optimist - asked if there was any homemade ice cream. As Michael had courageously provided feedback throughout the meal, they served all three of us with complimentary coconut ice cream, homemade by mama, who served it and stood beaming by the table to watch eat bite. By comparison, we were relieved to find, this was quite good: not too sweet and with even a faint taste of coconut. We were also told that mama makes blueberry cheesecake, coconut jelly, almond cookies, and even buttercake – and they promised to have it all listed on the menu for us when we returned.
When we got the bill, we had clearly been charged for the rejected dishes too, but by that time the whole family had gathered in front of us, closely watching us check the bill; we were too despondent to try to start any kind of a discussion in pidgin about refunds. Also, be warned: their impressive Phuket lobsters in the aquarium are 4,000 baht each - we thought this might be a typo, but no. Luckily we had asked before ordering (they have a separate menu for lobster, only produced on request) so the bill wasn’t as staggering as it might otherwise have been.
Needless to say we were the only customers. During the entire experience, at least one member of staff (and up to four, at times) stood goggling at us, pressed to the side of our table. We wondered whether we could charge admission fees.
As we finally rose to leave, they gleefully handed us a dozen business cards to encourage us to share our experience with friends and neighbours. As we escaped out of the generous car park, we glimpsed the chef, in starched white hat, sitting near its entrance - as far from the kitchen as it was possible to get - chatting to his mates.. Oh yes, their chef is from Bangkok and can also cook Chinese.
In case any of you are tempted to try out the curried dishes, which were excellent, but our directions aren’t clear, their phone numbers are 032 470 114 & 082 780 3205. We have left some cards in the BTS office giving 10% off in honour of their “grand opeRning”. Enjoy!