Which Ubud restaurants do local food lovers visit again and again? Check out Ubud-based writer, Michael Freundt’s, list of favourite hang outs, places that are consistently good. This is also a great opportunity to welcome Michael to the 360Bali family as he waxes lyrical about the restaurants, and a warung, he keeps going back to.
School, life, and food in Australia led Nengah Suradnya to open his own restaurant in Canberra from 2004 to 2009. He has taken his experience, and the restaurant’s name, back to Indonesia, to the village of Penestanan, (pe nes TA nan) on the ridge above Ubud, Bali. Some smarty-pants locals call it Ubud Heights. This Element is a little less formal and sits on the main road, a bit of an Eat Street, in the middle of the village. Take the dog-leg turn to the left just after you cross the river traveling west out of Ubud.
They serve Western and Indo fare and, if you can read their famous sign (above) always at their door, you’ll know that Pork Belly is a speciality. It’s very good but my favourite is absolutely the Duck Sausage, served with pear, salad, walnuts, and cheese; while my favourite main is their Barramundi on Pea Risotto. Oh, and a constant special which should be promoted to the menu proper is their Soft-Shell Crab. Get a table on the verandah and watch village life go by. Penestanan: a little quieter than its mother-town, Ubud.
This is one of the prime Ubud eateries, in the centre of town. Downstairs features all-day dining on Indonesian tapas in an elegant Batavian Café Culture style. But upstairs is where the magic lies. It’s a beautiful room: a large, first-floor, multi-windowed, dining space; with a high ceiling, and air-conditioned when necessary. The staff are well-trained, not just in service but their knowledge of the menu is extensive and will give considered advice if you ask.
The format is centred around sharing. Empty plates (designed by Kevala Ceramics) are put in front of you and you help yourself to the entrees, or mains you’ve ordered. The cuisine is pan-Asian and extensive; including vegetarian, gluten-free, and nut-free selections. Softshell crab is becoming a Bali favourite and here is one of the best examples. The highlight is always the whole fish backed in salt which is presented to you before it’s taken away and boned and portioned. The lamb shoulder with jackfruit in a spicy red dahl sauce and crispy duck with green mango salad and dried fish are constant favourites too. A great combination. There’s nothing to whinge about here. Consistency is everything. If you have a good experience here, your next one will equal, if not surpass, it. If you can’t eat all you’ve ordered ask for bunkus, which means ‘wrapped’ and they will package your left-overs for you to take home. Aussies call it a doggy-bag.
With Ubud consolidating its culinary-destination status it is quickly becoming a worthy rival to the better-known and grander restaurants of Seminyak.
When you’ve had your fill of Balinese warungs and Indonesian fare and crave something a little more western, a little reminiscent of home, head for Kebun (Indonesian for ‘garden’). It’s a little piece of the Mediterranean in the heart of Ubud. The décor looks like a set from a B Grade provincial production of The Student Prince, with tables made out of old Singer sewing machines, complete with pedals, and candelabras overflowing with melted wax; an open garden area, but also an enclosed air-conditioned room with walls lined with dusty wine bottles; but it’s the food that is the attraction. An extensive choice of pizzas, tapas, an excellent hamburger, North African tagines, a Ploughman’s Lunch, and one of the best, and substantial, French Onion Soups I’ve ever had, and the best crème brûlée ever! But their main claim to fame is their consistency. I can guarantee that what I rave about now will be still worth raving about in months to come. Their wine list, by the bottle or glass, is extensive and they’ve learnt to have more than one of each wine in the fridge. Gone are the days of my very first visit, seven years ago, when the waiter said wide-eyed and incredulously to our table of six, “You want another one?” Check it out!
Look for the art deco sign on the eastern side of Hanoman St.
This is NOT the famous Made’s Warung in Seminyak. This is the famous Made’s Warung in Penestanan Kaja, on the ridge above Ubud. It’s a garden restaurant tucked away where you need a local westerner – not a local Balinese who are hopeless at giving directions – to either direct you there or take you there. They serve traditional Balinese fare but the Soto Ayam (Chicken Soup) is a meal in a bowl and worthy of the walk to find it (no car access). Every warung (local restaurant) in Bali has its own Soto Ayam. This one is the best. Their Fish Curry is also great. Typically, there is no waste at a Balinese warung because they do no preparation (mise-en-place): if you order the salad that’s when they start cutting up the tomatoes. It’s not fast food, it’s fresh food, so don’t panic or get stroppy if you’re on your second Bintang (the local beer) and the food still hasn’t arrived. Relax. The food is also served when it’s ready. Each dish will come out one at a time. Don’t wait until all are served: you’re not in Kansas any more.
disclaimer: these photos are not the exact dishes. ED
In Ubud, in the middle of a little street, Dewi Sita, running between Monkey Forest Road and Hanaman Street is a new-ish eatery, Nusantara. As the name suggests – it’s an old Javanese word for the Indonesian archipelago – they serve authentic Indonesian food from across the islands, discounted by the availability of the produce locally. The food is served in a family style: all the dishes, big and small, are served together. But beware! Before your food arrives you are served with a wooden platter of complimentary snacks, which fills the role of European tradition of amuse-bouche: bite size morsals which prepare your taste bubs for what’s to come. So, order carefully. The food is medium to highly spiced; but don’t let this deter you. The cooking is expertly done so the spicy heat surfaces after you’ve enjoyed the flavours of the main ingredients, at the back of the throat, not on the tongue. This is as it should be. As usual, let the staff know if you have any dietry restrictions and they will guide you; they are well trained and their English is better than most. Don’t go past the banana blossom salad (Oseng Jantung Pisang), the fragrant soup cooked in a coconut (Jukut Kelor Mesanten), and the yellow curry prawns (Udang Kemangi). Oh, and their squid dishes, no matter how it is cooked, are always melt-in-your-mouth. Enjoy!
Michael Freundt is an Australian writer living in the village of Penestanan, next to the cultural centre of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
“I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Writing, to me, is in the same category as eating: necessary.”
Food lover and most recently author of the saucy Veronica series, Michael writes poetry, short stories, novels and blogs. This is his first feature for 360Bali, but surely not his last. For more about Michael, check out his blog here.