They say that the best experiences are those that catch you by surprise. Well, on my recent visit to Bali, the breathtaking destination dubbed as ‘the Island of the Gods’, I was treated to an unexpected yet unforgettable culinary adventure.
This particular story began when one of my best friends, who is based in Los Angeles, sent me an email regarding our upcoming vacation in Bali. “We got reservations at the best restaurant on the island!” she said with excitement. I was certainly intrigued by her news, however, since I was already traveling at the time, I admittedly didn’t think much of it. “That’s nice,” I thought to myself, as I closed the email and marked it as unread so I can respond at a later date.
The serene landscape of Ubud, Bali. Image credit: Alila Manggis Bali
Little did I know how of a ‘big deal’ this reservation was. It wasn’t until I casually mentioned the reservation to another foodie friend a day prior to my arrival in Bali that I found out Restaurant Locavore is not only considered the best in Bali – but the best in the country (Indonesia). In fact, it had been named as one of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants for the second year in a row a mere two weeks prior. She then proceeded to inform me that we were definitely lucky as one would normally need to book at least three months in advance. Having had the pleasure of dining there last year, she then advised me to choose its 5-course prix fixe menu rather than the 7-course option because “The food just kept on coming. And it’s A LOT of food. You’ll see..” she explained.
Thanks to my friend’s glowing review, my curiosity heightened. I proceeded to check out its website and found out that it offers quite a unique concept. Headed by two classically trained talented chefs, Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah, Locavore strives to support sustainability within its community. They do this by cultivating close relationships with various farmers, fishers, and artisans across Indonesia, enabling them to serve their patrons with menus packed with fresh seasonal produce and ethically fed meat.
Chef Ray (Left) & Chef Eelke (Right). Image credit: The Honeycombers.com
Fast forward to d-day, the dinner ended up being the culinary adventure that almost didn’t happen. Before leaving one of Bali’s co-working spaces where I had been working from that day, I asked another friend who was joining us for dinner as to what time we should best leave for the restaurant. “Wait, the reservation is at 8? – I thought that it would be done by 8.” he then proceeded to explain that he had other plans and wouldn’t be able to join after all.
Upon returning to the villa my best friend and I were staying at, I come to find out that she had fallen ill due to something she had eaten the day prior. “I can’t make it either – you guys just go ahead” she lamented. So, at this point, our reservation for 4 people dwindled to 2 and to top it off, I wasn’t able to get a hold of the driver we hired for the trip. As our villa is located in Ubud, a relatively remote area with no taxis you can hail on a whim or access to public transportation, this definitely presented an issue. Thankfully, my friend who was still able to make it to dinner managed to get his resort’s concierge to get us a taxi – which apparently was no easy feat.
But alas – we were running nearly an hour late. Since it’s normally very difficult to get a reservation at Locavore, there definitely was a good chance that they may give our table away. To add to the anxiety of being tardy (I’m usually very punctual), as the street that the restaurant was on was not brightly lit and the restaurant’s sign was quite obscure, we had quite a hard time finding it! So, we asked the driver to drop us off at the nearest street corner (thanks Google maps!) and continue the search on foot. Fortunately, I spotted one of the chefs who had stepped out and walked passed by the restaurant. I had recognized him from browsing through the website and not so discreetly announced “That’s one of the chefs! It must be near!”. Lo and behold, we finally arrived at our destination.
As we frantically entered the restaurant, it was clear that the host, along with the rest of the staff, was waiting for us. He walked us to the only vacant table in the house – ours. “Sorry, we’re late..” I murmured to the host. “Oh no problem at all, we’re happy you’re here”, he responded with a genuine smile.
And though the moments building up to it was an unexpected adventure in itself, it pales in comparison to what we and our senses, particularly our taste buds, were about to experience.
Amouse bouche & all the other ‘extra’ dishes served with the prix fixe menu
Let’s just say that by the time they served the first of the three amuse bouche, we were counting our lucky stars that they didn’t give our table away. All the ‘hoops’ we had to jump through to get ourselves to that very moment was more than worth it. As previously recommended, I opted for the 5-course menu while my friend, despite having been warned of how much food we have ahead of us, felt compelled to choose the 7-course. “May as well just go all in!” he said with glee. This was a bold move – especially seeing how a pairing (alcoholic) beverage comes with each course.
The Steak Tartar – Raw beef, Tong Cai, Aminos Liquid, Pickled Genjer, Mushrooms, Fermented Garlic & Purslane
With every dish served, a waiter or waitress or sometimes, even one of the chefs who created it, meticulously provide us with detailed information of the many ingredients used. As my foodie friend previously shared, the food indeed kept on coming. Not that we were complaining – of course. On the contrary, we enthusiastically devoured our plates of edible masterpieces. Served in small portions, each dish was so carefully curated that it more than satisfied our palates. Thanks to the complementary dishes in between courses, by the 3rd course, the Steak Tartar, which happened to be one of my favorites, I was already feeling full. But, knowing that this is not a meal that one experiences every day, I forged on.
The Mackarel – Broccoli Stems, Savory Cracker, Sauce Tiram, Garlic, Pumpkin Vinegar, Kailan & Daun Kelor.
Another thing that I found unique about Locavore is that the dishes they served looked nothing like what you would normally see in other restaurants. The ‘Mackarel’, served as our ‘opening’ course, for example, was presented in such a way that it easily would pass for some sort of a vegetarian dessert.
What I found ironic is even my least favorite dish out of the bunch, cheekily titled ‘Into the Sawah’ (translates to ‘Into the Paddy Fields”) may just be the most stunning out of them all. And that’s really saying something as they were all a feast for the eyes. I was told that it’s a popular pick amongst the patrons – including my friend. To be fair, I hadn’t enjoyed it as much as the others because I’m not too fond of duck – including its egg yolk, which was the primary ingredient of the dish.
Into the Sawah – Heritage Galuh Rice, Snails & Garlic, 64 Degrees Duck Egg, Frog Abon, Fern Tips, Wild Flowers
Soon after, it was finally time for the meal’s ‘final round’ – the dessert. But before it was served, our waiter explained, “We have four desserts before your main dessert. Normally, we serve it one at a time, but we will bring it out all at the same time for you.” We burst into laughter – partly because we were relieved that we still have more to look forward to and partly because we can’t believe that there’s more food!
Long story short, since we had such an oh so fashionably late arrival, we ended up closing down the restaurant. In many ways, made it even more of a memorable experience. It gave us the opportunity to joke around with the gracious staff, to pay much-deserved compliments to the wonderful chefs, and of course, to take our time as we happily go through our five desserts. Needless to say, we left the restaurant with a spring in our steps and huge smiles on our faces.
Though I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying plenty of scrumptious meals, whether it’s served as a part of fine dining experience or at a street food stall, I can honestly say that this was one of the most unforgettable. Despite having had visited Bali more than 10 times already, thanks to its unique culture, breathtaking beaches, and zen ambiance, Bali remains one of my go-to travel destinations. And now, I’ve got yet another delightful reason to come back for more.
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