A Top Chef’s Guide to Eating Out in Bali

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Nov 13, 2017

by AKASH ARORA, Features Editor

When a chef and a food critic agree on an eatery and bar, it pays to take note. Which establishments topped their list?

The chef

Will Meyrick

The force behind some of Bali’s best restaurants, such as Sarong, Mama San, Tiger Palm and Hujan Locale

The critic

Louise Newsham

Editor of Honeycombers Bali, the island’s premier lifestyle website

Is there a restaurant that really nails the Bali vibe?

WM La Brisa in Canggu, which is quite hot right now. This restaurant’s design really captures the beach-house feel with lots of palms, fishing nets, ropes and distressed wood. The food is clean, fresh and healthy. It isn’t necessarily the biggest standout but everyone in Bali is into healthy, organic food at the moment so La Brisa really speaks to that.

LN The Lawn in Canggu. It’s tropical and bohemian, with plenty of hipsters and hippies and everything in between. The food is a mix of coastal and modern dining with tonnes of good options. They have great cocktails, too.

What’s your favourite fine-dining establishment?

WM Ku De Ta in Seminyak. I’ve been going there for 15 years and, while the restaurant downstairs struggles a bit, the Mejekawi restaurant upstairs is remarkable. The head chef, Ben Cross, is doing interesting things with contemporary food. They bring in a lot of guest chefs and it has a beautiful view of the ocean.

LN It’s not a typical fine-diner but Locavore in Ubud is the number one in Bali. It’s won countless awards and no-one’s doing what chefs Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah do. They use local produce and grow some of it themselves; they even have friends who hand-rear the animals they use. I can’t recommend a dish because the menu is always changing. Recently, it made history by being the first Indonesian restaurant to jump so far up the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, climbing from 49 to 22.

Where do you go for the best seafood?

WM You’ll have to go to a local warung (a small restaurant or café). My favourite is Menega Cafe in Jimbaran. You can bring your own wine and choose live fish or crab from the tanks and watch them prepare it right in front of your eyes as you dig your feet into the sand.

LN Traditionally, Jimbaran Fish Market is where you go for seafood. Unfortunately, the bigger restaurants and hotels have started getting first picks but there’s one remaining restaurant where you can still get excellent seafood: Menega Cafe.

What’s your go-to Indonesian restaurant?

WM Warung Wardani (Jalan Yudistira 2, Denpasar; +62361 224 398). It’s a Balinese restaurant owned by a lady who makes her own satay ayam fresh every day in the back of her house. She has her loyal customers.

LN Local warungs are best for Indonesian food but if you want to go to a restaurant, Ulekan is an excellent choice. I go there with my Indonesian friends for dinner every week. The sauces and pastes are bursting with local flavours and are super-spicy. It’s from the people behind Watercress and Milk & Madu.

And your favourite warung?

WM Babi Guling Candra (Jalan Teuku Umar 140; +62 361 221 278). It’s where everyone goes in Denpasar to get their fix of the roast pork dish babi guling.

LN Warung Yess in Mengwi – it’s my local warung, just north of Canggu. They do great nasi campur and tempeh manis, which they roast with lemongrass and herbs for a beautifully caramelised, crunchy texture. They also do the best sambal; in fact, they have different types of fresh sambal sauces.

What’s the hottest place for cocktails right now?

WM 40 Thieves (Jalan Petitenget 7, Badung; +62 878 6226 7657). It’s a hidden bar – you walk into a ramen shop then take the stairs at the back to this really small but always packed room with a long cocktail bar. It’s where everyone’s going right now.

LN 40 Thieves. It’s a fairly new, Prohibition-style watering hole with just a few guys behind the bar. You can order cocktails off the small menu or have them made to order. Whatever you have, it’ll be an awesome drink.

What about a relaxed beach bar?

WM Starfish Bloo at W Bali hotel in Seminyak is my favourite. They have a big Sunday brunch menu and it’s perfect for families. You can go with the kids, swim in the pool, have brunch and cocktails and spend a whole day there.

LN Komune in Keramas. It’s a lovely spot with a pool and fantastic food and drinks. And it’s a lot less crowded than Seminyak or Canggu.

Where do you go for the best breakfast?

WM Nüde in Canggu is good for breakfast – poached eggs, avocado on toast, coconut bowls… all that kind of stuff. It gets busy, particularly on the weekends, so do book.

LN The Shady Shack in Canggu. It overlooks a rice field and has a really fresh, healthy menu. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with that typically hippie Canggu vibe – all open-air, sunny and surrounded by palm trees.

And for your caffeine fix?

WM There’s a great place in Ubud called Seniman Coffee Studio. They roast their own beans in front of you and even run barista classes.

LN At Expat. Roasters in Seminyak, they serve their coffee with great care, right down to the best possible temperature. And their staff are regularly trained by expat Aussie and founder Shae Macnamara, who’s an award-winning barista. They even take their baristas to Melbourne to suss out the latest coffee trends.

Who does the best nasi goreng?

WM Quite frankly, my wife, Wati, who uses her family recipe. So you’ll have to come to my house or my restaurant, Hujan Locale in Ubud. There are so many versions of nasi goreng; my favourite is when you fry the rice with the spice paste.

LN You’d think Indonesia’s traditional dish would be best served in a warung but that’s not the case. My favourite place is actually Kaum. They call it nasi goreng cabe asap and it’s wok-fried, with slightly smoky rice, a homemade spicy chilli paste, fresh, juicy prawns, a hint of saltiness from fermented krill and a light, herbaceous zest from lemon basil. It’s yum! 

What’s a great family-friendly restaurant?

WM Sundara in Jimbaran has a wonderful kids’ club so you don’t have to worry about the children at all. I go there for Sunday brunch and spend a whole day. The menu is a good mix of local and international.

LN Biku in Seminyak has a high tea for kids and it’s in a joglo, a traditional Indonesian building, so it’s like an exotic Alice in Wonderland tea party. There are plenty of games and activities for the kids and the food for adults is great as well. Their pavlova is the best I’ve had in Bali.

Finally, what’s the hottest new Bali restaurant this summer?

WM Can I recommend my new Thai restaurant, Som Chai, in Badung? It’s very theatrical. You walk into a bar where girls in burlesque outfits are on swings, with fans and umbrellas. It’s moody and low-lit and it looks like a fancy back alley in Bangkok. There’s a big golden door at the back, which leads into a grand dining hall with high ceilings, long mirrors and pictures of Thai kings.

LN Aya Street in Badung. It’s a brand-new Peruvian restaurant that does great ceviche. The interiors are awesome, with lots of crude metals against bright lights. It takes you straight out of Bali and into New York or Miami. It’s the place to see and be seen right now.

SEE ALSO: Bali’s Hippest Island Airbnb Rentals