A friend of mine said something really interesting the other day. He asked me if I’d ever noticed that while Bali has several stunningly beautiful restaurants, with gorgeous views and great design, and some great local restaurants, that serve both fantastic Balinese and other regional Indonesian dishes, it was pretty much impossible to find a restaurant that combines all of the above. The more I thought about it, I realized he was right. It was hard to name a restaurant that could offer breathtaking vistas, a cool vibe with great style and design, and really sumptuous, authentic local food. The combination was only logical. Why wouldn’t some smart restaurateur design a restaurant like this? Why shouldn’t there be a place as cool as Ku De Ta, or as pretty as Mozaic, that offered really delicious Balinese fare? After all, when I travel somewhere, I want to explore and learn about the local cuisine. I want to tuck into really well-prepapred authentic (and not touristy) dishes. But I’m also a slave to style and I’d like to not have to always be eating such food in less than chic environments.
Enter The Warung at the new Alila Villas Uluwatu resort. This swanky casual restaurant at this glamourous new property, perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean on Bali’s southern coastline, delivers the total package. And I know I was just recently waxing lyrical about another Alila property, but I have good reason. These guys, at least at the Alila Villas level, just seem to be able to get things right. And that’s worth shouting out about. The Uluwatu resort, an ultra-luxe (and yet also sustainable) development designed by Singapore starchitects Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassel of WoHA, is strikingly chic. All clean lines, bright colors, and natural materials, Alila Villas Uluwatu is the kind of place you’d expect to see movie stars and billionaires sunning, sipping cocktails and trading secrets.
The Warung is one of the property’s two restaurants. The other is Cire, an ultra-modern Western restaurant focused on using organic regional produce. While Cire is (from what I understand) the pride and joy of the hotel’s Executive Chef Stefan Zijta, formerly from two-Michelin starred Vermeer in Amsterdam, I was much more excited to try The Warung on my most recent trip to Bali. Some foodie friends had raved about it, applauding the way that Zitja and his culinary team have been able to update local dishes through new and novel ways of both presenting the food as well as playing with the recipes themselves.
The restaurant is spread out across a main dining room with an open kitchen and a really cool, long communal table, as well as many other tables (small and large) both in the courtyard next to the dining room and on the patio in front of it, facing the ocean. The clean modern groove of the interiors is complimented by the great tunes being piped out around you.
Sadly, because I stopped off for a bite on the way to the airport, I couldn’t stuff my face as much as I usually do. I was only able to nibble on a few dishes, but all of them were super and good enough to make me both put The Warung on my Bali Must-Eat List as well as rave about it on this blog.
My colleagues and I were greeted with a lovely long platter of local dips and two different kinds of keropok (fried prawn crackers). The dips were all super-fresh, and ranged from 3 different kinds of sambal to a refreshingly zingy corn relish. We were then served a range of marinated satays. We had prawn satay, fish satay (made into a paste and molded around lemongrass before grilling), chicken, and the most unusual but my favourite, snails! Kakul (the local term for snails) are a very traditional food for the Balinese. These snails were delicious, rich, earthy and really something special. The satay was served with a really yummy dip (not that we needed it), a fresh vegetable relish and some molded rice cakes. Next up was a green papya soup. This was amazing (and I normally hate papaya) and I’ve been begging the resort for the recipe since returning to Singapore.
Our next two courses showed off how Chef Zitja has been pushing Balinese cuisine in slightly new directions. First we had a babi guleng burger. This was awesome. I’ve made no secret of my love for the Balinese roast pig. Regular readers also know I am a burger-fanatic. Having these two great dishes combined into one simply made my day. Zitja told me he takes the babi guleng, which his team makes on property, and then minces up the meat and skin with more herbs in order to make his small but flavour-packed patties. He served the burgers with a nice spicy sauce and, surprisingly, pickled ginger.
After the burgers, we tried some roasted lobster. The lobster is actually marinated, then poached, then rubbed with more spices and roasted quickly. It’s then plated with some microgreens and served under a pillow of coconut foam. The dish didn’t look anything like traditional Balinese food, but all of the flavours, even some of the techniques, draw heavily from the island’s culinary history.
Sadly, I had no time (nor room in my stomach) for dessert. Which wasn’t really a problem because I know I’ll be coming back to The Warung any and every time I’m in Bali. It’s the perfect spot for catching the sunset with some cold cocktails and great sounds, followed by some of the best local food I have ever had on the island.
Alila Villas Uluwatu
Jl Belimbing Sari
Banjar Tambiyak, Desa Pecatu 80364
Tel: +62 361 848 2166