Bali is one of the world’s most desirable island travel destinations; a land of contrasts, where fire dancing is performed by some of the most placid friendly people on the planet; a place where poverty and amazing luxury sit side by side; a cultural crucible exemplified by its food – where foodies can experience dishes which have been cooked by the same technique for generations, or sample cuisine which crosses national boundaries, old and new, both in preparation and presentation.

We’re doing a ‘budget trip’ to Bali – no posh hotels or restaurants, just good food and lodgings at affordable prices. Here’s a tiny sample of some of the flavours we experienced (not that we boast to have scratched the surface)! With a more generous budget, you could enjoy world class cuisine in some stunning locations, but even on a budget, Bali gives amazing experiences at great value!

There’s something really tranquil about staying in Ubud. It’s not as frenetic as the coast, and somehow seems more grounded. Sure, there are not as many flash restaurants, but there’s very little pretense either. You can dine overlooking working rice paddy fields, valleys of endless green, or lotus ponds and temples.

We again booked through and stayed this time at Lumbung Sari, a quiet mid-priced complex halfway down the shopping hub of Monkey Forest Road. Large enough to serve a fresh buffet breakfast, it is intimate enough for guests chat to each other and exchange travel tips.

Lumbung Sari is almost next door to Cinta, one of a chain of restaurants owned by New Yorker Karen Waddell and her Balinese husband Gusky. Their restaurants range in ‘flavour’: Batan Waru is Indonesian, Siam Sally serves Thai cuisine, Cinta’s a modern grill, whereas Terazo is upmarket dining. Much of the food served in these restaurants comes from the owner’s farm near Kintamani. Pick up a tiny discount brochure when you dine at one of these restaurants and enjoy 15% off at the others.

The action at Cinta Grill and Inn centres around the bar and grill. Yes, there’s an à la carte menu, but who could overlook two for one cocktails and a fresh grill! Try the Mahi Mahi with pesto or Baby Back Ribs at least once during your stay. In our opinion, Cinta’s ribs are better than those at Naughty Nuri’s and have the added advantage of your choice of vegies to accompany – delicious garlic baby beans, grilled corn on the cob, smooth basil mash, mixed grilled vegetables or a slab of polenta. Cinta also boasts one of the best freshly ground coffees in town and good wifi. Although it would be easy to write off Nomad‘s popularity to its location almost opposite the palace, the presentation of its tasty, well-priced fusion cuisine is really easy on the eye. Choose from either end of the menu – a deconstructed Gado Gado (for about AUD$3), Butter fish with potato timbales (AUD$10) or there’s a popular tasting menu which gives you nibbles of lots of dishes. 

Every second day the urge hits to find Dadar Gulung. These rolled green crepes, coloured with pandan or Kayu Sugih leaves, are stuffed with shredded coconut and palm sugar. You can find different versions at Bumi Bali and Cafe Wayan (amongst other places), but our favourite version is at Nomad. Here’s a recipe for this dessert.

It’s no surprise that we enjoy a sensational lunch at Bridges, rated by Trip Advisor as one of Ubud’s favourite restaurants. With a classically inspired fusion menu, Australian chef Nicolas Lazzaroni spoils us with beautifully presented exquisite cuisine with a view overlooking a verdant gully and river below. We followed mains of Thai-inspired barramundi and Confit duck with a taste plate of four desserts, including a deliciously rich Chocolate lava cake, Sorbet, and more. It’s a visual feast as well as a taste sensation at a highly affordable price. Bridges also is the only wine bar in town, with affordable wine tastings on late afternoons from 5 – 7pm. Ph. +62 361 970095.

It’s time to head to the coast, and we’ve rented a one bedroom villa just off Raya Seminyak, one of the main shopping streets. We’re relaxed after our stay in Ubud, and perhaps let down our guard a little, eating fresh fruit salad prepared by our hosts, only to pay the price. When the breakfast supplied by our villa plays havoc with our stomach, Cafe Moka becomes our new breakfast venue. It’s surprising how comforting a basket of really good bread can be when you’ve got a touch of Bali Belly! There’s lots of choice for breakfast, a fantastic display of French patisserie, as well as lunch and dinner in a licensed cool venue. Cafe Moka seems to be an expat hangout, the bulletin board indicating that it’s a great place to catch up on news and exchanges. There are French newspapers and magazines to read as well.

Sip, opposite the Bintang Supermarket on Jl. Raya Seminyak, is a great place for wine and food lovers to enjoy a well-earned respite from Seminyak shopping. Sip, founded by French sommelier Christian Vannequé,is a wine bar restaurant serving classic French dishes to accompany an awesome wine list, especially for Bali! Choose from ‘easy-going’ (affordable) through ‘sommelier’s corner’ (interesting) to ‘wine climax’ (elite), including Grange Hermitage and Mouton Tothschild. Yet the restaurant has both quality French cuisine and great value. It’s really worth checking out the fixed price menus ($7.50 for lunch and $12.50 for earlybird dinner +taxes), which offer excellent value. Ph +62 361 730 810

We happily stumble across Bistrot, on one end of the renovation-happy Jalan Laksmana. It’s a joy to escape the scaffolding and potholes to enter an internationally influenced cafe/lounge/restaurant. An amazing mix of vintage glam, steampunk, industrial loft and sumptuous boudoir, an interior decorator’s delight! With a menu part upmarket dude food, part fresh and light, Bistrot is a coolly sophisticated place to dine.

Sardine Ph. +62 361 843611 is one of the culinary highlights of our trip. Picture a huge bamboo-roofed structure in the middle of lush gardens and lily ponds, extending out to acres of rice paddies. This is Sardine, a swish fusion of East and West, sassy, sophisticated and discreet, hidden away from the busy Jl. Petitenget outside by a huge stone wall. There’s a definite impression of ‘farm to table’, though most of Sardine’s produce is sourced from its own organic farm further afield in Munduk.  Sardine’s menu focuses on seafood such as Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, Smoked Sardines, Grouper with miso dressing, Saffron crab bisque, Blackened Mahi Mahi, all beautifully complemented by liquid offerings from the huge bar, the centrepiece of the restaurant. It would be easy to get carried away with an arak-based cocktail, but we’ve already been warned off and decide they’re not worth the risk!

As we prepare to leave Bali, a jet crashes off the end of the Dempasar runway, fortunately without loss of life. Dining at Jimboran Bay, we watch as cranes lift the doomed plane back onto land. Apart from that sober reminder of the fragility of life, a meal at Jimboran is idyllic, choosing your own seafood and satays to be grilled over coconut coals, being serenaded by minstrels, a romantic dinner to enjoy as we prepare to leave the paradise isle and face once more the realities of our working lives.


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