A hop, skip and nine-hour jump took us to our blissful Bali holiday.
This island is a foodie’s paradise with everything you could ever dream of eating or drinking served on or in bamboo, a banana leaf, coconut bowl, cocktail glass or conventional plate. This destination has been on the radar for many years and all expectations were met.
Heading to our villa in the heart of Seminyak we quickly immersed ourselves into the Balinese culture. Coming from a cold and wet Hawke’s Bay winter it was a dream to get into a sundress, slip slop on some sunscreen and hit the streets for some serious exploring. Seminyak is known for its stylish shopping, fabulous food and international vibe. World-class chefs who have tired of the city life have been enticed by the beach lifestyle as well as the fantastic local produce.
Bambu Restaurant was the first of many great experiences specialising in Indonesian cuisine with a fresh twist. This hidden gem with a zen-like fit-out featured cool marble, stepping stones over fish ponds, bamboo adornments and many different dining spaces, one of which was a centrally placed Balinese pavilion surrounded by water.
We started our evening with a Javanese wok-charred mushroom salad, baby coconut and wild ginger dressing served in a bamboo leaf. My main of coral trout came baked in bamboo and the waiter skillfully slipped it out onto the plate revealing the fish garnished with sour star fruit, chilli and lemon basil leaves. The second main of fresh egg noodles, hand-picked Papua crab, tiger prawns and fragrant tamarind spiced broth was also a winner. For dessert the Dadar Gulung or green pandan crepes wrapped around coconut and palm sugar was everything you love about small warungs (local cafes), but served in a gourmet setting.
Seminyak is where many cool restaurants with spectacular fit-outs are located and with a recommendation from some Te Awanga friends we decided to eat at Sardine, a French fine dining restaurant.
This is one of Bali’s most well known restaurants with a feel of the ‘old Bali’, and we certainly got why. Farmers tend the rice and flocks of ducks run around, dipping in and out of the water. The restaurant is positioned in the middle of green rice paddies surrounded by banana trees, with dining under a bamboo pavilion with the fields softly lit by lights under decorative umbrellas. The menu is seafood- focused, with their catch coming from the nearby fishing village of Jimbaran, so an array of yellow fin tuna carpaccio, pan-seared snapper and barramundi are on offer.
Breaking the ‘monotony’ of all this gourmet dining there is nothing better than spending a day on the beach soaking up the sun on a beach recliner. Bintang on offer, corn on the cob and flat pizza all readily available with the click of a finger. At Double Six Beach from around 5pm its party time and colourful bean bags are laid out and hip music starts up in readiness for the sunset.
Further along the beach is the iconic Potato Head Beach Club, which is a daytime kind of drinking place. It is known for its long, turquoise infinity pool set beside a stretch of sandy beach and its tropical cocktails using homemade ingredients like lemongrass gin and strawberry foam. We tried ‘The Big Swirl’, which was bright and citrusy with vanilla tequila, vanilla-infused Bali arak, mango, raw honey and spiced syrup blended and served in a seashell. Tropicana to say the least!
Taking a break from the ‘vitamin sea’ we headed north for a few days to Ubud, which is located in the heart of the island. This region is so green with a jungle like setting. Artists, spiritual healers and yoga teachers are attracted to this area due to its close proximity to nature. As in Seminyak, top international and Indonesian chefs are also attracted to the area due to the availability of sourcing farm-fresh ingredients.
In torrential rain with one umbrella and purchasing a cheap poncho on the way we made a pilgrimage to visit the famous vegan cafe, Alchemy. Tucked away in the backstreets of Ubud, this raw food destination is drawing foodies and health advocates from all over the globe with their culture of serving organic, unprocessed foods in a creative way.
I tried the Aloha Pizza with the crust made from almond fl our, sundried tomatoes and olive oil and topped with button mushrooms, thinly sliced pineapple (to represent the missing mozzarella), peppers, olives, olive oil and roquette. We also chose the BLT which arrived with iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, pickled cucumber slices, ‘coconut bacon’ and cherry tomatoes all spiced up with a BBQ sauce. I followed with a guilt-free lemon tart and then finished off with a coconut milk cappucino. Having had such a ‘zen’ culinary experience I was happy to return to the Maya Ubud Resort and Spa for a large cocktail and some serious pampering in their riverside spa.
One restaurant not to be missed in Ubud is Hujan Locale. From the people behind Mama San, it serves modern Indonesian cuisine in a beautiful two-story bistro that looks out over a temple on one side and a huge yellow hibiscus tree on the other. We set about ordering lunch. My ‘Nasi Bakar’ which comprised of grilled turmeric-spiced rice, with eggplant and green tomatoes came presented in a baked banana leaf with a very hot sambal matah to the side. The squid tubes stuffed with prawns in a spicy coconut sauce, complete with fragrant rice, was also a winner.
Slightly north of here is the famous coffee farm called Cantik Agriculture. This is where the most expensive coffee in the world is made from coffee beans that have been digested by the civet cat.
In the 19th century it was illegal to sell coffee to the local Indonesian population because all the beans were exported to Europe. The locals collected the faeces of the wild palm civet cats because the coffee seeds inside the droppings were left undigested. They also grow Bali cocoa, ginseng, lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and chilli, and the flavour from these plants gets infused with the coffee. It was a huge buzz to try all the different flavours and experience the uniqueness of this farm.
Returning to Seminyak for our final few days gave me time to reflect on our blissful holiday.
Bali is like no other destination in the world with its culture, beaches, surfing and the warm, generous Balinese people. We left this beautiful island with a tear in our eyes … and it was not just from the spicy food.