Thanks to Mozaic and Metis (both French eateries), Bali is gradually making its climb to the culinary roadmap of Asia’s to-eat list. Yes, we adore Bali’s two big Ms, but dining well in Bali doesn’t always need to be a French affair. A clutch of lesser known, albeit equally noteworthy, restaurants are swiftly joining the elite dining club that’s luring local expats and fun/food-loving travellers in droves.
Dutch chef, Eelke Plasmeijer, is arguably Ubud’s best-kept secret. Parked in the kitchen of Alila Ubud’s airy all-day restaurant, The Plantation, since April 2010, Plasmeijer has successfully stayed under the radar all these years, but not for long. Since March 2012, he has successfully led a locavore movement to source all ingredients – from sea salt, coffee, tomatoes to meats like mackerel, pork, fish – locally and these are showcased in the affordable 7-course seasonal tasting that’s proving to be steal the thunder from the restaurant’s transcendental jungle views.
Local tomatoes get the limelight in the debut starter of 3x tomatoes – chilled Bloody Mary sorbet spiked with local red peppers meets the warm embrace of an intensely savoury essence of tomato consommé served with semi-dried tomato. And if you’re not convinced, the arrival of the mains will erase any lingering doubts – pristine white snapper baked in a heap of salt crust is served moist with caramelized butter vinaigrette alongside caper berries and hyacinth beans; while pork neck is slow braised to yield a texture that cuts like butter and served with green pepper, shaved broccoli stem and fried shallots. With the concluding dessert of lemon basil sorbet with peanut crumble, rhubarb and vanilla compote, Plasmeijer proves that he is as competent with sweets as he is with savoury fare. Desa Melinggih Kelod, Payangan Gianyar, Bali; 62-361-975 963; www.alilahotels.com/ubud
5 years after opening fine dining Sarong Bali to rave reviews, Will Meyrick, a Scottish who cut his teeth at Jimmy Liks and Longrain Sydney and have a love for all things Asian, is working up an appetite for street food from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam (plus Thai – how can Meyrick completely shake off his Thai roots?) at one-year-old Mamasan. In a black-swathed double story former warehouse at Jalan Rayah Kerobokan, Meyrick has distilled a low-lit Shanghai-esque space with a confection of tanned leather Chesterfield couch and a specially commissioned Mamasan wall mural as centrepiece. From Meyrick’s quarterly travels, black-and-white photos of Asian street life adorn the walls and these set the scene for Mamasan’s eclectic menu of hearty (rather than refined) Asian street food.
Chiang Mai larp is a wicked toss of minced pork belly, pork liver, pork blood stir fried with heaps of herbs and chillies; crispy pork hock is served on the boned with nahm jihm jauw (barbequed pork with chilli dipping sauce) and nam plah prik (chillies with fish sauce); most riveting is the toothsome and refreshing deep fried soft shell crab enlivened with penny worth leaf, coriander leaves, peanut and lime. Instead of the classic mango sticky rice dessert, Meyrick gives the dessert a Balinese twist with sticky black rice pudding (a popular Balinese breakfast dish) in coconut cream crowned with mango slices. Come February 2013, Meyrick’s food empire expands to Jakarta with the debut of E&O - will it be a Sarong or Mamasan concept? Only time will tell. Jalan Raya Kerobokan Badung, Bali; 62-361-730 436; www.mamasanbali.com
Unlike most popular indie dining hotspots that are concentrated in popular venues like Seminyak, this beach club-like eatery is sequestered away on the Southern fringe of Bail and accessed via a treacherous descend down a long and winding dirt track. Housed in an airy thatched roof cabana that opens out to a rock pool with babes in bikini surrounded by beanbags teeming with a sun-loving crowd, El Kabron has quietly gained a following for its unblocked cliff-side panorama best witnessed at dusk whilst tucking into pool-side tapas fare like paella, gazpacho and grilled calamari, washed down with Sangria.
Yes, the breathtaking views are clearly El Kabron’s trump card, but the food’s not too shabby either, not when you take into consideration that Marc Torices, who learnt his chops at 3-starred San Pau in Barcelona, is commanding the kitchen. Come end 2012, Torices will introduce a signatures menu crafted with local produce - think seafood salad with smoked fish, passion fruit and pomegranate and gnocchi in creamy seafood sauce crowned with luscious prawns. Then, perhaps El Kabron will truly make its mark as a culinary contender, at least in Southern Bali. Jl. Pantai Cemongkak Pecatu, Bali; +61-361-780 3416; www.chiringuitoelkabron.com www.bibikgourmand.com
Evelyn Chen traded her frequent flyer miles from her jet-setting corporate days for a critic's pen, and has been eating and drinking on the job ever since. She is a former Time Out food critic and current editor of Zagat Guide (Singapore); her food and travel features have published in CNN Travel, New York Times, Telegraph and Destin Asian, amongst others. Follow her on www.facebook.com/bibikgourmand or www.twitter.com/bibikgourmand for updates on where she's eating right now.