A Balinese Dinner Safari
More than Food
We arrived in Bali late Friday, after 20 hours of travel from our home in Germany. My husband and I pushed past a mass of strangers offering to carry our bags for tips. We exited the airport, and the hot, humid night air enveloped us. Though exhausted, we stayed awake, watching the chauffeur navigate the heavy traffic of mopeds, motorcycles, construction vehicles and cars. Once at our villa, we slept soundly and woke to a peaceful, sunny day, undisturbed by the bustling world beyond our private paradise. We did not plan to venture out until our Bali Food Safari that evening.
Why a food tour?
James Beard, cookbook author and culinary celebrity once said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” In need of a low-key, fuss-free vacation, I stumbled across Bali Food Safari on TripAdvisor and could think of no better way to discover Bali. Founded in 2013 by an Australian couple, the company specializes in progressive mystery dinners at three to four restaurants with the choice of three regions. Prices include transportation, escort, meals and service.
We planned to split our weeklong stay between Seminyak and Ubud and would have plenty of opportunities to explore those areas. Instead, we booked an outing to Jimbaran Bay, known for fabulous views and seafood.
At 4:30 p.m., we headed to Jimbaran and so did everyone else. Our driver maneuvered congested, twisting two-lane roads, dropping us off at the tiny Edge Hotel Bali a few minutes before sunset. Our guide, Laila, said she would return on the hour.
The restaurant was empty, save for several waiters who pampered us — pulling out chairs, placing napkins and explaining the menu. We watched waves crash on rocks, hundreds of feet below the poolside table and listened to the music echoing from a nearby wedding reception.
Against Laila’s advice, I ordered local white wine. I should have stuck to mojitos; my husband’s were tart and refreshing. After only a few minutes, we received appetizers, two sizable seared scallops. Simple seasoning accented the fresh taste, but they were a bit overcooked. Next came a warm potato-carrot soup. I chopped up my mini bacon burger garnish to combine both flavors and textures in each spoonful. The main course was crispy duck on a bed of wilted bok choy, tender but lacking the namesake skin.
On a mental scorecard, I gave The Edge an A+ for atmosphere/service, but a B for cuisine.
“Order wine here,” Laila said while pointing at Di Mare’s impressive wine cellar. Though busier than The Edge, fellow diners on the whitewashed patio chatted softly, so we could hear water lapping against the sand.
As safari guests, we were offered reasonably priced wine pairings by the glass, two French and one Indonesian. Unfortunately, two out of three wines arrived well after plates. Portions at di Mare were small but memorable. Truffle honey brushed salmon was followed by one of the evening’s highlights, delicate braised pork rib with slightly sweet sautéed pumpkin. The finale was a single large scallop accompanied by apple-vanilla sauce and garlic-thyme dressing. Mine was perfectly crusted but lacking a translucent center; it had been in the pan a few seconds too long.
An A- for food and B for location and attentiveness.
Tapis is an open-air restaurant tucked amid towering palm trees at Kayumanis Estate and Spa. Staff was friendly, service excellent, portions huge; our first taste of traditional Indonesian cooking — seared tuna with pickled vegetables, Balinese smoked duck and beef Rendang arrived with a bamboo basket of fluffy steamed rice. My husband’s hero was the tuna, my favorite, the succulent braised beef in a spicy coconut broth.
Full and happy, we agreed that Tapis deserved A’s across the board.
Cuca Flavor Restaurant
Within walking distance but a world away from Tapis is the trendy, ultra-modern Cuca lounge. Floor-to-ceiling linen curtains could be pulled around each table, providing privacy for late-night rendezvous. A few patrons sipped colorful cocktails at a bar in front of the open kitchen, while others shared tapas.
We were here for dessert; for once I didn’t mind sharing. The Bali Breakfast looked like a sunnyside up egg, but the yolk was mango coulis and the white whipped coconut milk. It was a great ending, except that it wasn’t the end.
Cocoa 99 reminded me of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, composed of brownie bites and mint gelato smothered in melted chocolate. Surely our safari is over, I thought. Nope, dessert also came in threes. Baked apples and caramel were balanced by black pepper ice cream, delicious but unfinished. Cuca earned a B+ for atmosphere and A’s for service and taste.
The verdict for Bali Food Safari? It was worth the calories and cost. But I recommend Merah Putih in Seminyak for perfect scallops.