“Heavenly” was the word National Geographic used to describe Langkawi’s white sandy Datai Bay in its Top 10 Beaches To Visit list a couple years ago. It’s also an accurate description of the memorable resort of the same name, set within a lush rainforest on Malaysia’s prettiest island, close to that famous beach.
Now, after a 12-month shutdown, The Datai has reopened with upgraded facilities and new additions. The interiors of the guestrooms, suites, villas and public areas have been remodelled, and there’s a new instalment of the resident Chef Series coming up, featuring London-born, Sydney-based Nelly Robinson of the award-wining degustation-only restaurant Nel.
The spa – which sits beside a stream, so you feel like you’re part of the elements – has been expanded, and a new nature centre runs tours (led by famed naturalist Irshad Mobarak) of the 10-million-year-old rainforest surrounding the 46-acre resort. The sensitively-built Rimba Trail includes a 70-metre-long elevated walkway that transitions from coastal forest to mangrove habitat, then leads into a lowland rainforest – the highlight of which is the 23-metre-long, 18-metre-high canopy walk.
Robinson – whose residency will run from August 30 to September 1 – often uses childhood memories and fairytales to create theatrical menus where surprise is key, and at The Datai he’ll once again be guided by that approach, with the rainforest as inspiration.
He and his team will be cooking dinners and lunches, and hosting classes in the resort’s beach bar and cooking school. The rainforest canopy, bay and pools will serve as the backdrop for the dining experience, with the local produce, spices and herbs that make Malaysian food so excellent the focus. South Australia’s Sidewood Wines will also be featured throughout the three days.
“The big dinner [on the first night] is going to be a degustation like we do at Nel,” Robinson tells Broadsheet. “It’ll be all about the rainforest; the menu will be broken down as water, wind and fire … Malaysian food has lots of coconut and spice, but it’s fresh. The fire component will be about that spice, but it’s always balanced.”
He’ll be serving dishes such as green curry with prawns rolled in rice and coconut, and de-shelled crab mixed in pepper and tomato water, served with a lime mayonnaise. There’ll also be a tandoor-inspired king mackerel dish marinated in spice for 12 hours, then smoked and served with lobster soil.
Food and dining is a key feature of The Datai, with five eateries scattered across the resort. It opened in 1993, designed by the late Australian architect Kerry Hill, who thought the main reception building should sit 40 metres above sea level and 300 metres away from that beautiful bay, in the thick of the rainforest. It now has 121 rooms – some set among the trees, others with their own lap pools and butler service on the beach. There are two resort pools, a gym, a golf course designed by Ernie Els, and – of course – that tree-lined bay to laze on. On a clear day you can see Thailand across the Strait of Malacca.
Chef Nelly Robinson will host The Datai’s three-day Chef Series event from August 30 to September 1.