I’m not an overly adventurous eater. I don’t try new foods very often. Even when I do, I tend to stick with the safe bets, the tried and true. So while in Bali, on the Sydney Writers’ Centre Writing the Senses writers’ retreat (gosh, that’s a mouthful), I decided I would try some new things. Be a little adventurous – well, at least for me. This is my collection of those taste sensations, some good, some not so good. The highs and the lows, I guess. I have tried to give a rough guide to the prices but please don’t quote me on them as my short term memory is shot (as for the conversions – I’m working on a very rough, divide by 8 policy).
19 June: Our welcome lunch was at Indus Restaurant, a fairly inconspicuous locale midway between the two resorts our group was staying at. From the outside it looks as though it is simply an entrance to a temple or gallery or some such. Walk up the steep steps and you do indeed enter a small gallery. At the other end and down some steps you reach the restaurant, which is impressive but mainly because of its view. The menu was an interesting mix of Western and Balinese/Indonesian styles where steak sandwiches share the bill with the likes of Nasi Goreng. Overwhelmed by choice and not wanting to fall back on a western favourite, I chose the Nasi Goreng Special which came with satay chicken (two whole bits of it!?) and a (cold) fried egg plopped on top. It was tasty but not really any better than the fried rice I cook at home, just quietly. Although, having said that, there was some food envy going on up and down the table so I may have just picked the wrong dish.
Dessert was the saving grace for me. I had the Chocolate Divinity, chocolate mousse on a biscuit base, and it was indeed divine (although I came back for it a couple of days later and was not so impressed – hit and miss, perhaps?). I don’t remember exactly but I think my meal, which also included a mocktail and coffee, came in at approx. 200,000 rupiah (excluding tax) or about $25AUD, so not too bad for Bali but not great either when compared to some of the other meals I had here.
For dinner, a small group of us decided to try out the Japanese restaurant, Minami. We chose the Minami Seven-Course Taster Menu at 250,000 rupiah which, with the tax and service charge added on, worked out to roughly $40AUD. This included an aperitif, appetiser, soup, two bento boxes, sashimi and dessert. Can you say OMG? I don’t know where we fit it all after lunch but we managed to find room. The highlights for me were the baby chicken balls and organic vegetables with sesame in the first bento box (who would’ve thought I’d pick vegetables as a favourite?); the second bento box – beef cutlet and mama’s recipe, a kind of mashed potato only better; and the homemade chocolate mousse (what can I say – I’m a sucker for chocolate mousse). But what was better than the taste sensations in my mouth was the absolutely beautiful presentation of each and every course.
For a group of writers embarking on a course on writing the senses, this was most certainly a meal for the senses! I would definitely recommend Minami to anyone, it left me with a very happy opu (you’ll have to check out Jewel Staite’s blog for that one – fingers crossed she hasn’t copyrighted the phrase yet).
21 June: Tonight, while most everyone else indulged themselves in a bit more Indus, I decided to try something new and went to a little Indonesian restaurant, called Warung Pulau Kelapa. I tried the Ayam Bajanegara, chicken coated in grated coconut and then fried until golden. It was very tasty and the Es Jeruk Nipis, or iced lime juice, went refreshingly with it on the warm evening. For 28,000 plus tax and service (~$5AUD), I’d say that’s a bargain!
There was room for dessert afterwards, as there always is when you’re on holidays, so my companion and I decided to continue the theme of trying something new and popped down the road to see if Mozaic would do dessert. When we arrived, I kind of got the feeling for what Jim Lowe is singing about in ‘Green Door’ as two big security guards blocked our way. When K asked if we were able to have dessert only, however, they smiled broadly and stepped aside, pausing only to check our bags, finding amusement in the bag of lemons in K’s. At the door, we were once again greeted with a broad smile and assured that dessert only was not a problem. Once inside, we were shown to the lounge area, seated and shown the menu.
Mozaic is one of those restaurants which makes you feel like you’re dressed up to the nines in a nightclub, underage, and any minute one of the bouncers is going to sniff you out. I just couldn’t help feeling a little out of place with its decadent décor, understated colour scheme and cooler than cool ambience. But every staff member who met my gaze beamed at me and made me feel at ease. I was beginning to like it here. (Except for Mr Terribly Busy and Important behind me who spent the entire time on his mobile completely ignoring his companion.)
K and I decided to go for a taster of chocolate truffles, strawberry & white chocolate mousse and mango sorbet. It was pretty impressive. My favourite was the white chocolate truffle but the most interesting by far was the mango sorbet which came with an avocado base neither of us was expecting. It was such an experience, I wrote about it for my writing the senses homework that night!
The only thing that really ruined the whole experience was the woman who kept coming in from outside to smoke. This rather bizarre reversal of the social norm to which I am used to was explained to us later by the restaurant manager who most kindly took us on a private tour of the grounds after we had finished. Smoking is not allowed in the dining area (which is outside) as the odour interferes with the tastes and other sensory pleasures of the dining experience, and so smokers are asked to go inside to the lounge area when they want to smoke.
I will admit that Mozaic is pricey for Bali (dessert was 120,000 rupiah exclusive of taxes or approx. $15AUD) and there were issues, after the fact, to do with our credit card payment, but the staff were warm and friendly and the experience was definitely a feast for all the senses. So, all-in-all, if you’re contemplating, give it a go, even if it’s just for drinks and dessert!
23 June: One of the ladies in our writing group had read about a little place in Ubud which did a suckling pig that Rick Stein had apparently said he would cross continents for. So she got a little group together and we headed off for lunch at Ibu Oka. When we arrived, there was a line out the door and down the road but, never fear, one of the security guards came across to our window and said something to our driver and off we went. Our driver told us there was a second Ibu Oka around the corner and they had directed him to that. We were dropped down an alley way and, after a brief walk down a maze of alleys, we arrived at the second Ibu Oka.
Appearances would have to be deceiving because, on first glance, I wouldn’t normally have been in a screaming hurry to eat in a place like this (I should’ve listened to that instinct). Cafeteria-style set up, it was noisy, dark and just a bit smelly. Okay, it was a lot smelly – the live pigs were clearly close by. We were placed at a table in the corner, we were now even closer to the pigs, and handed the menus. The menu was basic, which was fine – most people were here for the one thing anyway. The five of us were reasonably quick to make our selections: meat and crackling only for most, some rice and other bits for two of us.
As we waited for the food to arrive, we listened to the squealing of the pigs and wondered how many of them knew their fate. We breathed in the smell of manure and I felt my stomach turn over in revolt. Then the food arrived. It was very simply presented, much like the restaurant itself, nothing special. We tasted and, much like the presentation and the restaurant, it was nothing special either.
This was the Baba Guling Rick Stein would cross continents for? It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. The meat had more flavour than the roast pork I cook at home but, not to be immodest, my crackling is better – and I’m no MasterChef. I was disappointed, I think we all were. We finished it quickly; there was no savouring going on here, at least not on my part – I won’t speak for my companions. Would I recommend it? Honestly, I wouldn’t bother. I think we each parted with about 50,000 rupiah, from memory, or a little over $6AUD so at least it didn’t cost the earth (or a continent).
24 June: One of my staples while I was in Ubud, and one of my exceptions to the ‘Try Something New’ rule, was Man-Maru. A hop, skip and a jump away from the hotel I was staying at, this little Japanese restaurant does good sushi and wonderfully understated but attentive service. K took me and another of the writers there on our first night and I was smitten. A few days later, I tried it again and was pleased to see that the service was still as good and the food was just as nice, even though I tried something new and different, kara-age (fried chicken) with rice, but still safe.
The third time I had chicken teriyaki sushi and was pleased to find it was just as good as it had been on the first night. And so much better than the food court sushi I buy back home. This time, inspired by the week of writing the senses classes and our teacher, Patti Miller, I decided to be brave and do something I had never done before – put wasabi on one of the rolls. Okay, so I only scraped the tiniest bit on it but it was a start and it was enough to feel the tingle in my mouth and taste the buzz. So, proud of my newfound bravery, I sacrificed my last sushi roll and added just a bit more wasabi on it and savoured the stronger buzz.
I can’t remember the exact bill each time but I never paid more than 100,000 rupiah for something to eat and drink (more like 75 for sushi) which is roughly $12AUD. So, if you’re in Ubud and are looking for some understated, friendly service, or are just craving some good sushi at a really good price – I thoroughly recommend Man-Maru.
Another place I would definitely recommend visiting if you’re in Ubud is Bridges. We had our farewell dinner there and the only reason I’m not going to go into that one in detail is because, I hate to admit it, I can’t for the life of me remember what I had (okay, I have pictures but I can’t tell you what they are). But it was good. Plus, they do an awesome iced coffee – with cream and iced cream – and that makes me a friend for life!
This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of my food experiences while in Ubud, only those I felt worth mentioning for one reason or another. It was most definitely a gastronomical adventure for me, even if I was not as adventurous as you, my dear readers, might have been. Baby steps, people, baby steps!
Do you have any favourite or ‘must-try’ restaurants in Ubud? Leave a comment and let me know.