Written by Sarah Dougherty
Ubud's family-owned and managed Viceroy Resort has long been recognised for their love of food. The opening of the stand-along Aperitif restaurant at the entrance to the elegant resort is a testament to their belief that there’s no such thing as too many great restaurants.
With Belgian Executive-chef Nic Vanderbeeken at the helm, the restaurant attracted rave reviews from the start. The elegant white building shines like a beacon as you drive in. Divided into two sections; the 1920’s art deco-inspired bar with panoramic views over the river gorge; and the crisp, colonial-style restaurant dressed in grey and white with a checkerboard floor and a gleaming open kitchen.
As a result of twisted communications, I ended up in a different restaurant to my dining companions, rather than leave I surrendered to the experience. I love eating alone, it’s quite a liberating experience, and rather than being distracted by conversation, it allows me to focus on the food and the dining room completely.
I asked myself why I haven’t been here before? Too far, too rich, or perhaps I’ve become lazy, yet finally here I am, alone and loving it.
I begin where all self-respecting food writers should start; the Art Deco-inspired bar. It’s both huge and intimate at the same time. A pool table to one side, a terrace to the other and in between a grand bar, stacked with temptation under a glow of hanging lamps.
The degustation menu offers plenty of choices and my request to truncate it, knowing already the highlights I want to try and willing to forgo the adventure in the interests of comfort, is elegantly handled.
Rather than feeling like a difficult customer, I’m indulged and the waitress returns to tell me Chef Nic suggests I add his asparagus with crab as well. Sounds reasonable.
I’m in no doubt I’ve dropped into the land of silver service, with crisp white tablecloths, ballooning wine glasses, and regular cutlery switches. The service is impeccable and each of the staff who serve me introduces themselves in a very genuine yet non-intrusive way.
The bread trolly arrives, with 3 selections of flavoured butter. Now I know I made the right decision to skip a few courses. Warm fennel bread with truffle butter, hello!
Tiny, beautiful plates begin to arrive. The first is a beautifully presented raw snapper, cured with a Peruvian-inspired Leche de Tigre (tigers milk), it’s lively and fresh. Next is a crab dish, as pretty as the first, with warm crab meat laid on a complex foam. It takes the waitress more than a minute to recount the ingredients, I pick up corn and coriander and then get lost, thankfully it’s delicious.
The dishes are beautifully balanced with a light touch I wasn’t expecting. And pretty, almost feminine, playing off the crisp black and white dining room.
Nic has been working with Eelke and Ray from Locavore, Chris Salans from Mozaic, the maverick pastry chef, Vincent Nigita, Andrea at the Apurva Kempinski Resort, and Chef Wayan Kresna of Potato Head, among others. A series of chef-led events has kept Aperitif in front of mind for serious diners in Bali and while the dining room tonight is not full, it is lively, as is the elegant bar.
During a break on the terrace I meet a couple discussing the pros and cons of alcohol and tobacco. They start a detox tomorrow in Ubud and came to enjoy their last drinks. She tells me she just ordered a tequila that cost her Rp 2 million. I’m astounded that such a thing exists but when I checked with Panji at the bar he pointed out a ceramic bottle that costs over Rp 13 million. I ask him to send me home if I’m tempted to order that.
There is a choice of four desserts and my love of chocolate swayed me from my first choice. The chocolate bounty is inspired by the candy bar, a stunning play on the flavours of coconut, chocolate, and peanuts. A stunning dessert to look at and despite the size, it’s rich. On my next visit, I’ll order the raspberry vacherin, a lighter end to my elegant dinner.
Naturally, it doesn’t end there. Coffee and petit fours are offered in the bar, served individually on a trolley presented by the staff. There are at least 8 tiny sweet offerings, which I decide to take home. Not before a bite or two of the most fragile, however, and my sweet tooth is more than satisfied.
Aperitif has earned its place in Bali’s dining scene, a very competitive environment at the best of times
These are not the best of times but this creative chef and the team behind him have created something quite unique here and put all their creative minds to work to ensure that this isn’t a once-a-year occasion restaurant.
With more chef collaborations and music nights planned, Aperitif is a lot more accessible than I imagined and the bar is itself a popular attraction, particularly for connoisseurs of top-shelf tequila but that will have to wait for another visit and a far bigger budget.