HAVE IT YOUR WAY
Those who love to eat are set to have a fantastic holiday in Bali. Whether you’re a connoisseur who favours degustation menus with an international influence paired with exemplary wines, or you’re on a tight budget and will spend your time dining on the cheap, Bali has you covered.
The island plays host to a multitude of cosmopolitan restaurants that would be at home in any of the globe’s better-known culinary capitals. Three Balinese restaurants made it into the prestigious Miele Guide Top 20 restaurants in Asia list in 2013: Mozaic, Sarong and Metis. Precisely zero restaurants in Jakarta made the cut.
Sip on cocktails created by talented mixologists, then enjoy meals concocted by world-class chefs in incredible surrounds – cliffside, riverside, seaside and mountainside are all possible in Bali. And the price? Even the most high-end meal here is likely to be extremely competitive by international standards, offering value that adds a certain spice of its own to a meal. Most top restaurants will charge from around 150,000 rupiah per course for a six- to 12-course degustation menu. One word of warning, however: thanks to tough taxes in Indonesia, alcohol prices will mostly be more expensive than those you’d pay in many places elsewhere in the world. (Local beer, sadly, seems to be the only exception.)
At the other end of the budget scale, you’ll still be very well fed in Bali. If you’re dining roadside at warungs, markets, or basic, fan-cooled joints, you’ll find delicious local fare as well as fiery dishes from right around the Indonesian archipelago. You can be very well fed for around 20,000 to 30,000 rupiah, including a nonalcoholic drink.
Bali’s dining scene has evolved dramatically over the past decade, and in particular the past five years has seen an explosion of intriguing, creative restaurants open. Balinese and Indonesian chefs have become more confident in experimentation and ever more renowned international chefs are basing themselves on the island, inspired by both the chilled-out lifestyle and the superb local produce.
If you’re a genuine foodie, you’ll probably want to traverse the entire island to reach the best it has to offer, but particular areas do hold certain attractions.
The Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa area boasts the greatest concentration of five-star resorts, where you’ll find extravagant brunches, relaxed daytime dining and sophisticated evening meals. While in the West serious eaters might eschew large hotels, expecting stand-alone restaurants to offer better meals, that isn’t necessary so in Bali – many top hotels push the envelope in terms of innovation and should be investigated, from renowned Kayuputi at St Regis, to the newer poolside To’Ge at Rimba and Sakala at The Chedi.
The Seminyak area offers a huge selection of restaurants across many cuisines. This is arguably where you’ll find the largest cluster of more cutting-edge restaurants such as Merah Putih, but
a smattering of old places are worth a look-in here as well, such as the esteemed Kura Kura at The Oberoi. Slightly further afield in fast-changing Canggu and Echo Beach the emphasis shifts slightly towards more relaxed cuisine with a focus on healthy dining.
Ubud is well known as a centre for healing and many of its restaurants reflect this. Diners are spoiled for choice when it comes to local, slow or raw food restaurants, and the market can be very high end as well – Glow at Como Shambala and the River Café at Maya are just two options for raw or healthful cuisine.
Bali’s relatively sleepy village of Sanur has become more lively in recent years on the dining front, with some more upmarket options, such as Three Monkeys and Grocer & Grind, making this a more interesting dining destination than it used to be.
Out of the way places can unexpectedly delight in Bali too. We’ve stumbled on excellent restaurants in completely unexpected places in Bali’s north (Kali Manik) as well as in the hills around Bedugul (The Organic Farm).
Bali’s relatively low costs mean that chefs can really afford to experiment until they hit their stride – and diners are the beneficiaries. The island is
likely not far off producing at least one internationally recognised celebrity chef – entranced diners often claim Papuan-born Mandif Warokka of Teatro Gastroteque is cooking to Michelin-star levels.
At the same time, Bali continues to lure international talent. Italian chef Ezio Gritti, who won a Michelin star for his Bergamo, Italy restaurant, has just opened Solata, while famed American pastry chef Will Goldfarb creates the avant-garde desserts at 2013-opened Mejekawi, working alongside Australia’s Ben Cross. French-American Chris Salans blazed a trail years ago with his degustation menus at Mozaic, Ubud; Nicholas “Doudou” Tourneville presents exquisite FrenchMediterranean cuisine at Métis, and Scotsman Will Meyrick has made Asian food very sexy by opening sumptuous Sarong and Mama San. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So, where to eat what? These suggestions cannot be considered anywhere near exhaustive, but should offer some ideas on where to start.
For truly special degustation menus to spend entire evenings lingering over, longstanding Mozaic and its newer sister restaurant Mozaic Beach Club remain top choices, joined in the past year or two by Teatro Gastroteque, Mejekawi and Locavore.
For pan-Asian cuisine, book well ahead to get a table at your preferred time at Sarong and Mama San. Baba’s at Hu’u focuses on Peranakan cuisine; down a few price notches, Ginger Moon Canteen is a good budget choice. Ryoshi has long provided top-notch affordable Japanese cuisine in island- wide locations while Minami has a more refined setting, both in Ubud and Sanur. For Indian, Queens of India is a reliable choice.
For FrenchMediterranean options, Métis and Sardine should
bar chain located in a vast 20-metre high bamboo structure.
Coffee is being taken seriously in Bali these days. Our top picks for a good brew are Anomali, Revolver, Seniman Coffee Studio and Sea Circus; you can’t go past atmospheric Biku for its range of exquisite teas; and when it comes to pastries, Monsieur Spoon has blown the island away with its buttery croissants and seductive tarts. For artisan ice cream, we reckon Gusto’s can’t be beat, while Gaya offers stiff competition -- but you’ll probably have to try both to find your favourite.
Bali’s organic food scene has been around a long time now – Sari Organic in Ubud shouldn’t be missed, while for
sophisticated dining, Chandi is a great choice. Raw food fans – and even carnivores! – must not miss the incredible restaurant at Fivelements, both for its setting and its world-class fare; for more everyday vegetarian and raw meals, Alchemy, Clear, Soma, Earth Cafe, Bali Buda, Betelnut, Manik Organik, Zula’s and Watercress are just a few of the many great options spread across the island.
Some great restaurants masquerade as beach clubs on the island too. The new Sundara is in a stunning Jimbaran location, while island institution KuDeTa shows it still deserves its great reputation. Other top choices for a relaxing gourmet day pool and beachside include Finn’s
Beach Club, the Beach Club at Karma Kandara, Cocoon and Potato Head.
For traditional, oldschool Balinese food, try the Balinese nasi campur at streetside Made Weti’s in Sanur, the fried fish set menu at 1941-opened Mak Beng’s, also in Sanur, or the chicken rice at Nasi Ayam Ibu Mangku in Ubud. Arguments fly over who serves the best babi guling on the island, but Ibu Oka’s in Ubud is a popular choice – and we’re fans of Warung Babi Guling Sanur. The Renon area of Denpasar offers an explorer’s delight when it comes to street and justoff-street dining – you’ll have to follow your nose in this area.
For Balinese food served in more salubrious surrounds, try Pregina in Sanur, Bumbu Bali in Tanjung Benoa, Bali Asli near Amlapura – it’s worth the trek, trust us – Merah Putih in Seminyak (which also covers the rest of the archipelago) and Alila’s Warung in Uluwatu.
A final word: cooking classes are a great experience in Bali, whether for whipping up Balinese food or learning the latest techniques on the international stage. Plenty of hotels offer Balinese cooking classes, but Bumbu Bali offers a fantastic experience with chef Heinz von Holzen, and you can’t beat Bali Asli’s location, where Penny Williams and her staff offer excellent classes too. Mozaic Ubud and Mejekawi are among those offering more specialised culinary classes.