L'Alcove's Karine and Melanie on Secrets d'alcove From Brian Gruber's Just-Published Full Moon over Koh Phangan

7 Jul 2022
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Phangan resident Brian Gruber published an oral history of the island last month called Full Moon over Koh Phangan: What Adventurers, Dancers, and Freaks Seek and Find on Thailand's Magic Island. Phanganist is publishing an exclusive series of interview excerpts. This week, we feature the proprietresses of Hin Kong’s popular French restaurant L’Alcove,
 
The ebook is available for 150 baht ($4.95) at https://amzn.to/3B75ssb or directly from the author for PDF or ePUB versions. An expanded version with chapters on each island region and favorite local attractions will be released later this year.
 
 
"Ask longtime locals to name their favorite dining experience and you’ll get a consistent answer. L’Alcove. Many restaurants have terrific food. A smaller number have a similarly gorgeous beachfront location with sunsets exploding on cue as the venue opens. Many have warm, attentive onsite owners or managers. Fewer have consistently high-quality live music. L’ Alcove has all those things, plus elegant yet “beachy” design and a collection of comfortable seating arrangements, whether you want intimate interior placement or a table that allows you to run your feet through the Hin Kong sand.
 
Most of all, Melanie and Karine are microscopically attentive to every moment of their guests’ experience. It is not unusual to have an entire dinner on this Thai island with no staff contact besides ordering and summoning the bill. In a given night, you might have 3, 4, 5 visits from L’Alcove’s owners. With each element of your experience carefully choreographed, down to Melanie’s inventive, handcrafted music playlists. We met in their home just across from the restaurant to discuss the secrets d’alcove."
 
 
Brian Gruber 
Tell me about yourselves.
 
Melanie 
I come from France. I made a lot of sport, I enjoy music a lot. We came here for the first time 12 years ago.
 
Brian Gruber 
Why?
 
Melanie 
Just to be curious. We never heard about Full Moon Party. We just came here, because we saw the small island, we wanted to be quiet. And we say, maybe, it's far away, it could be great. And we arrived, for three days, and we stayed one month.
 
Brian Gruber 
It's a common story.
 
Melanie 
Exactly. I did my first tattoo. And I talked a lot with the man. And he told me, you don't know yet, something will catch you again here in Koh Phangan. It was not my idea. I had a good job. I enjoyed my life a lot.
 
Brian Gruber 
What were you doing before?
 
Melanie 
Finance. In Paris, but I moved a lot. Six months in Morocco, six months in Germany. I did it four years. It was my dream, at 30 years old, to be in the real life. To escape, to have a beautiful view when I wake up. Not to miss my way. I knew that this was not my way. That it was good to start out to make money. Then to be free, to think about something stronger, better for me.
 
So, six years ago, when we decided to come here, to make something, it was just to start the real life, to break down. We were not expecting to make money here. It was not the goal. It was just to have a house. And to meet interesting people. Traditional picture, and the sea, the beach, the view, the sunset.
 
Brian Gruber 
And you have all that.
 
Melanie 
More than this (laughter). More than this.
 
Brian Gruber 
Karine, what you were feeling when you first came, but first tell me your background.
 
Karine 
Okay, I am from Bordeaux, and first of all, it's a love story between Melanie and me, ‘cause it took a long time to be near the sea and walk on the beach. And when we met, we talk about living in another place and we traveled together.
 
Melanie 
But I was a student when we were talking about this.
 
Karine 
She was 24 years old. I was a real estate agent before in Bordeaux and after in Paris and I wanted to change from the materialistic life, to live without TV, the newspaper every day.
 
Brian Gruber 
What about the island drew you back?
 
Karine
Something happened here, I cannot explain why. It is very important to talk about (Phra) Olarn. He was the owner of Loyfa. We arrived to the resort, it was very beautiful. And I think he was the first person we grew attached to on Koh Phangan.
 
Very difficult to explain, we feel we need to come back, we need to come back. 
 
Melanie
We traveled four months before taking this decision; around Myanmar, around Cambodia. Nothing like this. This kind of free feeling.
 
Karine
And when we arrived six years ago (in Hin Kong), there was nothing here, only our Thai neighbor. It was very quiet.
 
Brian Gruber 
And these bungalows. Or did you build them?
 
Karine
No, no, no. They were here.
 
Brian Gruber 
Neither of you have mentioned anything about a background in the restaurant business. You have many competitors, who have many years of experience in the business, but it seems to come naturally to you. Because the whole L’Alcove experience is superb: the food, the service, the music, the ambience, and the location.
 
Melanie
It was the idea at the beginning to do like at home. We spent a lot of time in the restaurant. We tried to make something beautiful. And for the food, at the beginning, we did only six plates.
 
Only the plates of our father, mother. Something easy. And the wine of course, and the live music. We started the live music just because the first three, four months, nobody wants ever to stay, we were a little bit boring. The first live music, it was only one table, just for us. It was the beginning.
 
Brian Gruber 
How did you come up with the name?
 
Karine 
It came very quickly because we invent three or four different name, like Le Boudoir.
 
Melanie 
Because alcove, it's the smaller place. Maybe you know the expression, the secret of l’alcove (Secrets d’alcove is a classic 1954 French film starring a young Jeanne Moreau). It's traditional, it means, it's a cozy place where you can talk a lot. And nobody knows. Okay, and the second way, it's the small place where you put the small Buddha.
 
Karine 
It's a room behind a room in the seventeenth, eighteenth century, l'alcove.
 
Brian Gruber 
So, you had no restaurant experience?
 
Melanie 
No.
 
Brian Gruber 
And you decided that you wanted to open a restaurant?
 
Melanie 
I did two weeks in a kitchen in Paris to pay my studies. And I spent two weeks as a waitress in my city, Normandy. But that's it. I had to find a way to create, because there was nothing here, only the floor and the roof.
 
Karine 
Me too, because I don't know how to make one egg (laughter).
 
Brian Gruber 
Wow.
 
Karine
I still don’t know yet.
 
Melanie 
At the beginning, “You are crazy, you will never have any customer.” Many people smiling. Like, “Oh, it's crazy girl. They will stay three or four months and leave.” And everybody, blah, blah, blah.
 
Karine 
I think that comes from the fact that we don't know, really, we have not done this long. And when we sit on the floor with customers to take order, (people think) we don't know how to do the job.
 
Brian Gruber 
You don't know the rules of the game. Since you've been here, how has your original instinct about Koh Phangan been validated? You had some feeling. And now you've been here a number of years.
 
Melanie 
I think that the first it's the nature. The views every day, animals of course. But after that, it's a lot of different people who we meet every day and make us feel so happy and full of so many things. Because you can meet a yoga teacher. You can meet also some people who go to party.
 
And yes, we talk also about the power of this island. I mean, there is something special, we feel it. And it's a strong energy; wherever you go on this island, some things catch you. I don't know how to explain but it's deeply in your body. You can feel extremely happy but you can feel also extremely sad. So, you have to be strong and well balanced with your mind, your feeling, Because it's very strong power.
 
Karine 
I don't know if you believe in the power of the rock.
 
Brian Gruber 
Let's talk about that. Is the island resting on a bed of rose quartz or crystal? Do you believe that?
 
Karine 
I like to believe that. It's strong when we are happy, it’s strong when we are sad. We see people come here and we can see that the island rejects some kind of people. I'm sure about that.
 
Melanie 
It’s really strange. My mind, I’m really straight. I don’t believe in so many things. I don’t know if I believe in this stone. But it’s weird, something is powerful. I don’t know why.
 
You feel the ground because, before, in your daily life, you never touch the ground. Because of your car, because of your shoes, because of your bed. Here, all day, you feel the ground, you feel the energy.
 
 
Koh Phangan: What Adventurers, Dancers, and Freaks Seek and Find on Thailand's Magic Island is available for 150 baht ($4.95) at https://amzn.to/3B75ssb or directly from the author for PDF or ePUB versions. Watch the Phanganist for new interviews in the coming weeks.