Friday, June 22, 2007

Here We Go Again

"Your first time in Bali?"

"No, our fourth time."

"How many times in Ubud?"

"Four times."

At this point, our Balinese interlocutors invariably nod in approval. They have no doubt that their island paradise is the "Island of the Gods". Surely that is good enough for lowly mortals. Indeed, we are discovering that, the more time we spend in Bali, the more time we want to spend there. After four visits, five days is not enough.

In the beginning, we were simply happy to sit on our patio and stare at the padi fields. With each subsequent visit, we discovered new things to do, new restaurants to eat at. Now, we are torn between revisiting the old and familiar, and exploring new territory. There isn't enough time for everything, let alone time for staring at the padi fields. The temples, the dances, the food, the music, the shops, the festivals, the customs, the landscapes, all add up to a heady mixture. Bali, we are discovering, rewards those who take the time to dig below the surface...

Ubud's Culinary Riches

One of the great pleasures of Bali, and in particular Ubud, is eating out at restaurants. Not only are prices affordable*, the food is imaginatively presented and the settings delightful. From Aussie-style coffee joints to so-hip-it-hurts upmarket options, there is something for everyone, and not a Mcdonald's in sight either. (Okay, Kuta and Sanur now have their fair share of the usual suspects, where fast food is concerned, but so far Ubud has been spared.) And the best part is we don't ever have to dress up if we don't feel like it (although of course HM does appreciate the occasional opportunity to flaunt her resortwear...)

* Most restaurants levy a 15% tax and service charge. Pricier ones such as Mozaic levy a 21% tax and service charge.

vegetarian? health nut? no problem (sign outside the healthy living vegetarian cafe, KAFE)

The only downside, and a minor one at that, is the fact that most restaurants in Ubud are not airconditioned. The problem isn't the temperature. The evenings are pretty cool, given Ubud's location in the hills. It's just that many a restaurant is set in or near a garden and/or padi field which of course lends the restaurant the necessary ambience but also the occasional mosquito at dusk. Still, a quick spray of one's favourite mozzie repellent usually solves the problem, and voila, one is ready for a great meal.

Here are our Ubudian favourites (in no particular order of preference):

Kafe Batan Waru

Voted Bali's best Indonesian restaurant, Batan Waru serves consistently good food, at reasonable prices. Like a favourite neighbourhood eatery, it is where we go to when we can't decide what to eat; there is always something on the menu that looks yummy. It has certainly been the first stop on our Ubudian culinary itinerary on this visit and all the ones before. It's the one, okay, maybe one of two restaurants I'd like to bring home with me, in this case, to replace a certain over-priced self-touted Balinese-Mediterranean joint, on a roof-top no less, that I frequent by default. (The other one is not a restaurant per se. Read on to find out what it is.)

Batan Waru turns 10

comfortable and cosy - a useful pitstop while shopping along Jalan Dewi Sita

Chilli crab in Ubud - that looked intriguing. We had to give it a miss this time because we already had a date with Chris Salans... (see write-up on Mozaic).

iced latte (15000 Rp/SGD $2.70)and cardamom lassi (16000 Rp/SGD $2.90)

Cardamom lassis! HM is crazy about them...

veggie burger (32000 Rp/SGD $5.70)

This lentil, vegetable and almond pattie on homemade bread, with fresh tomato mint relish, is the Rolls-Royce of veggie burgers, as far as HM is concerned. (Her quest for one of similar quality in Singapore continues, now that Uberburger is no more...)

fettucine in candlenut cream sauce, with spicy grilled portobello mushrooms and chicken (36000 Rp/SGD $6.40)

The candlenut, or buah keras as we know it in Singapore, was an interesting touch. Essentially, it replaced the cheese that would normally have been used, not a bad idea at all for those of us who are, uh, lactosely-challenged.

mie goreng with chicken and veggie (33000 Rp/SGD $5.90)

lemper ayam or sticky rice and chicken dumplings wrapped in banana leaf (16000 Rp/SGD $2.90)

serabi kuah panas or traditional Indonesian pancakes soaked in a sweet coconut milk and ginger sauce (18000 Rp/SGD $3.20)

These are good examples of what Batan Waru does with food - simple fresh ingredients served up tasty.

bebek goreng or Balinese duck, simmered with traditional spices and served fried crisp (54000 Rp/SGD $9.60)

sambal, sambal and sambal

We love duck and Balinese duck, deepfried, plus sambal = sedap!


We happily added another cafe to our hit list. Tutmak is the Ubud version of an Australian coffee house. Overlooking the soccer field where the local boys play in the evening, the setting wasn't exactly picturesque, but at the times we were there, it proved to be quite peaceful.

not much happening out there

watermelon juice (11000 Rp/SGD $2.00) and fresh ginger and lemongrass fizz (16500 Rp/SGD $3.00)

Nothing like freshly made ice-cold drinks to take the edge off a hot day, and the freshness of the ginger gave that fizz quite a zing. Forget Schweppes ginger beer - this was one of the best we have had so far.

greek chicken salad (36000 Rp/SGD $6.40)

HM wasn't quite sure what was Greek about the salad - was that a touch of feta and olives in the sauce? - but we had no real complaints.

panseared tuna steak in mushroom sauce (59000 Rp/SGD $10.50)

The tuna steak was good, as was the mushroom sauce. Perhaps it would have been better if the steak was allowed to breathe a little, rather than being so smothered in sauce. Still, it was scrumptious.

scrambled eggs with pork sausages and toast (23000 Rp/SGD $4.10)

This was a little pedestrian. The sausages tasted a tad burnt...

creamed eggs and rucola on homemade bread, with roasted tomatoes (20000 Rp/SGD $3.60)

This was special - the No.2 breakfast special to be exact - and it was good, not least because the bread was outstanding.

cafe latte (14000 Rp/SGD $2.50)

Of course, we had to have coffee at a coffee joint...

Warung Enak

The only similarity this restaurant has with real warungs, simple Indonesian food stalls selling everyday favourites, is that its menu draws its inspiration from basic dishes sold at warungs across the archipelago. Despite what its website ( says about the "casual-chic interior" being "redolent of influences from old Java and warungs of earlier days", the interior design is whimsical post-modern pastiche, period. I doubt if the average Balinese/Indonesian would identify with it. Of course, for the cosmopolitan traveller, it is indeed "a feast for the senses". HM, for one, loves it for the visual extravaganza that it is...

Warung Enak is always a fun experience for other reasons too. For one thing, the service is great. The girls (how patronising of me!) are always game to practise their English Language skills and will willingly explain what goes into each dish. And the menu is an educational experience in itself. We not only get to try new dishes, we find out where such and such dish is from.

vegetable crisps with sambal on the side

Every table gets one of these and they are addictive.

empek empek Palembang (28000 Rp/SGD $5.00)

From South Sumatra, these were deepfried fish dumplings filled with egg, served on sour palm sugar sauce blended with dried shrimps, and egg noodles. HM found the sour sauce oddly sweet, but strangely enough, it reminded me of Chinese rice vinegar. Not HM's cup of tea but yummy, in my opinion.

nasi campur (58000 Rp/SGD $10.40)

Warung Enak's version of this classic serves up a potpourri of flavours:

  • woku blanga cakal putri (poached trevally in spiced herb broth) from Manado

  • ayam taliwang (grilled spring chicken marinated in spicy shrimp paste) from Lombok

  • sate kambing (lamb satay)

  • tempe goreng (fried beancakes)

  • bergedel jagung (corn fritters)

  • sayur pakis saos kuning (fern tips in garlic sauce) from Bali

  • keropok (crackers)

sate babi (42000 Rp/SGD $7.50

We're Chinese, so hey pork anything is always good. And, no, those triangular treats weren't samosas - they were ketupat (rice cakes)!

soto ayam (28000 Rp/SGD $5.00)

I will admit that we have had better versions for this Madurese standard, even at Cafe Lotus. Let's just say this one lacked the oomph of a full-flavoured broth.

pudding kelapa muda (20000 Rp/SGD $3.60) from Kalimantan

Literally that translates into pudding of young coconut which is in fact what it is. Served with pandan and vanilla sauce and a scattering of raisins, it was delicious. (although, ever the critics hehe, we both thought the sweet raisins merely complemented the dish. A tarter taste would have provided some needed contrast to lift the flavours further.)


One of Bali's best, not just Ubud's, Mozaic is an award-winning restaurant located just outside the centre of Ubud. In my opinion, Chris Salan's food is good, though not exactly earthshakingly original. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. His cuisine, probably inspired by his French Laundry days, certainly makes the best use of locally available produce (we had Bedugul rabbit the previous visit!) which is really all one can ask for.

inside the dining pavilion

Mozaic is however a unique dining experience. Where else can you find fine dining in an outdoor setting? Making the best of Balinese aesthetics and architecture, and the balmy Balinese weather, Mozaic offers just that. Other than the quality of the food and presentation, it is the intimate and quintessentially Balinese experience that we love.

amuse bouche of warm parmesan and edam cheese puffs

Mozaic energizer (carrot, beetroot and ginger fizz) and

Mozaic offers two possibilities to start with: a 6-course tasting menu or a 3-course set menu, for 450000 Rp (SGD $80.00) each. The only restriction was that all diners at the same table had to have the same number of courses.

We opted for the tasting menu. Each 6-course tasting menu comprises an appetizer, a fish, a foie gras, a meat, a fruit & cheese, and a dessert. Within some of these, there were further options. The first time we had opted for the surprise menu, meaning we had abdicated control to the chef. This time we wanted a say. This of course meant that we needed some time to ponder the menu, not least because we wanted our choices to complement each other, not duplicate. Fortunately, we were well-fortified by our cheese puffs (cheesy poofs!) and drinks.

Here's what we had:

The night started with the chef's "teasers" as they were termed in the menu.

HM's grilled vegetable terrine with tomato sorbet and rosemary garlic crisp*

my braised cuttlefish with lobster gelee and cauliflower black truffle cream*

As the cold mouthfuls slid down our throats, we knew we were in for a treat.

* The printed menu we brought home did not specify what these teasers were and we hadn't been able to remember what the waitperson had said. I tried emailing Mozaic and was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply from them. Kudos to Mozaic once again, for impeccable service at every point of interaction.

caraway seed roll (left) and seaweed roll (right)

Oh, those rolls were to die for. HM couldn't get enough of the caraway seed roll and I loved the seaweed one. We had to consciously stop ourselves from overindulging in these, so as to leave room for the meal itself!

HM's thin slices of rosemary-grilled venison in a sweet juniper berry marinade, baby mesclun and white truffle oil dressing

my deep ocean scallops with cardamom reduction, roasted eggplant caviar and toasted spices

We enjoyed both appetizers. Of the two, the venison was, in a sense, a more traditional blending of flavours. The scallop dish was more ambitious, more experimental, pitting the sweetness of the scallops against that of the spices, for example. For some reason, HM was very taken by the cardamom reduction (see white cubes in the photo) which reminded me of almond jelly!

HM's Indian Ocean thunderfish fillet in a Pinot Noir-Kintamani grape sauce, baby greens, sauteed cepe mushroom and ginger aromatic emulsion

my salt-cured barramundi fillet in a kluwek-infused Kalamata black olive sauce, with baby corn and fresh Belgium endives braised in coriander seed and vanilla bean

I have to say the barramundi fillet won this round, hands down. The rich (almost chocolate-like, was how HM put it) sauce was gorgeous. What was the magic ingredient in it that brought together the briny flavour of the fish, the sweetness of the corn and the bitterness of the endives so well? We doubted that it was just the olives. There was a hint of fermentation that could not have come from olives. Perhaps, I suggested to HM, kluwek - whatever that was - was a liquer. The answer, when it finally came, courtesy of the magical powers of Google, was enlightening yet obvious - kluwek, of course, was buah keluak.

my crispy seared duck foie gras, with Balinese 'rujak' sauce, apple, guava and spanish saffron marmalade

HM's Victoria quail 'pastilla', baked with a touch of foie gras, moroccan spices and cinnamon in phyllo pastry

Both foie gras dishes were twists on the tried and tested. The Balinese take on the traditional way pairing of foie gras with a vinegar-based sauce was delicious, the tartness of the 'rujak' sauce cutting through the indulgent softness of the foie gras. HM was as pleased as punch to find pastilla on the menu and even more delighted to discover that it was exactly what she had expected it to be, full of robust spicy flavour that was complemented by that of the foie gras.

my slices of australian beef tenderloin and french black trumpet 'de la mort' mushroom in a fricassee of sweet corn, fresh brussel sprout leaves and imported turnip puree

HM's Victoria rack of lamb with caramelized pears, turnip, salsify, walnuts and chestnut in a dijon mustard-mustard seed sauce

potato puree, served on the side

Of the two meat dishes, HM's rack of lamb was the fresher in terms of taste. I would have enjoyed my beef more if I hadn't had similar vegetables in an earlier course. Neither of us were sure what to make of the potato puree. We're not sure if we liked the somewhat gluey texture enough...

my fresh lime sorbet and ras-el-hanout with papaya, water melon and white rice tuile

HM's fresh A.O.C. 'tete de moine' with marinated raisins, grape agar agar and dill oil

After the comparatively heavy meat dishes, the fruit and cheese options were refreshing, particularly the lime sorbet. That was HM's choice really, because I'm not a big fan of sour. In this case, I did wonder where the ras-el-hanout (moroccan spices, I think) went, the lime taste being predominant.

HM's warm 'Guanaja' Valrhona dark chocolate fondant with fresh star fruit sorbet and spiced young star fruit in a coriander seed caramel

my seasonal apples baked in a caramelized phyllo with a Kintamani grape in balsamic reduction and granny smith sorbet

The evening culminated in two excellent desserts. The fondant was better than average but the other dessert stole the show. Whoever the patissier is in the Mozaic kitchen, he or she is a keeper. HM who usually dislikes phyllo (filo?) pastry was in raptures over this one. It was so light and crispy we dreaded to think of how much butter went into the making of it.

All good things must come to an end, and so our evening at Mozaic did, two and a half hours later.


Indus is a favourite of ours but we had yet to have dinner there. We usually go in the day when we can see the gorgeous view of the valley below. This time, HM was adamant that we check it out at night.

We sat outside on the balcony. In the day we would have had benefit of the view but, at night, it was all inky darkness. However, the breeze was lovely; it was almost chilly up there on the ridge. Better still, the windy conditions kept the mozzies away, yay!

soy bean keropok

fish cakes (27000 Rp/SGD $4.80)

Balinese seafood paella (60000 Rp/SGD $10.70)

tenggiri (Spanish mackeral) curry

We ordered something old, something new. My favourite was the fish curry. The gravy was lipsmackingly good, although the fish was overcooked. There was something different about the paella. We weren't quite sure what but my sense was that there was a little too much tomato in the sauce thereby drowning out the touch of Balinese spices that makes this dish unique. And for some reason, neither of us remembers the fish cakes...

So the food wasn't that impressive this time round, and truth be told, the service left us cold too. The waitstaff went about their duties quite mechanically, without the charm that we were used to from Ubud's eateries. In fact, we have had better service at Indus itself. Our conclusion? Dinner at Indus is quite magical, for the romantic setting and ambience. The restaurant is capable of excellent food and good service, so a little luck may be required for a perfect evening.

Ibu Oka Babi Guling

If there ever was an icon of Balinese food, babi guling would be it, and Ibu Oka is THE place in Ubud, if not in Bali, to go for babi guling. It is where locals, expats and tourists alike rub shoulders as they wait in anticipation for their share of the spoils.

lookit that sucker!

So what is babi guling? Simply put, it is roast pork, but ah, not just any ordinary roast pork. Okay, roast pork in any form is never ordinary to me, but when rubbed with a heady mix of spices (ginger, garlic, cloves, turmeric, coriander, candlenuts...), it is heavenly. And at Ibu Oka, word has it that the pigs are slaughtered the very morning they are to be served, roasted at Ibu Oka's home for hours over a wood fire, before being carried over whole to the warung.

the only true warung on our list

To enjoy a lunch of babi guling, one squeezes in at one of these low tables, tucks one's legs under oneself, and waits patiently for food to be served. To ease the wait, a couple of mangosteens and some pork rind are highly recommended.

pork rind

Finally, lunch is served.

a babi guling spesial at Ibu Oka (20000 Rp/SGD $3.50)

Roast pork, crackling, blood sausage, some bits and pieces, and vegetables served on white rice - it's quite a sight to see people of all nationalities tucking in with gusto. Who can resist the allure of spicy tender roast pork? And that's why, if I had the capital, I'd ship Ibu Oka's over lock, stock and barrel.


Terazo is Kafe Batan Waru's upmarket sibling. This time round, we only had to time for drinks and dessert there, and of course to admire the decor and take in the ambience. Perhaps the next time round, we'll get to check out its food menu.

retro chic

ginger fizz (15000 Rp/SGD $2.70) and ginger martini (45000/SGD $8.00)

coconut panna cotta with carpaccio of ginger and stewed baby star fruit (30000 Rp/SGD $5.40)