I’ll have a cocktail with that: Ubud’s Aperitif makes life special

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. 

Panji heads the bar and he gets my measure quickly and suggests the Gold Rush, a take on a whisky sour. I love whisky sours and this refined version is the perfect pre-dinner cocktail.

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.

Aperitif Food
As is often the case the menu tells only part of the story.  A series of amuse bouche precede dinner, I’m up to four before I stop counting. They are a series of crisp tempura-battered betel leaves. Light and pretty combinations of seafood, fruit, tofu, and edible flower combinations adorn the leaves and despite their size are full of flavour with great textures.

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. 

When the waitress informs me the chef has suggested I ‘try the asparagus’, what to do? It’s a beautifully balanced dish, crisp asparagus in a light beurre blanc sauce dressed with crisp seafood croutons and bright tomato dice. The plates are beautiful, I must ask where they’re from. I don’t know why I was expecting French food, the name perhaps? Instead, it’s modern European with local flavour highlights and almost a nod to retro dining. It’s clear the chef is steering his own course and it’s much more playful and refreshingly light than I was expecting.

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 Vanderbeeken

Nic is one of the chefs who have been inspired by the challenges of Covid, rather than sink into frustration. He is one of the busiest chefs on the island, working together with a list of the island’s top chefs to create exciting collaborations that have inspired diners to get out of the house.

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. 

I cut short the courses because I wanted to save myself for Chef Nic’s signature venison Wellington. Normally served for 2, with eggplant dressed with rendang spices, a mushroom emulsion, a rich jus, and a transformative creamed potato, it lives up to my expectations brilliantly. A rare venison filet, stuffed with foie gras, surrounded by mushroom duxelles and wrapped in burnished, puff pastry, it’s as close to perfect as I’ve tried. Delicious, and perfectly portioned for 2. I resisted eating the other half, thankfully. 

Dessert

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.

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