Dinner – Monday, January 2, 2017
I admit to being at a loss when we decided to visit Bali – beyond the popular street food of the warungs, did the island have anything to offer culinarily? Google led me to a few yawn-inducing French fusion restaurants. However, a check of that much-maligned list yielded a lone entry that piqued our interest.
Locavore is located in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. The restaurant serves two completely different degustations for omnivores and herbivores – in retrospect, I deeply regret not dining here on two separate days to experience both menus. Ostensibly, each menu is a compact 7 courses, but when all was said and done, we received 17 dishes paced nicely over the course of three hours.
Unripe fruit, tamarind jam, chili powder
One of Southeast Asia’s quintessential dishes (every country in the region has a version) and a personal favourite of mine. This deconstructed Indonesian version captured its essence nicely – the crisp, tart fruit primed the palate.
Tempura of local spinach leaf
Seaweed pillow bread, tamarind jam
Black rice blini, smoked egg emulsion, crispy black rice
Corn, pumpkin seed cream, peanut tuile
The tanginess of the sweet, semi-fermented corn proved a good match for the earthy, rich, cream underneath. This was one of my favourite bites of the evening.
Baby sparrows, long pepper leaf
A refined interpretation of the Balinese bebek goreng (crispy duck), the fried little birds were as crunchy as expected (and evoked a tiny pang of guilt), although I’ve come to realize that I’m not a fan of the dish in general.
Tomato sorbet, warm tomato broth, celery salt
Our penultimate amuse showcased a saltiness that would be evident in the ensuing courses. The kitchen has a liberal hand with the seasoning that I suspect would turn some people off.
Young coconut, cauliflower
Coconut and cauliflower were presented in many forms – raw, puréed, roasted. The combination was excellent, running through a gamut of textures.
12-hour cooked squid
Daikon, edamame, pea shoots, cold-pressed peanut oil, kemangi
The squid was slow-cooked in homemade brem (a traditional Indonesian rice wine) and wrapped in strips of crisp daikon. The verdant broth of peanut oil and kemangi (lemon basil) was terrifically refreshing.
Smoked mackerel, brassicas, pumpkin, sos tiram
Various brassicas were affixed to a pumpkin seed cracker by a smoked mackerel cream. The cream, together with the sos tiram (oyster sauce), gave the dish a very savoury profile – a pumpkin vinegar spritzed over the vegetables table-side helped balance this.
Liquid aminos, pickled genjer, fermented garlic, purslane
“Into the sawah”
Bubur, garlic, snails, fern tips, wild flowers, 64C duck egg
The Balinese gargouillou – sawah are the rice paddies that cover a significant portion of the island. All the ingredients of the dish, most notably the rice itself, are found in the paddies. The rice was made into a traditional bubur, or thick porridge, akin to a dry risotto. A great course, and a lens into the local ecosystem.
Local crayfish, blanched and smoked
Pineapple, blood clams, batak sauce, water spinach
Lamb satay and lamb shoulder curry
Eggplant puree, charred rice wrapped in banana leaf
Jackfruit cream, guava sorbet, basil seeds, condensed milk foam
A brilliant pre-dessert! Only the foam is visible above, but it hid a treasure trove of local fruit. Jackfruit is one my favourites, and the combination with guava was so good, it literally made my mouth water.
“Bubur sum sum”
Coconut and rice flour porridge, mango sorbet, coconut cream
Some substantial bites ended the meal, including coffee cake, fresh longans, and a duck yolk custard. A small bowl of yogurt with compressed honeydew, buckwheat and honey was the most composed of the quartet, and my favourite.
Locavore has the makings of a Central, or an Attica. Execution-wise, the kitchen ran into spots of trouble, and the thoughtfulness of their dishes does not yet match the greats, but the wealth of regional ingredients is a huge boon. I find it rather difficult to properly judge the food beyond the technical aspects, as these are flavours I grew up eating. I will say this – we greatly enjoyed our meal, and I expect the restaurant’s prominence to grow as it (hopefully and deservedly) scales the various international lists.