Alessandro Frau is proprietor/head chef of possibly the most successful restaurant on the Island, Acqua. Since opening in 2009, Acqua has received much recognition for Alessandro and his team’s efforts in making Acqua what it is today, including being the only Phuket restaurant ever to be included in the Miele Guide’s Top 5 Thailand Restaurants.
Phuketindex.com recently met with Alessandro to find out the secrets to his success and his plans for the future.
You were a successful chef in a large hotel before investing in Acqua, why did you make the decision and was it an easy decision?
For me it was very easy! I believe it’s a dream for every chef to own their own restaurant with their own design and food concept. For me personally, staying at the Sheraton Phuket for 4 years was enough for me. I had reached the level of executive chef so I either moved to a new hotel, into food & beverage management, or started my own restaurant. Being so passionate about being in the kitchen as a chef, the only choice I had was to open Acqua.
Did you ever think starting Acqua was too ambitious?
No, when you have a passion for something, you’re still young and want to follow your dream nothing should come in the way. Obviously when you first open your own restaurant you face some difficulties, people don’t know you and in Phuket you’re in a seasonal place, but I was convinced I could make my idea work.
What challenges have you faced since opening?
I faced some problems during the first year in operation, but I haven’t faced any challenges as such. At Sheraton I was operating eleven outlets, so running just one restaurant is quite simple. However, I am now finding staffing becoming a problem.
If you had the chance to start Acqua again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would do everything the same but if anything I would change the location and would choose a non-seasonal one. I’m in Phuket which has 6 good months and 6 not so good months, so I would choose a place that had 12 months of continuous business. But I’m in a place I love and I wouldn’t change that for anything!
What motivates you to do your best as owner of Acqua?
Acqua is my baby, it has been my dream! I’ve grown with Acqua and I’m the face of Acqua so motivation isn’t a problem. We always strive to find new ingredients to use, we continue to create new dishes, and always try to improve the look of the restaurant. We now have our new walk-in wine cellar with over 430 labels, so really my motivation is trying to bring something new to our customers.
What is the best thing you’ve learnt related to Acqua?
When we first opened everybody was asking why are you opening a high end restaurant like Acqua in Phuket and saying it was not going to survive. Nearly five years later we are one of the most successful famous restaurants in Thailand. We’ve received every award possible in Asia; we’re in the Miele Guide’s top 5 restaurants in Thailand, the first restaurant in Phuket to be there. So I have learnt to follow my heart and not want people try to tell me.
How important are good employees to your success?
I can’t do everything myself so they’ve been very important. I’m lucky to have staff here now that has been here since the beginning, they’re my key players!
How do you find people to bring into Acqua that care about it the way you do?
I run my restaurant like it’s my house, I try to stay as close to my staff as possible. If I find something which isn’t right I’ll explain to them immediately how to correct it. The guys here now act like Italians but they’re Thai, we have to appreciate that. If they can’t adapt to the western way in a western restaurant, unfortunately they’re not for Acqua.
How do you build a successful customer base?
We try not to disappoint anyone; of course we make mistakes, but we try to keep mistakes to a minimum. If a dish isn’t 100% perfect, we’ll make a new one. Running a restaurant isn’t just about making money, some restaurants don’t want to throw away a lobster and they’re happy to serve one which isn’t perfect to customers, we won’t do this. The most important thing is to give the right food to the customer, if this is not your mindset you can cause your restaurant many problems. In my opinion, it’s better to keep a customer waiting and prepare a new dish rather than presenting them with a bad dish. A small complaint about waiting a little longer than expected is nowhere near as damaging as receiving a complaint about poor quality food.
How do you generate new ideas for Acqua?
As a passionate chef I always look at new books, magazines and TV shows to generate ideas. I also visit Hong Kong, Asia’s top restaurant destination every year to experience the top restaurants and see new trends, new ingredients and get inspiration to bring back and implement to Acqua.
What has been your most satisfying moment since opening?
Seeing Acqua built! I designed it centimeter by centimeter and when it was actually finished it was amazingly satisfying. I was proud not only of myself but what the team had achieved. The entire project was done from a picture in my mind, and when you see the result, the exact picture of your imagination, it’s an amazing feeling.
There are many restaurants on Phuket, what makes Acqua so special?
Acqua never compromises on quality! We are the only restaurant that offers such a wide range of quality ingredients imported from Europe. We have a unique selection of ingredients that even 5 star hotels cannot afford to have.
Do you have further plans to expand your Acqua brand?
I’ve just returned from Hong Kong where I was evaluating a proposal to open a restaurant. However, it won’t be branded as Acqua as there is already a one in existence. I am currently working on a different name and it’s possible I might use my name. We’re at the stage where we’re nearly ready to inspect locations for the venue, and I’m hopeful in the next three weeks we’ll have some kind of confirmation.
Where would you like Acqua to be in 5 years time?
The main thing is to get our restaurant open in Hong Kong and then if everything goes well to open more concepts. I don’t use the word restaurants as it can be a different concept similar to here in Phuket with our Boccocino Deli Cafe in Surin. In addition, I would also like to start doing the importing of ingredients ourselves so they are exclusive for us.
Acqua Restauarnt is open every day from 16.00 until 23.00.
324/15 Prabaramee Road, Kalim Bay, Patong, Phuket, Thailand
Tel: +6 (0) 076 618127