Tin plays such an important part of Phuket’s history and the island has a stronger Chinese presence than any other Thai province due to the influx of Chinese labour over 100 years ago.
One of the results of the tin boom is an impressive collection of colonial-style tin mogul mansions dotted throughout the island, in various stages of disrepair or recondition.
One of the better-maintained mansions is situated on the beach in Cape Panwa Hotel’s grounds; this is Panwa House, a veritable monument to an epoch when tin was king.
Panwa House is a total throwback: everything in the building is original or has been lovingly restored. Arriving at the hotel, we board a funicular and creak downhill in the rain. It’s six o’clock and the light is already fading so Panwa House is lit up like a Christmas tree. The mansion is over 80 years old and everything, right down to the electrical plugs and light switches, is retro.
On the landing, halfway up the stairs, are mother of pearl inlaid black teak chairs, bookcases line the upper rooms filled with dated magazines and in one stands a Waddington’s ‘Escape from Atlantis’ game. A teak clock hangs on the wall, its hands frozen at quarter to two, ancient overhead fans waft and stir the evening breeze while an aroma of ginger pervades throughout the building.
Definitely one of the loveliest places to dine in Phuket, Panwa House’s décor is the genuine article – of 80 years ago.
It’s a perfect example of Thai-Chinese ostentation with its elaborate floor tile work and teak fittings, its generous terraces and wide stairways, its rattan sofas and colourful cushions.
Dining-wise, there are both glass-covered rattan tables and white, colonial-style metal tables.
It’s not for nothing that Panwa House is regularly used in movies as a romantic backdrop.
The silk-clad staff ensures a polished feel to the place and a Thai three-piece musical combo plays on the landing.
The best word to describe the atmosphere here is ‘gentile’ and it certainly is a place to dress up for.
There are a substantial 40 labels on Panwa House’s wine list, from 1,200 baht a bottle upwards.
Our Pinotage Merlot, Matua Valley N.Z. red was excellent; with enough body to stand on its own but light enough not to encroach on the rich flavours of the Thai food we sampled.
Thai all the way, with delicious deep-fried crab meat spring rolls for starters and an admirable glass noodle salad. The tom yam goong (spicy prawn soup with mushrooms and lemongrass) was just right and representative of Panwa House’s culinary savvy.
Especially good were the sautéed crab meat with green pepper and the roasted duck in red curry, grapes, cherry tomatoes and pineapple. The steamed white snapper in lemon was as fresh as could be and the whole experience was enhanced by the beautiful surroundings.
Special mention should be made of the gleaming brass cutlery (polished daily) and the ‘Benjarong’ style, blue-and-white plates and dishes that lent a regal touch to the proceedings.
We were well looked after at Panwa House. The wait staff all spoke English and was smartly turned out. This is not a particularly large restaurant so you are guaranteed a high level of personal service.
Where Is It?
Right on the beach in the grounds of Cape Panwa Hotel which in turn is situated on the east coast of the island.
Turn right at reception and take what the hotel calls the ‘Tram’ down the hill then hang a right through the grounds and there she stands, unmistakeable and unique.
- Location: in Panwa Hotel
- Tel: 076 391 123-5