Dutch treats in the Ubud high­lands

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

SE­CRETED down a me­an­der­ing road in the vil­lage of Payan­gan, Alila Ubud re­veals it­self in lay­ers, like an un­furl­ing flower.

Just when it seems im­pos­si­ble that lux­ury lodg­ings of any se­ri­ous stripe could be hid­den amid rice­fields and dense groves of spiky bam­boo, mon­u­men­tal stone build­ings emerge one by one. And then, look­ing down the val­ley, I see a dark-tiled pool clasped above the plung­ing Ayung River val­ley.

The open-sided Plan­ta­tion restau­rant at this el­e­gant re­sort in the Ba­li­nese hill sta­tion of Ubud is some­thing of a hid­den won­der too. This is where Dutch-born ex­ec­u­tive chef Eelke Plas­mei­jer dishes up some of the hol­i­day isle’s most in­ven­tive food. His right-hand man is Ray Adri­an­syah, an In­done­sian who did his train­ing in New Zealand and has a per­fect Flight of the Con­chords ac­cent.

As I trade Brett and Je­maine j okes with Adri­an­syah, there’s al­ready a sense of fun afoot and Plas­mei­jer hasn’t even fin­ished ex­plain­ing the line-up of in­fused vod­kas, araks and syrups dis­played in j olly ranks, like cos­tumed at­ten­dants, on the restau­rant’s bar.

Af­ter five years in In­done­sia, and since leav­ing Ma Joly restau­rant at Tuban in Bali and join­ing Alila Ubud in mid-2010, he has been build­ing up a colour­ful range of flavoured po­tions to use in cook­ing and cock­tails. Rambu­tan and lime j uice form one sharp com­bi­na­tion while hi­bis­cus flow­ers are sus­pended in vodka like the cock­tail equiv­a­lent of a pink­tinged lava lamp. Other in­fu­sions in­clude wa­ter­melon, j asmine, chilli, vanilla and star anise.

You could head here just for a lus­cious ‘‘ sea­sonal’’ or ‘‘ de­sign’’ cock­tail and pay 95,000 ru­piah ($10.40), or per­haps set­tle in with a low-priced tapas-style bar snack such as veg­etable spring rolls with up­right on a bed of cit­rus rock salt in a mar­tini glass. It looks frankly odd but then ar­rive spears of as­para­gus lightly coated with tem­pura bat­ter. Dip these crisp ba­tons into the golden yolk and crum­ble the lemon-lime salt to taste — get pack­ing, sol­dier toast, this is a sen­sa­tional twist on a nurs­ery favourite.

Each dish is as dec­o­ra­tive and pre­cise as a still life; an ‘‘into the veg­etable gar­den’’ starter, for ex­am­ple, is com­posed of minia­ture herbs, stems, shoots, veg­eta­bles and edible flow­ers that wind across a gran­ite plate like a springy path. He dresses pan-fried co­ral trout with a foamy sauce of young leeks and Ba­li­nese lime; a par­cooked slice of tuna is en­livened with soy jelly and pret­tied-up with bor­age flow­ers.

Even the sides are in­ven­tive: house-baked wal­nut and raisin bread, for ex­am­ple, comes with a dip­ping sauce of mango puree and vir­gin co­conut oil. Desserts, too, cross the cul­tural di­vide; chocolate cre­ations are com­ple­mented with kaf­fir lime sor­bet or mango com­pote and a dar­ing mousse com­bines av­o­cado and chopped white chocolate.

And don’t think it’s over yet. A cuppa for the road? Make it green tea mud­dled with mint leaves, le­mon­grass syrup and lime wedges, served over crushed ice.

SU­SAN KUROSAWA

In­fused vod­kas on the bar of Alila Ubud’s restau­rant

Chef Eelke Plas­mei­jer

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