Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pepenero: Best Italian Diner on Koh Samui

Updated April 2018

1.5 years later, I set foot in Pepenero, this time, in a bigger, swankier place.

A view into the indoor area of Pepenero.
The more-popular Alfresco dining area, as expected on a resort island.
It satisfied me to no end seeing them expand within such a short space of time. It's no less than Pepenero deserved, as from my first and only experience, I was almost sure that it was up their with the very finest Italian diners in Thailand.

The Pepenero 'welcome' was amusing, as usual, with signs saying "Slow Food, Italian Mood" and the first page of their menu having disclaimers such as "Pasta Alfredo, Spaghetti meatballs, French fries, Potatoes with tabasco and Pasta with chicken are not Italian Cuisine *smiley face." I was literally laughing before my meal even started. But really? Spaghetti with meatballs is not Italian? Hmm...

I was still a little jittery when the food came because I was really really hoping the food would be as good as before.

Speck with Brie, great starter, especially when the Brie is not too strong for me.
Chef's special, a simple spicy spaghetti dish made with grilled tomatoes and Anduja sausages. so goooood!
Braised NZ lamb shank, look at the size of that thing!

One of the BEST meals I had in Thailand for a long time!

Well done Paolo!


We stepped into Pepenero and saw an empty table. Owner Paolo politely told us that even though he will keep it for us, it would be better for us to come back in half an hour.


He then apologetically explained that the kitchen was small, and they made everything fresh on order, so they needed time to serve guests who were still waiting. True enough, though there were only 3 other groups in the small restaurant, many of them hadn't eaten.

Well anyway, it was a casual Friday night on a resort island, waiting was not a problem. We requested to simply sit at our table and until he's ready to come to us.

Menu bound on the heaviest piece of solid wood you can find. This menu will break your toes if you drop it accidentally.
Oh, and Paolo was nursing a broken leg. He didn't even need to be here. Instead, you find him hopping on crutches painstakingly to every single table again and again to make sure they were fine.

I came to realise within a few minutes that that's just how Pepenero is. They live and breathe their food. For a moment I felt I was not in Thailand anymore. Such cosy, intimate settings eating authentic Italian food hosted by a passionate Italian family just doesn't come by easily in this part of the world. I was a bit shocked to find it in Koh Samui, an island more famous for its sinful moon parties, a place I had been trying to avoid for the past 6 years.

Finally when Paolo came to us, we simply asked him to choose 3 dishes for us to his liking, and he did not leave without explaining in detail how the dishes would be prepared. All of us lost track at some point, but that's just because we were so confident that we didn't bother to pay attention anymore.

Managed to coax some Parma ham and Mozarella out of them as we waited for our food

When the dishes came, we were pretty blown away.

Home-made Gnocchi with asparagus cream, clams and asparagus

Personally, I have not eaten Gnocchi or any other pasta prepared like this. The mix of fragrant asparagus and fresh clams was so incredibly good. A dish I might never forget.

Home-made Bigoli with Italian Sausage Ragu, red wine and fennel seeds
Bigoli is a bigger form of Spaghetti, suitable for pairing with a robust ragu sauce. This was also an excellent dish, with a familiar name but tasting pleasantly unfamiliar.

Ribeye Tagliata style with shallots
It is difficult for me to judge this dish because I have never eaten beef so rare. It was just very slightly seasoned so that we can taste the real flavour of the meet in every bite. I have to say though, that every element on this dish you see was very well executed, potatoes and vegetables included.

Home-made Limoncello before we left, so sweet but so strong, I nearly did a cartwheel after downing the shot

Don't get me wrong. I am not about to make a conclusive judgement on Pepenero after just 1 visit. The food was not perfect (beef too rare for me, dessert a little too sweet too late into the night) but it never is, no matter where we go.

I feel extremely compelled to write this simply because I believe that regardless of what we feel, the food is perfect for Paolo. He will only serve what he feels is flawless to every single diner every single time. That is how Pepenero is, in their own time, dish by dish made from the heart, diner by diner whom he will get to know by heart.

Paolo and I

Keep up your good work Paolo. It was a pleasure to be your guest. You won't see me much, but my promise to you is to appear in front of you whenever I land on the island.

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