|The changing tide at the ACYC|
The changing tide at the ACYCIf the last time you visited the Ao Chalong Yacht Club was a few years ago, you are in for a big surprise as chef/restaurateur Kim Mitchell has done an impressive job of changing the club from being just a place where yachties drink and spin yarns into a bar/eatery, which people travel to from all over the island because the food is so good and the atmosphere so charming..
Kim hails from Napier, New Zealand, and has spent 40 years in the hospitality industry, entering it as an apprentice chef with the City & Guilds of London Institute at the tender age of 17. He has worked in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and now in Thailand.
At the ACYC, Kim looks after both the restaurant and the kitchen, signing a twoyear lease in July of 2012 to do so. While living in the Gold Coast, he had seen an advertisement online on the Phuket Gazette website, saying that the ACYC restaurant's lease was up. He had been coming to Thailand for eight years, and had even done some import/export business out of Bangkok, so subconsciously; he was probably looking for the opportunity.
Describing the ACYC, Kim says, "The place is gorgeous; it's a secluded little gem. It's a nice, relaxing place where people can come to have a drink or something to eat." Kim says that club members probably make up about 40 percent of his clientele: "Non-members are more than welcome though, when people come here I try and welcome them like as if they were guests in own home."
So how has he changed the club? "I completely stripped out the kitchen and softened the place considerably by putting umbrellas and the tables out on the lawn. I introduced all new cutlery, tableware and glassware. There's a uniformed set now whereas before there were ten different styles of each. We just did a major refit of the chairs too and had all of them re-stained. And we had a shower block but in as well. And we have tables with three huge easy sun parasols, which allow people some shade if they want to sit closer to the shoreline or want some privacy.
"Generally, I would say I am taking care of the place, keeping it nice and clean, I'm giving it some love, which it never really had before, which was sad, because it's in such a beautiful location and has all the ingredients to be a fantastic club. We are also developing a new entrance way with hanging lanterns, new plants, restoring wooden dingy as a buffet table."
The restaurant specializes in western food, though it does have a Thai menu as well. It just hired a pizza chef and is making its own pizza dough now, Kim hopes to do one day have a brick-fire oven to cook the pizzas in. Responding to charges that the menu might be a tad expensive, Kim says, "I probably have the best spot in Chalong and I don't know of a waterfront venue anywhere in the world similar to this, where you don't pay more for that type of privilege. Also, I source the best quality produce.
"I've been a chef for 40 years, and in my job, in my last posting in Airlie Beach, in Queensland, I had a staff of 35 in the kitchens and we won the best 'al fresco dining award' for three years in a row in the province, and we were national finalists as well. I have always believed one must pay premium price for a good product. The saying, 'you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse' certainly applies; I go to good places to buy good produce.
What about changes to the menu? "I am putting things on the menu that people can share, like an antipasto platter, and as mentioned, we are doing pizzas now, there's a lot of care and attention going into them, we have a beautiful pizza oven with a sandstone base, which is cooking the pizzas authentically, they are now cooked on stone in the oven, so the base of the pizzas are nice and crisp. Our patrons tend to want light, tropical food and salads – nothing heavy."
What about dealing with a sailor, or member, who has had one too many? "I'll turn the music up a little. I also want to start a "swear jar" and other club members are pretty good at helping me quiet down a fellow who might be a bit too rambunctious." What about training the Thai staff? "It's my responsibility to train the staff to do things right, provide proper service and as a manager I try to bring out the best in them. Remember, your Thai staff may do something wrong, but they are trying to please you all the time, how often can you say that?"
Future plans for the ACYC? "I'd like to put a decking area in the back to further soften the club and a covered walkway between the main and side building so that when it's pouring people won't get wet if they want to go to the bathroom."
Club activities? "We have a junior sailing program on the weekends, and club sailing every second Sunday in season. We also have the odd trivia night, and a local Filipino guy comes in and sings once in a while."
The ACYC has a Happy Hour from 5-7pm, with special prices on all beers. The club is open seven days a week from 10am until close (Kim never asks anyone to leave). He's happy and he likes the position the club is in now, but being a photography buff, he professes a desire to one day open a photo gallery/cafe somewhere in Thailand; the club is very susceptible to strong winds and rainy weather — when it howls the rain can even come in at a horizontal angle making hanging photos a trifle difficult.
If you are looking for some nice repast
with a seaside breeze and beautiful view of
Ao Chalong, head on over to the ACYC and
see all the changes that Kim has made – you
don't have to be a sailor to do so.