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(12/28/2009) In what has become an annual tradition at Balidiscovery.com, here's [www.balieats.com's] 2009 end of the year wrap covering developments in the Bali dining sector.
Balieats.com – 2009 Year End Wrap
Every year I begin by expressing my amazement at the continuing stream of new restaurants that have opened in the past year. 2009 was no exception. The Bali food scene just seems to keep on getting better, and better. And the promises for 2010 look just as mouth-watering!
Once again the pleasant surprises were not just limited to the new elite up-market restaurants, although there were some wonderful ones, it has rather been the constant stream of high quality, yet budget-priced, restaurants that excite most. It is a sure sign that Bali has "grown-up," as far as its restaurant scene goes. Anyone who complains about the cost of quality dining in Bali (apart from that of imported beverages) must lead a sheltered life in their home country.
Others fell by the wayside as always happens. Many that deserved it and others will be missed. However 2009, as in every recent year, saw a significant net increase in the number of restaurants. Some have spent a million dollars and may fail, whilst others may only have spent $20,000 and may well succeed. That great cocktail of life; experience, work ethic and luck!
I sometimes walk into a new restaurant and look around in amazement at how anyone could spend so much money setting up a place that looks and feels to me as if it will never work. Whilst other new places give out the opposite feeling; one of somewhere with success just around the corner, although sadly that does not always come.
New restaurants in the Nusa Dua/Tanjung Benoa area were once again confined to inside the major 5 star hotels. The most important newbie was Rin at The Conrad. Australian chef Richard Miller, who had kicked off Dava at the old Ritz Carlton, returned to Bali to set up this Modern Japanese restaurant after having spent some time in Japan at Sheratons Grand Ocean Resort. Chicken and Wild Mushroom Ravioli [one large piece], baby lentils, wolfberry and chorizo was International, a Green Tea and Asparagus Risotto with baby barramundi and seaweed emulsion an experiment in Fusion, Shiitake and Cabbage Gyoza a vegetarian version of that Japanese classic adopted from the Chinese.
Nearby at Ungasan/Uluwatu it is all action and the development has only just begun. The eco-friendly Alila Villa, clifftop at Uluwatu leads the way. With the foresight to import brilliant Dutch chef Stefan Zijta it is no wonder that their frontline restaurant CIRE is one of Balis best, overnight. Stefan had led the team at Jakarta's SHY Restaurant that took that city by storm in recent years after coming from Amsterdam's famous Michelin-rated Restaurant Vermeer.
Great chefs can produce dishes with often simple ingredients but marry them in such a way that your "taste meter" goes through the roof! A large open soup plate arrives with a curled jumbo prawn topped with dried tomato sitting all alone on centre stage, poured in from a small old fashioned iron kettle is the chilled melon soup that you have ordered, sweet to the taste and so refreshing on a hot day. Follow that with a salad of baby Romaine lettuce leaves [called Cos lettuce outside of America] served in a crunchy bunch, scattered with slivers of smoked duck breast and tangy papaya chutney, sparsely sprinkled with orange vinaigrette. A grilled fillet of barramundi is perfect, the mild passion fruit vinaigrette does not overpower the fish, the potato croquettes a good example of simple things done well; the breaded shell remains firm and crunchy, the mashed potato contents never go mushy, even when cut through. To finish; the most perfect Raspberry Soufflé! The soufflé is soft and fluffy right to the bottom of the bowl with no sludge in sight. An accompanying spoon of intensely flavoured raspberry sorbet is studded with small chunks of frozen white chocolate. Definitely the best of 2009!
In Ungasan itself were a number of new small restaurants, as well as branches of others already established elsewhere in Bali. Most interesting is Kat's Kitchen with its true to the original Thai cuisine, including a few dishes rarely seen in Bali, including one of my old favourites, Money Bags. All at budget prices, and air-conditioned!
The Holiday Inn re-opened in Tuban, after spells as The Bali Hai and "closed for renovations." The previous "The Beach" was revamped and became "Envy". Always a great beach spot, it now combines many fresh food choices with lounge drinking to go with the sunset viewing. Not far away, Ma Joly changed chefs and styles, still one of Balis best beachfront restaurants. One of the more unusual newcomers to Bali was Bugils Bali, almost opposite the Harris Hotel. It is a Dutch Pub! Green Pea Soup [with smoked pork sausage and crisp bacon, Frikandel, an imported Dutch Sausage or Broodje Frikandel, on a bun, Broodje Gehaktbal [meatball on a bun], Krokets, Andijvie Stampot [mashed potato combined with strips of Endive with bits of fried bacon and a meat ball] or Hutspot. Plus Heineken beer on tap, of course. For the domestic market newcomers to Jln. Tuban included another Papa Ron's (Indonesian pizza chain with local varieties) and Nasi HOT, great Rawon and Indo-Chinese "fusion;" chicken feet in sweet soy.
Kuta has two halves the old established area close to the beach and the quickly developing North, out and around Sunset Road. Chinoiserie with its stylish interior and wonderful Singaporean cuisine was one of the year's highlights. The basic Chinese dishes are sometime in original form, sometimes a variation thereof. The Chinese had been cooking pork ribs for centuries before that great American discovery. The most traditional follows a marinating and subsequent basting with Chinese red wine. A modern version has them marinated and braised in a coffee sauce, like all the sauces here well balanced with just a hint of coffee flavour. Salt & Pepper is the ancient method. The ribs are large chunks of flesh and fat, with little bone. Tender and wonderful! Their star attraction is genuine Singaporean Chilli Crab. It is quite a process but one that they do properly, unlike other places that just promote the name.
In old Kuta Formosa was a newcomer with its Taiwanese cuisine, a mix of Chinese and Korean in taste and style. It replaced one of the many large restaurants that mainly serve bus loads of tourists but retains a similar trade.
The sole newcomer of any quality in Legian was a French restaurant almost hidden inside small hotel grounds. The Pearl is way above standard fare, its young French chef turning out great meals at reasonable prices. It has a mix of interesting vegetarian dishes (a pumpkin Veloute in a coconut milk curry, a Confit of Vegetables Terrine and a Ravioli stuffed with eggplant caviar and a basil veloute) and normal ones (chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and herbs and a Lamb Shank in mustard with fried garlic eggplant and potato gratin. Sea Bass is with pesto and the Mahi-Mahi a ginger sauce.)
Seminyak just stutters along these days with as many places closing as opening. Colonial Living on the north side presents quality and innovative Vegetarian, their Mushroom Loaf is wonderful. Finely diced mushrooms (normal, oyster and shiitake) have been combined with crushed cashew nuts and carrot. Two slices of the loaf sit on the plate like patties, surprisingly hot, accompanied by a pile of perfect greens that have been doused in a tangy dressing. The combination of fashion and food has now spread to this area, The Backyard Lounge and Word of Mouth are but two. It is a concept that only a handful of experienced restaurateurs can make work. In the same Jln. Kunti Atelier 13 replaced the always-full Café Marzano (which moved to Legian and is still packed every day,) The new version is French and quiet.
Ryoshi also moved its premises, but only to the enormous next door premises that used to house Kura Kura. Care was taken to replicate the old Ryoshi as much as possible, in the downstairs air-conditioned section, but add outside garden seating and roof top with live Jazz. The result has been that the new Ryoshi is now one of Bali's busiest restaurants. The legend continues.
Delicious Onion also moved, from a mini shop on the main road to a larger one in Drupadi almost next to the vibrant Sorriso, one of last year's success stories. Chicken Rice still its mainstay. Cosa Nostra opened on Drink Street to feed the hungry late night drinkers with a common combination for that area of pre-cooked Italian dishes and pizzas. A little warung sized restaurant further down Dhyana Pura was one of 2009s highlights. Passargad is a Persian Kebab House, producing steamed rice and marinated kebabs nothing like any other rice or meat on a stick you have had before. Not surprising as Persian cuisine is amongst the worlds oldest, they have had centuries to perfect the simple processes.
Kerobokan has seen a major change. The original Eat Street [Laksmana] has had a facial, now fashion and real estate have taken over. Perhaps they are the only ones now able to afford the escalating rents. The restaurant scene has moved around the corner to the other side of that triangle, Raya Petitenget, and is rapidly going up-market, although quality budget places still thrive. In the old street Gusto was new (Spanish) but soon changed its coat and became the street's second Greek restaurant, Zorba. Seminyak Square opened though it is not even in Seminyak, on lower Laksmana, and contains another Bali Bakery as well as a close-to-original Black Canyon (one of Thailands best chain restaurants) with other restaurants also about to open.
One place that has successfully combined fashion and food (and champagne) has been Red Carpet. The major attraction being their fresh oysters and vintage champagne. Your oyster starter can be in the way of a shot (an oyster inside a shot glass of a Bloody Mary mix) or a plate of Natural, Kilpatrick or Rockefeller. The choice of Champagne is one of the most extensive I have ever seen, and some of the prices of the rarer vintages are scary. The more standard varieties are sold by the glass but the bottle range is world class. Even Rose Champagne, pink champers! And very busy, every day!
Another most unusual restaurant opened in the bottom loop of Laksmana, a gourmet hamburger palace called Wah Wah. The search for that elusive perfect hamburger has interesting results at Wah Wah, where the meat is cooked so as to remove all the fat. No Bali cow in your hamburger here, but imported chilled (not frozen) and hung prime Wagyu beef. They offer Gourmet Burgers with many combinations, even one topped with Foie Gras!
On the new Eat Street the building frenzy has been constant. The ex operators of Kafe Warisan opened Gourmet Café to go with the mini outlet at their Bali Catering Co. Snacks, light meals, a wide variety of sandwiches and chickens from the rotisserie a star attraction. Biku is a tea house. An incredible 150 year old Joglo house from East Java that was once an antique shop, that has now been transformed into one of the most relaxing environments for sipping your preferred cup of tea, checking your emails and nibbling Aussie Scones, noshing on Aussie style meat pies or enjoying any of the other light or full meals from their extensive menu. The range of teas is mind boggling, and takes up 9 pages of their menu.
Café Jemme was one of the finds of the year, alongside and apart of Jemme Jewelry, its cool clean feel is very welcomes on a hot Bali day. Simple food, extremely well prepared and served includes Duck Maryland (leg and thigh combined) served with a crisp skin. The flesh is so tender and the skin crisp, Asian style. Butterfish sits on a slab of roast pumpkin and shiitake mushroom noodle cake. On top a wasabi sauce, quite mild and not overpowering. The food is interesting, innovative and tasty. Budget priced as well!
Kembang Goela at SILQ is an up-market Indonesian restaurant, Rubicon Kitchen is Swedish and Neno is Japanese-owned but with mostly International offerings and many vegetarian options but also many Udon dishes.
Sanur continues to re-invented with many new places still under development. Charming, an off-shoot of the long established Mings, steadily made its mark with International offering in very pleasant surroundings. At Sanurs southern end there are now many small ethnic budget priced restaurants. Sale e Pepe is Italian, Fortune Cookie is Chinese, and Warung Bunaken offers the cuisine of Manado, from Indonesias north most point.
Ratatouille replaced Figaro at the northern end of Sanur. It is under Dutch management which is evident from the many Dutch options on the menu. At Sanur's Paradise Plaza Hotel a marriage was performed between the old Sanur Harum and the Brasserie coffee shop. Now a new, strikingly modern, restaurant, still called Sanur Harum, offers a wide range of Asian cuisine as well as the original Cantonese, Szechuan and Beijing standards. The daily Free-Flow Dim Sum lunches continue to be as popular as ever.
Ubud went on another splurge of restaurant openings, the usual mix of budget and classy categories. Mojo's Flying Burritos offers just that, burritos, from the ex-management of the now defunct Dragonfly. Siam Sally opened on the site of the old Barandi after a massive re-building project, offering their version of Thai cuisine. Bar Luna, an off-shoot of Casa Luna opened on a back street and remains undiscovered. The Pond is just across the lotus pond from the other Artini restaurant, Pundi-Pundi, but so far not as busy. Istanbul Restaurant was a late opener in the year, with its hot Turkish bread a necessary order with whatever else you have.
At city centre two new restaurants from a well-established chain from Nusa Dua that cater for the bulk tourist market, menus and food simple and the menus available in many different languages. Tropical opened to a permanent full house soon followed by Coco Bistro, their other brand name.
Up on the hill, just below Sayan is The Melting Pot, their Louisiana-style Cajun Gumbo (a spicy, thick, meat and vegetable stew containing celery, okra, scallions, green peppers, chicken and pork sausages as well as many secret ingredients) the main attraction. Down the hill is West End Café, a simple café with no pretensions. Their large salad selection includes the Classic Cob, a monster Chefs Salad served in a large wooden bowl, a Grilled Chicken and Glass Noodle Salad with a bit of a chilli bite and a few pure vegetarian options. Sandwiches of Cajun Chicken, perfectly rare Roast Beef, and an old favourite that will take you back to your school days; Chopped Egg in Mayonnaise with shredded lettuce.
At Sanggingan a classy small restaurant opened without any fuss. It soon became a popular haunt for those who appreciate high quality food, albeit from a vastly different cuisine. Minami is laid back and stylish, tables well spaced for privacy all facing a small garden. Japanese it is but unlike most others, Minami serves Osaka cuisine, rarely seen outside of Japan. An example is Dashimaki, an egg broth that has been folded and rolled finishing as a rectangular block topped with grated daikon radish It is the 1st of four appetizers that can be sampled in a special Tasting dish for 2 persons. 2nd is Shiro ae, organic vegetables in a tofu sauce served in a small ceramic bowl. 3rd is the very tasty Nasu Miso ae; minced beef and minute strips of eggplant combined in a sweet miso sauce and the 4th a wonderful miniature bowl of super soft baby chicken with gratings of carrot and radish in a miso broth. Refined Dining!
On Bali's eastern coast Candi Dasa continues to come alive and Amed promises to be the success of the coming decade. New restaurants in Candi Dasa include Rendezvous at Alam Asmara Resort, beachfront and quite stylish offering a mix of European and local, Le 48 is a part of a refurbished boutique hotel under French management, of the same name. Vegetarian dishes predominate; Frozen Carrot Cappuccino with cumin flavoured Chantilly, a Trilogy of Sweet Peppers with goat cheese foam and black olive tapenade and a Tart of Caramelized Sweet Peppers and blue cheese certainly changed the face of Candi's main road, previously so staid for many years.
In Amed small places operated by local or local/foreign mixes are still the norm. Star of the year was Aquaterrace, with Japanese management and direction, with a mix of local and Asian dishes and views to Gili Trawangan, on a cool clean locale. Barong Café was another nice clean newcomer, with majestic views, trying to do something a little different from the normal Indo-Chinese mix, although temporarily injured by the sudden closure of Dancing Dragon Cottages across the road. Not far away the OnlYou Villas also opened a small European restaurant featuring German sausages with mustard, sauerkraut and pretzels.
There were quite a number of potentially excellent restaurants that opened late in 2009, too late to be reviewed as I prefer to wait till a place has been operating for a few months and ironed out all the bugs, rather than to pre-judge, and therefore are not included in this Wrap. At the top of that list are the two French cousins on Raya Petitenget, Metis and Sardine both of which have been busy from inception. The Red Square at the new Novotel Legian maybe needs a little more time to settle down.
2010 is full of intrigue and promise, some official, some just rumour, whilst others are still a secret. A Modern Chinese restaurant will be another for the new Eat Street, Raya Petitenget, and from proven operators so a sure-fire winner! On the same street will be a large restaurant/bar (Harry's Bar?) with an Australian connection where Brown Sugar used to be. A high class restaurant is proposed for the Candi Dasa area from an exciting young chef already here, another certain success. The Banyan Tree project at Ungasan is finally about to open, the W Hotel at Kerobokan we are still not sure about. At Amed (actually Bunutan). The exciting Griyas Bali Pool Villa project is taking shape rapidly. Café, pub and fine dining restaurant will be a part of the final product. And old faithful Warung Brith is no more, now to have an Italian flavour.
Bali continues to be a paradise for gourmands, and at a price that anyone can afford.
Best New Restaurants - 2009
Best Fine Dining - CIRE - Uluwatu
Class on the cliff top at Uluwatu. Master chef Stefan Zijta turns simple food into masterpieces.
Best Restaurant - Minami - Ubud
Osaka cuisine! Rarely available outside of Japan, very refined dining. Even their Bento Box is a work of art.
Best Value - Café Jemme - Kerobokan
The Gem of 2009! White walls, chandeliers and flowers are the back ground to this wonderful simple restaurant, tasty food, organic produce and very modest prices!
Best Cafe - Biku - Kerobokan
A classic teahouse, their High Tea a daily specialty. The range of teas is amazing, and not just commercially flavoured ones.
Best Cheapie - Passargad - Seminyak
Ancient Persian cuisine. Meat Kebabs and steamed rice but like no other you have ever had before. A simple warung but food that you remember and talk about