Tropical Foodie Bliss
Dining out in Bali, or more specifically Seminyak can be as culinarily rewarding as London, or any metropolis, albeit with a more limited selection. This is more than made up for by thoughtful and attentive service, at a considerable discount to London
Article by Oscar Udeshi
We were invited to the evergreen Ku De Ta by a local expat, who arranged a table on the front line on the beach. The downside to this was one only had the bar menu as opposed to the full restaurant menu. His reasoning was there was little point going to a restaurant on the beach and not seeing the beach – the main restaurant tables are further inside. It was a very much see and be seen sort of place and I remarked this could have been in central London, Hong Kong or LA if you take away the sound of the crashing waves. Various sushi, Spanish jamón, mini burgers and two – or was it three – bottles of wine later, all the was well with the world again. The food was standard international fair, not worth a specific trip, but the scene, from the tanned Fabio with his shirt unbuttoned to his navel (yes you read that correctly) sitting uncomfortably next to his, shall we say “aunt” for the evening, to some F list Australian celebrity doing her worst Paris Hilton impression and the middle aged couple attempting to rekindle their romance but instead turning to their mobile device for companionship was the main attraction. Through all of this, it should be noted that the staff never missed a beat, our glasses were always topped up, and everything was brought with a genuine smile – London take note!
The next day breakfast was at La Lucciola, an Italian eatery subverted Australian style, again on the beach, with a magnificent view. An assortment of international standards such as French toast and eggs florentine, along with Italian breads with scrambled eggs and pancetta, not ordinary bacon mind you, were presented flawlessly and deliciously – judging from all the spotless empty plates of our group. Most breakfast dishes were around the £5 mark, with fresh fruit juices around £2. Not cheap for Bali standards, but this place needs to be viewed in context and would give an international 5-star hotel a run for its money. We didn’t like this place, that’s why we came back again on three other occasions, twice for lunch on back to back days. They had a shell pasta with tiger prawns that was perfectly seasoned for the equivalent of £7, various Italian pizzas for less than a fiver, roast beef salad…. all excellent. There was no specific crowd, as our fellow diners included a group of ladies doing their best Sex in the City impression – Samantha and Cary were easy to spot, to large extended families with all the paraphernalia, to a father and son just catching up to a newly wed British couple on their honeymoon.
One evening we went to Sarong on the main drag. I was rather apprehensive of “not another Indonesian restaurant” as that was all we had eaten on our trip along the western coast; I think I could have written the foreigners’ cookbook to Indonesian cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indonesian food, but any cuisine after a week straight drives me slightly insane. I was greeted with a modern Indian inspired menu – I am half Indian, so my eyeballs started to roll back again. I was in for a very pleasant surprise. Their contemporary and local inspired cocktail list was a wonderful journey. My cardamom infused mojito came with a paper straw (top marks for not using plastic) which was getting soggy, and causing drawing to become difficult, and a new straw arrived instantly with a polite apology saying they had stopped using plastic straws for environmental reasons. I mentioned I had a shell fish allergy and was promptly handed a non-fish menu as well within seconds. We ordered and were politely and accurately told by our charming server that we had ordered too much. We had their signature pork belly as a starter which was sublime followed by tandoori duck breast, and a chicken kebab. Calling it a kebab does not do it justice. I was transported back to the time when I was a small child dining in some of the best restaurants in India, and would have licked the plate clean if I didn’t have my charming dinner companion with me. The bill, well, given we had two cocktails, two glasses of wine, a large scotch, our drinks bill alone in London or New York would have been more than what we spent on the entire memorable three course meal.
The next night we were off to Sardine – surprise surprise, a seafood restaurant set on a magical paddy field with illuminated lanterns – very Instagram friendly if you are in to that. Being Mister difficult I had the beef salad followed by the Australian tenderloin, while my companion had the scallops and miso crusted tuna. My theory was to try their weakest dishes and see how they perform – I mean who goes to a fish restaurant and has steak… Me, that’s who. The waitress asked if I had any allergies and informed her I would rather not have fish. She promptly checked with the chef and all the ingredients for my dishes and came back and asked if I was alright with fish sauce in the beef salad. I was – I am only 95 per cent difficult. She also brought me a different amuse bouche. The salad was served on rice noodles and was light and the perfect starter for the humid climate. My companion enjoyed her fresh scallops. The main course tuna was perfectly seared and seasoned – I almost had food envy – until my steak was served, about two nanoseconds later. The steak was butter soft and cooked the way I ordered it, medium rare. The meat came from an exceptionally happy cow and was tender and flavourful. This was not just a good steak in Bali, this was a great steak, period. After our main courses, we were invited to have dessert in the garden. It was done very politely and professionally and with such a beautiful garden, we made ourselves comfortable in the rattan chairs. The ricotta and fig cheesecake almost ended up in a fight as we were working out who had more and who was the rightful owner of the last piece. Then there was the chocolate mousse. I had spent some time in Paris and there was a restaurant I would frequent on Sundays just for their homemade chocolate mousse. This one brought back very fond memories and I was fighting an urge to order another one. And yes, I went back the next day.
Our last night was at Metis, which was touted as the best restaurant on the island. We were efficiently shown to our table after perusing the wares in the boutiques, there were that many I lost track how many there were. We ordered a smoky negroni and a peach martini to start, so far so good. Then came the most hum drum bread selection that resembled the bread rolls you get on airline meals. For starters, my companion ordered the trio of crab, tuna and salmon tartare, and I had the burrata with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and sorbet. Of all the restaurants in Seminyak, these were our favourite starters. This was followed by the crisp pork belly and Moroccan lamb shank, which were perfectly satisfactory. We perused the dessert menu but nothing screamed out “eat me!” There was what I thought was a banana ice cream, but turned out to be raisin vanilla banana or something or other, all rather fussy.
We decided to finish our dinner drinks on the terrace and I brought a cigar along to smoke. We were shown down to the terrace, we carried our own drinks down, as opposed to the other restaurants where they were taken down for us. No cigar ashtray, cutter or matches were brought – standard practice if the restaurant boasts a stocked humidor, which Metis does. These are small points no doubt, but it was endemic of the restaurant. It had bothered me the whole evening, the restaurant seemed to lack soul and the service passion. It is a highly efficient machine. It felt in my opinion that the clients were there for the restaurant, not the restaurant was there for the patrons. The fast food Vietnamese pho place opposite had more soul, warmer and more efficient service. Dining out in my book is supposed to be fun, and Bali is famous for its warm and friendly people, all the restaurants I would visit again in a heartbeat, except Metis, where I would cross the street and have fun at Sardine instead.