Bali is fast becoming an international food destination. Forget the ramped up bad press on Aussie TV. (Sorry, but why is there always a camera present to capture ugly moments?) Forget your images of street food… Not for us!
Our recent trip impressed upon us the rise and rise of Bali’s culinary scene at every level: grass roots commitment to providing good safe Balinese cuisine for tourists, a growth in raw and wholefood fusion food particularly in Ubud, more international chefs opening a mid-price range of international cuisine restaurants using local ingredients, and far more glitter and stars at the top end as well.
We booked through Agoda and stayed at Umae Villas (beside Taco Casa) in Ubud and the IZE Hotel in Seminyak. We walk most places in Ubud, so our exploring, shopping and eating often intertwine. If you’re in Seminyak or want to travel further afield out of Ubud, taxis are inexpensive. (Remember to negotiate price before your journey if there’s no meter!)
So much choice, so little time! Our advice? Stay away from the tourist traps and eat as widely across a range of culinary experiences as you can. Yes, we did eat suckling pig from Ibu Oka but it’s not our ‘ultimate’ Bali food…you’ll soon see why!
Here’s a roundup of some of the places we visited during our last stay. (You can read about our last visit here.) Unfortunately, it’s only a tiny taste of the great food Bali has to offer! We’ll just have to go back!
Our best introduction to Balinese cuisine was gained through the Lobong Culinary Experience. It’s a cooking school, cultural experience and a tour of the local Payangan Market rolled into one (rather than the tourist-focussed Ubud market). Held in the family compound Lobong, it’s a really professional yet intimate way to learn about Balinese food and culture. Transfers from Ubud are included in the price ($37.50 per person). Book ahead!
On one of our day trips, we stopped in at Kayun, an organic restaurant in nearby woodcarving village of Mas, a great stop for lunch. Here, coconut oil is made fresh daily on a wood fire, vegetables used in the restaurant are grown on site and they also run a cooking school. Their Bebek Mekuah (stewed duck in Balinese spices served with leek, star fruit and lime leaf) is quite exotic, washed down with a Sumatran Mandailing coffee or a cool Noni juice.
Trying to visit different restaurants to the ones we’d dined at 16 months ago when we were last in Ubud was not a chore, in fact we developed new favourites. Kafe on Jl. Hanoman, Ubud became one of our favourites. Its huge organically inspired menu has lots of raw, vegetarian and salad specials, noodles, stir fries and bowl food. The Quinoa and fern tip salad with Balinese spices was a knockout ($4.90), as was the Fresh Balinese lime and mint juice ($2.90). Meanwhile, a Grilled tuna steak on sautéed veg with fresh pineapple salsa kept the Main Squeeze happy. While it may not be as pretty as its sister restaurant, the French-themed Kebun Bistro next door, it has wide appeal from the health-conscious international tourist to the yoga set. It’s a good chilled and unpretentious place to hang out.
Sit at the front of Tutmak on Jl. Dewi Sita, in comfort near midday and watch day trippers pour down the street from the Ubud Market, some red-faced in jeans and closed in shoes, others enveloped in a pretence of cool sophistication. In the end, it doesn’t matter; tourists are identifiable a mile away! Regardless, locals carry on their daily activity, gathering a few tourist dollars along the way. Tutmak serves reasonable coffee and well-priced Balinese cuisine, such as Nasi Campur ($3.50) food.
The best coffee we found was at Seniman Coffee. Tucked away in Jl. Sriwedari, not far from the Ubud Market, it’s fairly untouched by daytrippers. They’re a roastery, barista school (across the street) and coffee shop rolled into one. Single origin, siphon, drip filter and espresso are all available, as well as workshops on a range of topics.Half the menu is coffee, and the snacks are pretty good as well (Chicken Satay Ayam with rice and sambal $4.50). This is eco-consumerism at its height: sit in Bar Rockers (plastic chairs in teak rockers), drink from recycled glassware and eat from wooden platters – everything’s for sale for a price. Uber cool and trendy, but the coffee’s really good!
We couldn’t stay away from Nomad when we were up near the palace. It’s a great place to chill out over a drink while you people watch, to enjoy a tasting plate of Balinese food and to indulge in the exotic Black Rice Pudding or Dada Gulung, Pandan and coconut crepes which we learned to make at the Lobong Cooking Class.
Stopping in at Cafe Lotus is iconic, and one of the most beautiful spots in all of Ubud. Where else can you see lotus in bloom, a centuries old temple while you sit on a shaded verandah sipping a beer or cocktail! For a quiet view and decent ribs ($10.50) and cocktails ($7.50) down the other end of town, try Pundi Pundi, which also looks over a lotus pond.
International / Fusion / Reaching for the stars
Our villa was situated beside Taco Casa. Packed full of attitude, their 8-layer burrito was a bundle of fresh goodness (no lard, MSG or preservatives), just the thing after a day out walking, washed down by a lime and mint drink. Gluten-free dishes are clearly marked, mojitos are $4.50 and large Bintang $3.30. Who could complain!
Several restaurants we enjoyed were situated in two of our favourite Ubud streets: Jl. Dewi Sita and Jl. Goutama. Melting Wok (in Jl. Goutama) is a local favourite, showing off Philippe’s French-Balinese fusion cuisine at an affordable price. There are only a handful of dishes on offer every day due to the tiny kitchen, but the food is innovative and Geraldine’s welcome is warm and cheery. Don’t leave without trying dessert!
Pica (Jl. Dewi Sita) is a newcomer to the dining scene, but Chilean Owner/Chef Chris Encina and partner Monica Fernandez from Australia are already making their mark. The menu’s divided into sections: small and large shares, ceviche and sides. Expect Spanish/South American influenced international cuisine, such as Pork belly with apple and date jus ($10), Ribeye Angus fillet steak with chimichurri, beef jus and seasonal side ($21). We also tried the Ceviche Nikkei, the mahi mahi served with a coriander and tamarillo dressing and leche de tigre!
La RaMona Tapa’s food bears the influence of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean: tapas and bowl style food from an international chef. The intense flavours tell us that everything has been made by hand by Chef Yosie: Marakkech Lamb Tagine with cointreau-soaked prunes ($7), Egyptian-style Eggplant Bruschetta with peanuts and goats’ cheese feta ($4) and the Laramona Market Platter ($8). It’s a taste delight hidden away from the street in a small back room, a bit claustrophobic, but a few cocktails should sort you out. Besides, the food’s worth it!
Seminyak Italian Food in the five star Double Six Hotel on Double Six Beach, Seminyak, has been set up using Australian restaurateur Robert Marchetti’s extensive experience (ex North Bondi Italian Food and Salumi). Pasta is all handmade in the separate pasta making room, and the glassed in salumi and wine cabinets make an impressive display. As a break back to food we know, we enjoyed Arancini balls stuffed with four cheeses, Tortellini filled with handpicked crab meat in a butter, chive, fennel and confit tomato sauce, and Spaghetti Marinara, as we sat on the first floor terrace looking out across Double Six Beach. Really good Italian!
Some of Bali’s superstar chefs are from Australia, but imagine our surprise to find one of our own: Adam Dundas-Taylor, ex the award-winning A Tavola in Main Beach, now owner of the esteemed Barbacoa (Jl. Petitenget) in Seminyak. After eight years working in Europe (the Spanish influences are most noticeable), Adam’s rustic slow-roasted BBQ, wood-fired and smoked cuisine is the talk of the town. Dish after dish there’s surprise and beauty, a rustic win our hearts charm that’s almost as dashing as Adam himself! What better to balance the buxom flavours of sexy Latin cuisine than a cocktail, and Barbacoa’s are some of the best! A great one to try is their Frozen Margarita made with frozen lime juice, agave syrup, triple sec and more than a dash of tequila. It’s so easy to relax here, enjoying meals full of flavour, delicious desserts, with excellent service. Oh, and it’s over 90% gluten and dairy free (just so you know)!
The very best thing about eating ribs at the infamous Naughty Nuri’s on Jl. Raya Sanginggan in Ubud, is popping into Room 4 Dessert for a longer second half! Owner Will Goldfarb, famous for his dessert creations in his New York Room 4 Dessert (closed in 2007) and head of pastry at Seminyak’s Ku De Ta and Mejekawi, has again opened his Room 4 Dessert beside Nuri’s – a dessert and cocktail bar where quirky and whimsical meets scientific and industrial.
We indulged in a Remi Tasting, half serves of the whole menu, accompanied by cocktails. Served on Gaya pottery, the prohibition-style cocktails in vintage glassware, every mouthful is a taste explosion. Will’s desserts feature the best ingredients he can find from local farms, and everything’s made by hand (he’s even brewing his own cocktail bases)! There are not enough superlatives to describe this experience which embodies science, art, whimsy, decadence and precision, packed with a surprising twist on every turn.
Chef Zacary Pelaccio was quoted in the New York Times, speaking about Room 4 Dessert in New York: “You didn’t go there because you were hungry. You went because you wanted to be tantalized, stimulated. Room 4 Dessert wasn’t about hunger, it was about delight.”
We completely agree; talking to Will Goldfarb firsthand and experiencing the fruits of his passion was an inspirational delight!
One of the pinnacles of our trip was the degustation at Locavore in Jl. Dewi Suta, Ubud. Locavore’s fame precedes it, even for those who do not know what the name means! With a choice of 3, 5, 7 or 9 Locavore or Herbivore courses, with or without matched wines (7 courses $52.50), the seasonal international cuisine menu is completely sourced from the local area, chemical free and organic, its presentation a work of art. We started with an amuse-bouche of sliced tomato with a tomato sorbet in consumé, its intensity of flavour a foretaste of dishes to come…until at last we finishes with two desserts: Pod Chocolate in five ways and Beets & Berries.
Our waiter, always smiling, tells us: “It has opened my eyes to the food we can make in Bali. Everything is local, with so much taste, but there’s no chilli.”
It’s true. The flavours are so dense, so pure. The organic chicken is from Kintamani, the ‘five ways chocolate’ is 29%, 64% and 80% pure, a balance of flavours on the plate with the added element of surprise.
Locavore provides an experience for all the senses: stylish Scandi furnishings, stunningly pretty visual presentation of each dish, surprising combinations of ingredients, and depth of taste achieved through flawless technique and intense laborious work. Add to that exotic inventive fruit-driven mocktails and cocktails, an international wine list at reasonable prices and Chefs Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah have a winner. Seating only 30, it’s imperative that you book at table at Locavore well in advance.
NOTE: Prices quoted do not include tax and service (+14% to 18%)
Kahn H. 2014 ‘Chef Will Goldfarb’s Dessert Laboratory in Bali’, The Wall Street Journal, 22 January, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles