Seminyak, Bali - A World of Amazing Restaurants

If you haven't been to Bali recently (or at all), things are really heating up in the local culinary scene. There's been an influx of local and international talent (with a good number of Aussie chefs) breaking new ground with Indonesian, Asian, French, and Italian cuisines and it's pretty much to the point where you can spend a full week's holiday hitting an amazing restaurant every night.

Back in November we popped over for ten days to celebrate our wedding anniversary and I made it my mission to find out just what the fuss is all about. Here are the standouts from our trip. And a word of warning: they all require bookings and you'll struggle to get into most of them with less than a day's notice. 

Enjoy!

Merah Putih

(photo by Merah Putih)

(photo by Merah Putih)

If you're looking for top authentic Indonesian cuisine, Merah Putih is one of the top places. We are always happy to hit the local cafes and "warungs" but we decided to see what was being done with local dishes in one of the top restaurants on the island. And we weren't disappointed. Firstly, the space is simply wonderful, with its expansive interior and runway-like raised platform from the kitchen. It's air conditioned, which helped after a long, hot day at Potato Head. And the service was just right - friendly and inviting but professional. 

We had the Jangkang (fried soft-shell crab) and the Krengsengan Sapi (slow roasted beef cheek) amongst some other dishes. Have what you like but at this location and at these prices I'd recommend you save space to try a number of the dishes. Highly recommended.

Sarong

(photo by Sarong)

(photo by Sarong)

This was our second time to Sarong, the first being back in 2012. Not much has changed in that time and to be honest, that's a great thing. We booked a couple weeks beforehand for our anniversary dinner as we knew it was one of the standouts we wanted to visit on the trip. 

Sarong is the sister restaurant to Mama San, the brainchild of Chef Will Meyrick. I'm not sure it's their intention but, in my view, it's a bit more formal than Mama San but the food is quite different. There's a great mix of Asian infused dishes and some top cocktails to go with it. The grilled scallops were really good but the standout for us was the betel leaf with tuna tartare. It was so good that I bought Will's cookbook on the way out to recreate it at home!

No aircon as it's open air but that's not a drama if you take a taxi there - and if not, quickly start with an ice cold cocktail to cool things down. As always, book in advance.

Metis

(photo by Metis)

(photo by Metis)

Metis was an interesting one. On one hand, we read some reviews that questioned the appropriateness of French cuisine in the hot, tropical climate - one was even flummoxed as to why you'd have a foie gras menu in Bali. But a friend and his partner went earlier in the year and they recommended it, so we gave it a try.

When in France, eat escargot! I loved them, although I still can't get the Gourmet Female to give them a go. There are a number of great options on the menu but I moved in on the dish that gets all the rave reviews - the 14 hour pork belly. I'm a massive pork belly fan, so I'm an easy mark but this was one of the best I've had globally. Definitely a standout dish and definitely worth the trip over. And the best part? An after-dinner wander through their rice paddy to enjoy the night breeze and the enticing view back into the restaurant. 

Gado Gado

(photo by Gado Gado)

(photo by Gado Gado)

Admission: Our dinner here was included as part of our package at the Double Six Luxury Hotel. But to be honest, we left feeling quite happy that we visited (walking through the rain, no less!) as it wasn't on our radar going in. And I was very impressed that Chef dropped by a couple times to see how we were going and what we thought of the food. He obviously takes pride in what he does.

As I mentioned, we went at night in the rain so we missed out on the spectacular view of Double Six Beach. So if you do get a chance to book a table around sunset, do it! There are a lot of good options on the menu but the standout for me was the "pork three ways". Did I mention that I have three pork related t-shirts in my wardrobe?

Seminyak Italian

(photo by Seminyak Italian)

(photo by Seminyak Italian)

Seminyak Italian is another one that we probably wouldn't have visited if it wasn't in our hotel (and one dinner was included in our package). Besides the fact that we also had breakfast each day there included, we went on our own for a second dinner - so you know it's pretty good.

First, the breakfasts. We loved them. A great array of egg dishes, fruits, and other types of international day-starters. I made it a point to begin each one with their espresso granita, which is worth the visit by itself (but probably a culprit in my 2kg addition). 

Now, you're probably looking more for dinner options in Bali than breakfast and you won't go wrong by adding Seminyak Italian to your itinerary. I'm always a bit dubious about doing Italian in Asian locales but with Robert Marchetti designing the place, you know it's going to be authentic. 

So, people, here it is. The non-Indonesian dish of the trip, “Granchio alla Veneta”. That's hand-picked crab meat, with a hint of chilli, mascarpone polenta and lemon. This is cry-with-joy-that-you're-alive-and-can-enjoy-this good. I've spent hours trying to recreate it at home and I'm still not there. Please, when I die, cover me in this. 

Mama San

(photo by Mama San)

(photo by Mama San)

As I mentioned earlier, Mama San is the sister restaurant to Sarong, designed by Chef Will Meyrick. I found it to be a more laid back place, with different but just-as-amazing Asian fusion dishes. It's air conditioned, which is great after a day walking around shopping.

There are great things here, from the soft shell crab to the crispy pork ribs and we tried a number of them. The standout was “Dhania ghost” lamb, which is cooked with green chili yoghurt and fresh coriander. If you've been to Billy Kwong in Sydney you know where this place is heading. 

I did leave thinking that I wished they had that betel leaves with tuna tartare dish from Sarong...

Ginger Moon

(photo by Ginger Moon)

(photo by Ginger Moon)

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I've saved the best until last. Ginger Moon. If you're in Bali, you MUST make your way over and try out Chef Dean Keddell's food. We happened upon the place through a couple blog reviews but in retrospect, no one really captured just how great this place really is. 

I'll admit, we didn't try the pizzas on either of our visits (we went twice!). And I'm sure they're great. It's just that there's so many other great Indonesian-inspired dishes on the menu that we saved our pizza tasting for home. We tried so many of the dishes I forgot all the ones we ordered! But two were absolutely knock-outs... First was the Babi Gulung buns. If you haven't had Babi Gulung, it's Indonesian roast pig and this is one of the best ways we've ever had it. You get three in a serve and I was tempted to order many times that. Just awesome. The second? The "Ayam Betutu", or Balinese smoked chicken in spices with cassava leaves. If Seminyak Italian was the non-Indonesian dish of the trip this was far and away the Indonesian dish of the trip. Love, love, love it. So good we went back again. Now to recreate it at home...

The best part of Ginger Moon was their hospitality. As I'm known to do, I tweeted to the Chef after the meal to pass on my thanks and compliments. And I got a little bit of courage (see Mugaritz) and asked if I could buy one of their cool aprons. Much to my surprise, they obliged on our second visit. And now I have a little tangible gem to remember the place - beyond all those tasty memories.

Restaurants and Credit Card Surcharges

Recently I've been noticing a trend when I visit restaurants here in Sydney. The dreaded credit card surcharge. I think we're all used to being asked to pay a 2% or 2.5% fee for using Amex as their merchant fees have always been higher than Visa or Mastercard. And this is at almost all retail locations, not just restaurants. But lately a number of restaurants are adding a percentage, usually 1%, to their bills for using a credit card, full-stop. Now, that's annoying in my opinion, as hardly anyone uses cash at restaurants these days and the merchant fees should be costed into the prices. In today's cashless society it's like asking me to pay a surcharge to simply pay my bill. That's frustrating.

Now what really got me going recently was a visit to my local Bavarian Bier Cafe here in Crows Nest. 

The Gourmet Female and I sat down for a quick dinner after work one night, a half schnitzel, some calamari, a pretzel, and a couple drinks. Total, just under $50. Not a big bill but not a small amount, either, for about 45 minutes at our table. A quick and profitable turn. 

You can imagine my surprise when the bill arrived and I see what I thought was a 2% surcharge. Really? They're going to tack on a full 2% to use a card? But then I see it clearer - it's a $2 surcharge. For a $48.90 bill. In my maths that's over a 4% markup to use a credit card. In fact, to be equal with other establishments charging 1% you'd have to have a bill that's $200 or more. Highway robbery!

I mentioned my frustration to the waitress about a 4% credit card surcharge and she says, "It's $2. The percentage depends on how much you spend." Yep, got that. She obviously missed the point. So I mentioned my frustration in my comment card and on Twitter. Did I get any response? Nope. I mean, why would I? It's obviously a bit of a money spinner in most situations. I'm guessing there are few tables spending over $200 - and that's accepting that charging an additional 1% is acceptable in the first place. Funnily enough, the surcharge isn't mentioned on their website menu. 

In any case, what do you think? Should restaurants accept that people pay most times with a card and factor that into their prices? And do you think a flat $2 fee is acceptable? If you're with me, let the restaurants know. I'll grind my teeth and accept the occasional 1% but I'm not going to visit any place that blindly charges a flat fee, regardless of total. But that's just me...

Attica! Amazing...

Last January I had the privilege of attending a cooking class with Ben Shewry at Sydney Seafood School. Ben is the head chef at one of Australia's leading restaurants, Attica, which is number 63 of the top restaurants in the world (it was number 53 last year). Since that class I have been dying to get to Attica to try the variety of amazing dishes Ben creates from local produce and foraged ingredients. So since I'm spending time in Melbourne every week we decided to make a weekend of it and get a table. We weren't disappointed!

Transient

So, here's the menu from the night. As you can see, this isn't your traditional top-end, high priced, generic restaurant. They put real love and care into ensuring they are using unique, underused, or underappreciated local produce, herbs, and spices (Begonia leaves, anyone?).

Transient

I won't go through each and every dish as it was quite an adventure. While the "Crab, Shiitake, and Twelve Basils", "Marron and Fermented Corn", and "Fresh Curd Ice Cream and Blueberries" were fantastic, it's the five dishes in the middle of the menu that really stood out for us. Now, the only drawback to the entire night was that our waiter had a thick accent (we couldn't tell from where) so my understanding of the ingredients in each dish is lacking. But who cares? That's the mystery in amazing food! Here are my favourites from the night:

  • "A Simple Potato Dish in the earth it was grown" - this is the chef's signature dish and it shows. The small potato is wrapped and then cooked in earth for five hours to give it a delicate texture and smoky flavour. It is then placed on a bed of goat's curd with spices and saltbush. Definitely a highlight
  • "Cucumbers, Sauce Burnet, and Dried River Trout" - after being blown away by a simple potato dish, we were further impressed by the depth of flavour and complexity presented in another simple vegetable dish. I know "caring for your ingredients" can be a bit of a cliché these days, what Ben has done with young cucumbers here is amazing
  • "King George Whiting in Paperbark" - this was my favourite dish of the night. The fish has been slow cooked in paperbark and covered in a beautiful sauce and topped with a scallop like mince (did I say our waiter had an accent?)
  • "Flinders Island Wallaby, Scorched Macadamia, Ground Berry" - this dish was very unique in that I've never had wallaby before. I've had kangaroo before but this was milder and more subtle. I have to say, though, only Australians could enjoy eating an animal from their coats of arms (kangaroo) and the mascot from their national rugby team (wallaby). The wallaby was presented medium rare on top of two purées - macadamia and wallaby blood sausage. Trust me, it was simply fantastic
  • "Plight of the Bees" - the final dish of the night was a play off of different types of honeys and textures. A melon honey is topped with fennel granita and then meringue and a thin slice of pumpkin, topped with freeze-dried apple. It was a unique mixture but a fitting way to end such a complex and pleasing meal

Now, here's a tip when you're there in the evening. If they ask if you'd like to take a break between the main dishes and desert take it! They can then take you to the garden in the back and you can stroll through all the amazing plants and herbs that they are growing, including twelve different types of basil! They even had a couple coconut marshmallows for us to roast in their open fire. What an experience!

Transient

And we ended the night with a surprise, a painting of Pukeko birds that Ben's dad created in their native New Zealand. This was concluded with a little chocolate surprise, a mock Pukeko egg that's filled with condensed milk. I had one back at the seafood school and just as good as I remember.

Transient

So, if you're ever in Melbourne and want to taste food like no other, find time to get to Attica. My recent book, "Where Chefs Eat" rate it as a place worth the travel from anywhere in the world so I have two words for you - get there!

Now if I can only get Ben to write a guest blog...