Dutch treats in the Ubud highlands
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.
Infused vodkas on the bar of Alila Ubud’s restaurant
Chef Eelke Plasmeijer