Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where to Eat in Bali

The Best Restaurants in Bali 

If you’re the kind of person who plans their vacations around breakfast, lunch and dinner, Bali is the place for you. The popular holiday island has something edible for all budgets and diets, regardless of whether you’re a Bali veteran or virgin. I put my stomach at risk from both bursting and Bali Belly in Seminyak, Ubud and Jimbaran, so you know where to eat when you visit. You’re welcome. 

$ - cheap as a bogan in a Bintang singlet 
$$ - fantastic value 
$$$ - getting pricey 
$$$$ - fancy, but worth it 

The Best of Seminyak 

Lacalaca | $$ | 1 Drupadi, Seminyak, Bali | 0361 736 733 or +62 361 203 2323 
Lacalaca proves my theory that tacos, tostaditas and grilled corn taste more festive with a cerveza in hand beneath the Balinese sun. Just when you thought you had escaped Mexican street food, Lacalaca throws something new into the mix. Through the aqua gates you’ll discover a funky Mexican hangout with vibrantly coloured walls, chairs, cushions, napkins and obligatory skulls. Aside from the usual Mexican suspects they serve ribs, market fish and a burger for those with an appetite. Chill out with sangria to live music, or work your way through the cocktails until you find your dancing shoes. And if the thought of disturbing a sunbaking session sends you shuddering, Lacalaca delivers between Seminyak and Batubelig, and Legian to Kerobokan. 

Sardine | $$$$ | 21 Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali, Indonesia | +62 361 8436111 or +62 361 8436333  
It's hard to go past Sardine for a romantic meal. Diners sit beneath a soaring bamboo ceiling, open to the elements with a view of perfectly manicured rice paddies and lily ponds. Sardine's specialty is seafood and the menu changes according to the catch of the day from nearby Jimbaran bay. Starters range from scallops with Asian salsa to soft shell crab with peanuts and lime, while mains could be grilled yellow fin tuna with soba and shitake or barramundi wrapped in banana leaf. After dinner, migrate to the comfortable lounges beside the rice fields and order dessert. Lampung shade-grown black pepper ice cream with tropical fruit will please those with a penchant for the exotic, while the trio of chocolate and dessert tasting platters will have jaws-a-dropping. 

Sea Circus | $$ | 22 Jalan Kayu Aya [Oberoi Rd], Seminyak, Bali | +62 361 738 667 
No visit to Seminyak is complete without a hangover happy meal breakfast at Sea Circus. Choose between the dirty option, Sin City, or the clean option, Liver Love. The former includes a traditional big breakfast with red onion marmalade, an espresso, OJ, Berocca and Panadol; the latter – poached eggs on toast, pink fruit salad, herbal tea or espresso, coconut water, orange slices and a wheatgrass shot. Both come with a ‘happy game’, to turn that frown upside-down. Add a 15 minute shoulder and neck massage for IDR 40,000 ($3.70). If you make it to lunchtime, the tacos and salads are top notch, while the exquisite pistachio ice cream resulted in daily visits. 

Potato Head Beach Club | $$$ | 51B Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak, Bali | +62 (361) 473 7979  
This is one of those places people say you absolutely must visit. Personally, I found it too glitzy. But if you’re a material girl (or boy) in a material world who enjoys an overpriced cocktail and being seen, make a beeline for Potato Head. The award-winning beach club is a contemporary Coliseum created from mismatched 18th century teak shutters, complete with three restaurants. The beachfront bar and lawn area overlook an infinity pool that disappears into the Bali Sea, where beautiful people lounge on day beds and pay 500,000 IDR ($45) for the privilege. The Bistro offers casual dishes; Lilin marries tapas with South East Asian cuisine and live seafood; and Tapping Shoes is a chandelier-lit eatery serving French fare. For the experience without the fuss, park yourself in front of the bar, order a cocktail or three, and partake in some serious people watching. 

Mama San | $$$ | 135 Jalan Raya Kerobokan, Br. Taman, Bali | +62 361 730436 
From the team who brought you Bali fine dining icon, Sarong, comes Mama San, a contemporary Asian restaurant in a revived gudang (warehouse). The retro, oriental space is split into an upstairs bar and downstairs eatery, best likened to Melbourne’s Chin Chin or Sydney’s Ms. G’s. The space alone is impressive, inspired by British colonial Shanghai in the 1920s. Vintage photos adorn the high walls alongside a mural of Mama San, who looks down upon leather chesterfields and towering tropical flowers. Food surpasses expectations, with highlights such as stir-fried prawns in chilli jam and steamed snapper dumplings. Desserts also have an Asian flair; the poached pumpkin with cashew nut ice cream will blow your mind. Reservations are a must, or try your luck at arriving early as an excuse to sip an Apry Sky (passionfruit, apricot, vodka and burnt sugar) upstairs. 

Metis | $$$$ | 6 Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali | +62 361 4737 888  
Metis is one of the better-known fancy restaurants in Seminyak, and it’s worth every cent. But if you’re trying to save your pennies, take advantage of the astoundingly good value lunch special on weekdays. Two courses will set you back IDR 90,000 ($8.25); three courses, IDR 120,000 ($11). The garden is better appreciated during the day, with a lounge overlooking a path past lily-padded ponds. Food is fine dining with a French Mediterranean twist, from quail with spinach ricotta agnolotti, to lobster bisque with crab tortellini. Be sure to order from the foie gras menu, which includes a guilt-inducing-but-worth-it yellow fin tuna and crispy foie gras sushi roll and seared poached foie gras with chicken dashi broth, white shimeji mushrooms, radish and seaweed. 

Kreole Café | $ | 56 Jalan Drupadi, Seminyak, Bali | +62 361 738514 
Kreole Café is nothing less than an oasis in Seminyak. It’s a place where you can – as they put it – “chillax”. If it feels familiar, that’s because it is: the daily blackboard menu features a kaleidoscope of homey cooking from Creole, to Indian, to nostalgic Australian (think sausage rolls, shepherd’s pies and even South Melbourne dim sims). Cool down with organic, locally grown Arabica cold press coffee, iced tea and homemade cordial syrups, such as rosella and vanilla. Feeling homesick? Tuck into homemade treats on preloved china, surrounded by old vinyl covers and photo frames. 

Naughty Nuris Warung and Grill | $ | 41 Jalan Batubelig, Kerobokan Kelod, Bali | +62 0361 847 6722 
Do not, I repeat, do not leave Bali without scoffing at least one serving of Naughty Nuri’s impeccable BBQ pork ribs. They’re a beautiful example of what happens when a New Yorker falls in love with/corrupts an Indonesian woman and they open a restaurant together. It’s as touristy as anything but don’t let that deter you, it’s part of the fun. Lychee martinis are shake-shake-shaken at the table, complete with a corny American-diner style dance (Anthony Bourdain claims they’re the best outside New York – the martinis, not the dancing) and giant burlesque-adorned and beer-chugging pigs hang from the ceiling. You can order anything from artery-clogging burgers to cap cay vegetable curry, but there’s nothing quite like them ribs. The thick and creamy avocado juice is more like a smoothy; served in a chocolate laced glace, it’s a must for teetotallers. 

Gusto Caffe and Gelato | $ | 67B Jalan Umalas 2, Kerobokan, Seminyak, Bali | +62 813 38027041 
Ice creams, uncompromised. That’s the motto of Gusto Caffe, an ice creamery run by French expats a short motorbike ride away from Seminyak central. It rivals Australia’s best and steers clear of preservatives and nasties. All the classic flavours are there, along with irresistible additions such as banana with dark-chocolate coated waffle bits and toffee with salted butter. The less common fior di latte and chestnut cream also make a cameo, as do some more refreshing options, such as lemongrass, matcha coconut and thyme. Seriously worth getting sticky for. 

The best of Ubud 

River Café at Maya Ubud | $$ | Jalan Gunung Sari, Peliatan, Ubud, Bali | +62 361 977 888  
You can’t possibly know the meaning of clean eating until you’ve sat at River Café surrounded by tropical trees and the natural white noise of gurgling rapids, munching on “conscious cuisine” and sipping a cold pressed Petanu Jamu Tonic. All are welcome to partake in the wholesome dining experience that is River Café, located at the back of luxury resort Maya Ubud. They support slow food, source organic vegetables from the hills of Bedugul, and make the freshest rice paper rolls I’ve tasted. The organic red rice-crusted tuna with sour green mango and star fruit salad is worth the trip alone. It’s everything yogis and Instagram accounts wished they could be. 

Fair Warung Bale | $ | 6 Jalan Sriwedari (1 min off Jl. Raya - main road), Ubud, Bali | +62 878 6262 7671  
The only thing better than eating on holiday is eating on holiday and making a difference. Proceeds from this popular spot support the Fair Future Health Clinic, which provides much-needed health services for local Balinese people. Food is pumped out of a defiantly small corner kitchen and ranges from mahi-mahi on rice and tuna tartare, to king prawns and rich curries. Servings are big, but you’ll want to save room for coconut pandan dessert spring rolls. Book ahead and be prepared to squish next to some strangers with a story to tell. 

Rai Pasti Warung | $ | Monkey Forest Road | +62 361 970 908 
Where this open-air restaurant ends, a verdant rice field dotted with birds and invisible croaking frogs begins. It’s the sister restaurant to Ibu Oka, the famous Babi Guling joint where tourists pack in like sardines to try traditional suckling pig. Not many people know that the famous dish is also on the menu at Rai Pasti Warung. Mine was delivered fresh from Ibu Oka by motorbikemotorbike – all for a grand total of $2.75 AUD, minus the queues. Rice topped with succulent pork arrived in a woven basket lined with wax paper, alongside chopped veggies, green chillies, spicy black pudding and some damn fine crackling. Other dirt-cheap, authentic local dishes include Nasi Goreng and satays (the tuna satay prompted tears of joy), complemented by cold beer and coconuts. Every holiday comes with a highlight. For me, it was Rai Pasti Warung. 

Ubud Market | $ | Jalan Raya 
For an insight into local routine in Ubud, you’ll have to set your alarm like a local. Around 5.30am should do it, giving you enough time to get to the market by 6am. Stalls and tarps weave between the dusty old building housing the market, brimming with bucket loads of lemongrass, ginger, chillies and galangal. Your eye will be drawn to the giant square baskets filled with fluffy pink and orange marigolds, bought as offerings to the Hindu gods. You can even buy readymade canang sari – a coconut leaf vessel filled with petals, incense, rice and coins – in case your busy schedule gets in the way of assembling an offering to the gods. Down in the basement is where the action happens. Women with tens of kilos of bok choy balanced perilously on their noggins won’t hesitate to bowl you over. Giant durians litter the walkway, alongside colourful cases of jackfruit and mangosteen. Chickens are plucked, ducks are roasted and whole pigs are carved and smothered in satay. Try one of the hot pink cakes or sticky rice wrapped in palm leaf on the way out. Sure, they sometimes include them in the offerings, but it’s your reward for getting up so damn early on holiday. 

The best of Jimbaran 

Drinks at Rock Bar | $$$$ | AYANA Resort and Spa, Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran, Bali | +62 361 702222 
The bars are better in Bali. Take Rock Bar for example, which sits on a cliff face 14 meters above the ocean at the base of AYANA Resort and Spa. It’s the ultimate spot to watch the sunset, where ocean spray is the only thing reminding you that no, this is not a dream, you lucky thing. The award-winning bar offers snacks such as chilled soba noodles, chicken popcorn and prawn spring rolls, while cocktails are blended with local fruit, herbs and spices. When you’re listening to a live band or resident DJs with a drink in hand and the whole world in front of you, you’ll realise there isn’t anywhere in the world like it. 

Seafood at Jimbaran bay | $$ 
Those who label dining on the beach at Jimbaran Bay as ‘too toursity’ don’t know a good thing when they eat it. Assuming you’re not daft enough to get ripped off, the novelty of picking your favourite live seafood, having it grilled to order and then eating it by candlelight with the sand between your toes is an experience not to be missed. Vendors sell grilled corn on the cob to sunset strollers, while musicians and dancers traverse the stretch of sand where the famous Jimbaran seafood restaurants are found. Sparklers and glow sticks are thrusted at families with children, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that you can’t put a price on a memory.

This blog post is a more detailed version of an article originally written for The New Daily.

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