Where to dine well in Bali
When I plan holidays, I much prefer visiting new destinations to soak up new cultures and feast on new cuisines. I get a thrill from ticking off another country from my never-ending travel bucket list. It probably stems from when I was little and my parents would take my sister and I to explore new countries regularly (even during school term!). Yet for some reason, I’ve chosen to visit Bali three times, all for play, and most recently, earlier this month for a friend’s birthday (and mine).
A few years ago, before I launched FooDiva, I even considered relocating to the island of the gods as it’s known, to open a boutique hotel – probably on an eat pray love whim. In the end, FooDiva and Dubai won me over. And the boutique hotel remains a distant dream.
But why do I love Bali so much to warrant returning? Well it has to be food related of course. Provided you do your research (and avoid the central Kuta district), the dining scene is world-class, with much more than just nasi goreng and satay on the menu (even though Balinese grub can be pretty decent). Thanks to locally sourced ingredients, cheap rents and labour (in comparison to Dubai), it’s also ridiculously affordable, as you will see with one particular restaurant descriptor below. Oh and #BaliDiva loves her shopping too – from fabulous floaty dresses and sparkling sandals, to abstract art that adorn my walls – again at bargain prices.
Here’s FooDiva’s round-up of over 30 restaurants, cafés and beach clubs in hippie-chic Seminyak, on Bali’s southern coast, and inland in cultural hilly Ubud, with glorious rainforests and terraced rice paddy fields. Bali has many other destination options, but these are the two towns I frequent and are therefore more familiar with.
- Urchin Grill & Raw Bar – a seafood focused menu with a kitchen that is not just open-plan but sits firmly in the restaurant. Watching the chefs plate the dishes is mesmerising and an Instagram opportunity in itself. Every dish our large group try is exquisite – I order the coral trout carpaccio and crispy skinned sea bass. The passion fruit soufflé is most definitely worth the wait!
- Sardine – another superb seafood restaurant with produce sourced from neigbouring Jimbaran Bay, and organic greens from a garden up in the hills. A striking bamboo cabana with a terrace overlooks rice paddy fields. The barramundi in a lime chilli Nuoc-cham marinade steamed in a banana leaf is my go-to dish.
- Mamasan – restaurateur Will Meyrick’s establishment makes an excellent retro pit stop whilst on the Seminyak shopping trek. A converted warehouse oozes vintage Chinese chic with Pan-Asian treats – try the stir-fried rice with Peking duck. Sarong is his south-east Asian restaurant with garden seating, more suited for dinner – I’ve not tried it though.
- Grain Espresso – an Australian-owned café oozing atmosphere and excellent fare for brekkie and lunch, coffee included. The nasi goreng in particular is super moreish. Other cafes in Seminyak worth a visit (but not as delicious as Grain in my opinion) are The Coffee Library, Café Bali and Grocer & Grind.
- Warung Nia – warung translates to restaurant in Indonesian, but don’t expect somewhere posh. Warung Nia sits in an al fresco ‘food court’. That shouldn’t put you off though. The traditional Indonesian barbeque dishes of nasi campur, pork spare ribs, skewers and satay are all finger-licking delicious.
- Beach clubs galore – Bali is synonymous with beach clubs so you must include one or two in your itinerary. Ku De Ta is the most famous and a must for sundowners. Mozaic, chef Chris Salans’ baby (more on him in the Ubud section), is the newest and slickest – friends had horrendous service recently though. Cocoon is the all-white, Greek island style number. Where Potato Head (dreadful name) lacks glam factor, it makes up for with delicious food thanks to a chef and F&B team revamp.
- Bali Food Safari – a mystery dine around experience that takes in three or four restaurants in one evening. Similar to mine in many ways! The owner Simon Ward tailored an experience for our birthday girl – a delicious way of sampling a wide range of good, hand-picked restaurants in one night. Restaurants do change so I am sure he won’t mind me sharing them here. Mozaic Beach Club which I mentioned earlier for sangria sundowners and starters; Kilo (a Singaporean import) for second round of starters; Republik 45 for main courses; and the rooftop terrace of the Trans Resort for desserts – each serving a different cuisine, Indonesian included. Mozaic aside, I would return to Republik on my next visit for the full dining experience. He also runs tours in Jimbaran and Ubud.
- Locavore – hands down our best and most affordable meal in Bali. Locavore which is owned and operated by two Indonesian and Dutch chefs, and an Indonesian maître d’ just made the cut for Asia’s 50 Best restaurants at number 49. I fail to get a booking six weeks in advance, but Mr Bali Food Safari manages to squeeze us in. So he has other skills too 😉 An exceptional seven course tasting menu, which with all the amuse bouche, palate cleansers and petit fours is in fact 18 dishes for 695,000 Indonesian rupiahs. That’s only AED195 (US$53)! 98 per cent of produce is locally sourced. We sit at the chef’s counter watching Roy, Elke and their team cooking with such fastidious attention to detail. They also run a cute little café, Locavore To Go, on the same street.
- Kubu – this restaurant is located in the new Mandapa Reserve resort, Ritz-Carlton’s boutique brand, and has the most breathtaking clifftop, rainforest AND riverbank setting. Dining from a European menu is in a private bamboo cocoon overlooking the sights and sounds of the river Ayung. Simply wow and so romantic.
- Sayan House – we swop dinner at Hanging Gardens for Sayan House because we want to avoid another night of hotel dining, plus it comes recommended from the Locavore chefs. The beauty of travelling outside the UAE is that one can fine dine and wine without being strapped to a hotel environment. And I am glad we make that choice. It’s a beautiful colonial-style mansion serving an excellent Japanese-Indonesian fusion menu. Once again the setting is spectacular with jungle and river views (and the rather tired Four Seasons in the background where we pop in for a nightcap).
- Mozaic – French-American chef Chris Salan’s French-Balinese fine dining restaurant which has in the past made the cut for the global #Worlds50Best ranking (it has since dropped off). The candlelit garden setting is magical. Here’s a review I wrote for Gourmet magazine. He also runs a casual tapas bar just down the road, Spice by Chris Salans with a tick-box menu approach. The flavours are Indonesian with a primarily European cooking style. The tuna tataki, crispy pork belly and poached barramundi fillet – all flavoured with local spices – are exquisite.
- Naughty Nuri’s – just across the road from our hotel, this roadside shack makes the perfect last supper before heading to the airport for our overnight flight. There are in fact two outposts within a couple of minute’s walk of each other. The slightly larger restaurant has a menu geared more towards Mexican – but the reason you would eat at either is for the glorious pork spare ribs barbequed at the door – and washed down with a margarita.
Here are a few more restaurants that cropped up in my research and via personal recommendations on social media. An excuse to return pretty pronto! Ubud also runs an annual food festival, with the next edition on the 27th – 29th May.
- Bambu – modern Indonesian.
- Petitenget – farm to fork casual dining.
- Made’s Warung – traditional Indonesian joint known for its suckling pig and 24-hour roasted duck.
- Cafés: Watercress; Gourmet Café; Jemme.
- Blanco Par Mandif – a contemporary take on Indonesian cuisine served through a tasting menu.
- Hujan Locale – pan-Asian.
- Green Village – a menu using produce from their gardens.
- Whatever you do, don’t bother with Ibu Oka in Ubud, the suckling pig institution made famous by Anthony Bourdain. It’s seriously gone downhill since my last visit. Greasy and tasteless.
If you’re heading to Nusa Dua further down the south coast, you must try German-owned Bumbu Bali for authentic Balinese food in a smart garden setting – one of the first restaurants that helped mark Bali on the global food map.
STAY: In Seminyak, we stay at a villa organised by my friend. However, there are plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. I would recommend using these boutique hotel websites for your research. In Ubud, we pick the 46-room Uma by Como with jungle views (if you opt for a pool villa), yet relatively close to the town centre. We only eat here for breakfast (small buffet, with a la carte egg options), but the Italian restaurant Uma Cucina is highly rated.
CLIMATE: Dry season is April to October, with mid-October to March rather wet. Either way, humidity is high!
Do you like to return to tried and tested destinations, or do you prefer venturing to pastures new? Any other recommendations for Seminyak, Ubud and elsewhere in Bali?
— FooDiva (@FooDivaWorld) April 25, 2016