Bali's "mystery diner," who writes balieats.com under the nom de plume of Gerry Williams has generously shared his year end wrap on the Island's dining scene:
Bali is going through an amazing culinary journey. Not that many years ago the food offerings in Bali were mostly devoid of taste and value, both locals and foreigners operating "restaurants" that they believed presented cuisines of the world. Only one thing was missing, and that was the professional knowledge that can only come by experience, having been trained at the highest level.
The Bali of today boasts of many top-flight chefs. As many as can often be found in cities four times Bali's size. Most, of course, work in the ever-increasing number of 5 star and boutique hotels and luxury villa complexes that seem to be opening almost monthly, all over the island. Others are finding their own style of peace in Bali, opening restaurants of their own, at both ends of the scale, classic dining down to great value mid-range dining. As important is the ever-increasing number of experienced restaurateurs who are arriving to drive the revolution!
The BaliEats.com web site now lists restaurants representing some 54 different cuisines, the majority of which present high quality food at an amazingly low cost. During 2007 another 85 new restaurants opened in Bali that were of sufficient interest and quality to feature in my regular column in The Bali Advertiser. The following is a summary of the best of them.
Nusa Dua & Tanjung Benoa
Because of the high concentration of large 5 star hotels in the Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa area, there has always been a lack of outside credible options. Needless to say many of the hotels have 5 or 6 outlets offering a variety of cuisines in order to keep their guests on the premises. The old city used to offer a range of moderately priced options, to tempt guests outside of the comfort of their hotels. This area suffered most from the Bali calamities, earlier in the decade, and only now shows signs of new life, but their entrance from the Nusa Dua hotel complex had currently been sealed off.
The Bali Collection replaced the Nusa Dua Gallery but has not been over-endowed with custom. One of its better restaurants, Tepi Laut, has moved recently to a more prominent position close to the main entrance, changed its name to Gedong Café and presents great value high quality cuisine. Their Giant Seafood Grill is one of their most popular offerings. In the old village the new Laguna Garden is typical of most, offering many different cuisines, what we call a tourist menu. Originally all menus in this area were in 3-4 languages, now almost without exception a Russian translation has been added.
At one of the newest hotels, Nusa Dua Novotel, which borders the golf course, is The Square, which considering the name is a strangely oval space with quite a range of modern and innovative cuisine at very reasonable prices for a hotel, Pomegranate-glazed Quail as an example. Down in Tanjung Benoa is Lucky Duck, which, not surprisingly, features duck on the menu, done many different ways. Whilst the Duck Burger and the Duck Pizza are most unusual, Roast Duck, Confit of Duck and a Grilled Duck with an orange glaze are far more traditional. There is also their version of Ubud's Crispy Duck.
Tuban saw the arrival of old Kuta stalwart, Mini. Almost as big as the still functioning original but modern, clean and sparkling, this Mini has the same menu mix of live seafood, grilled or pan-fried, a myriad of accompanying dipping sauces, and a full menu of Indonesian Chinese favorites, all at reasonable prices. Their Mixed Seafood Special of Prawns, Fish, Crab, Squid, Clams and Lobster meat at Rp. 94,000++ is a showstopper!
Ifiori opened on the site of the ill-fated Wet, in Jalan Kartika Plaza, in front of Waterbom Park. It is a two level restaurant offering good value Italian food, and under the same management as Pappa's in Legian. Further along at the Ramayana complex is Gabah, which was initially under the direction of Patrick Chauchereau [ex Lola].
At Kuta all of the restaurants that opened were out on the new Bypass, Sunset Road, although many of those who originally opened there have already closed. The later ones are more grand and with more experience behind them. Sushi Tei is a branch of Japan's largest Sushi franchise which includes the first "sushi train" in Bali. The a la carte selection is enormous, some traditional and others modern with unusual combinations. The Grill House is Korean and features Bulgogi, marinated beef that you cook at the table, or you can grill Modemgui [Japanese style Shasliks], Sweet Beef or Pork Ribs [Doeji Galbi] on the grill in the centre of your table.
Harmony looks like a Chinese restaurant and it is, except that all the meat [beef, pork, duck and chicken] and seafood [fish, prawns and squid] dishes are vegetarian versions thereof. They are all made from soya bean but presented as the real thing, and in many cases with the authentic sauces and flavoring they almost deceive. There is Beijing Smoked Duck, Babi Panggang [roasted pork], Cumi Tong Yam [squid with a tangy Cantonese sauce], and even imitation sardines, Ikan Sardencis with chilli and tomato, which happens to be just about their most popular dish.
The Seminyak-Kerobokan area had its usual rush of new restaurants, some totally new, but most replacing previously failed ones. The Chat Café, under the guiding hands of Marinos [ex Mykonos Tavernas, led the way with a café/lounge bar that worked from the first week. Apart from cheap, tasty food they also offer free internet, as do an ever-increasing number of cafes and small restaurants in Bali, though so far mostly in the Seminyak and Ubud areas. Just down the road is Café Marzano, totally Italian, featuring wood-fired pizzas, pastas galore and many Italians.
Nirvana opened on the site of the old Spy Bar, a stylish bar at the front and French restaurant in the rear garden courtyard. Across the road was the immediately successful San Marco Osteria, which closed prematurely due the tragic sudden death of Mr. Sin.
On the main road the old Afghan restaurant re-opened as Kholifar with similar offerings of Middle Eastern cuisine such as entrees of Lahem Bilajeen [three crisp fried pastry shells stuffed with a spicy lamb mince], mains of Chicken or Mutton Vegetable Korma [with onions, potatoes, green chilies, garlic and ginger, all slowly cooked] or a high-fiber vegetarian dish, Chole Maslah [chickpeas, tomato, onion and garlic]. All to be enjoyed whilst seated amongst Arabian and Persian carpets. The Swedish Veranda became the Brazilian Rio [under Finnish management] offering a full Brazilian Churrasco [5 salad starters followed by 7 different meats all cut from the giant skewer, after being cooked in the flames. Includes pork in Marsala and perfect Australian tenderloin, as well as an interesting selection of a la carte items.
Kerobokan hosted its usual rash of new restaurants, many of which have already closed. Those remaining include Med with a Pecan-crusted Chicken with a honey orange cream sauce or Moroccan Prawns with a tabouleh couscous and a spicy harisa, and Sasa offering entrees such as Sepplioline ala Griglia con Patate e Insalata [grilled baby squids served with a warm potato salad] or a home-made pasta such as Fettuccine con Gamberi [with king prawns with wine and herbs]. Café Bali opened in colonial style premises next to big brother, Khaima,
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