Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rich

As the Bible wisely points out, man does not live by bread alone, although on a foodie tour of Bali it’s likely to be artisanal brioche rather than bread, and artisanal brioche is pretty awesome.


However, taking this tiny scriptural snippet completely out of context, my travel buddy and I have decided that we needed to do more than just shove carbs down our throats on this holiday. And thus today we went to Waterbom.


I have visited Waterbom on every one of my visits to Bali, and it never disappoints. Over the two years since my last visit, Waterbom has added a few new slides, mostly of the “stick a tourist in a plastic box and then drop the floor out from under them” genre. But it remains a glorious place of joyous laughter, whooping thrills, and getting water shoved up your nose… probably after some fat Saudi princeling has peed in it. Okay, so it’s not all delightful. But still.


In the evening we went to the more mature end of the fun spectrum, and slid into the sleek, opulent nirvana that is Merah Putih.





We shared entrées of Sambal Jamur (mushrooms, eggplant, deep fried tofu and sugar snap peas) and Betutu roast pumpkin with asparagus, green beans and smoked coconut. For main course, we shared Babi Panggang (pork loin and belly with cabbage and andaliman), and a duck breast rendang with cassava and radicchio. All of it was absolutely spectacular. In fact, the roast pumpkin dish was my favourite one so far in Bali, and, I'm pretty sure, the best pumpkin I've ever eaten.


Then it was time for dessert. Merah Putih divides dessert into two lists: standard desserts and liquid desserts. Clearly, we had to have both. I had a chocolate and peanut mousse with parfait and salted caramel, along with a large chocolate truffle that accompanied a Hibiscus Manhattan. My travel buddy had Borneo honeycomb icecream with chocolate and a ginger tuille, and a white chocolate martini with white chocolate truffles.





Beyond the wonderful food and the thoroughly stupendous notion of liquid desserts, Merah Putih is a magnificent establishment. It’s a cavernous, glass-walled cathedral, with the interior spaces defined by the beautiful, Gaudi-like columns of ribbed and stretched fabric. These columns aren’t structural, but they are lit from within to provide an ambient light. Throw in some palm trees, smooth jazz, innumerable candles and fastidious waiters in black uniforms gliding about, and you’ve got yourself a first class restaurant.





And that’s why it couldn’t happen in Perth. The interior space of Merah Putih is at least three stories tall, and most of it is empty air. Those soaring walls of patterned glass look out on nothing but bamboo fences and the sky. The idea of using expensive reinforced glass over cheap concrete would be laughable in Perth, as would going to all the trouble and expense of building a structure tall enough for three floors and only using the ground level. There’d also be an overwhelming temptation to cram in as many tables as possible, instead of leaving generous spaces around each one as Merah Putih does. Perth, after all, doesn't really do "palatial" - the best we can usually manage is "supersized suburban".

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pampered

This morning I popped down to the pool to get a swim in before breakfast, and encountered comedy gold from the opposite end of the age spectrum.


A couple of elderly Germans were at the swimming pool, putting their towels on “their” lounges at the stroke of 8 o’clock when the pool opens… then heading out for the day.


Never mind that the pool has more lounges than the hotel has guests. Never mind that there are normally only perhaps a dozen people lounging around the pool even during peak hours. They’re Germans. They have towels. Those are lounges. It’s like some bizarre biological imperative.


After breakfasting, walking around town, napping, some lazing about and reading a detective novel, I went in for a massage. Cue the tinkling windchime music, cups of herbal tea, scented oils, large bowls with flower petals floating in them, and petite Indonesian ladies who could probably tear a phone book in half, at least in a world where phone books still existed.


Following an hour of being ground down into a vaguely human-shaped slurry, I poured myself off for a shower and change of clothes, then walked over to Potatohead.





Potatohead is probably the most iconic of the Seminyak beach clubs, with its vast, curving, flaring wall of recycled wooden shutters three or four stories high, behind which sprawls an acre of terraces, lawns and swimming pools. My travel buddy and I popped in for a drink and to watch the sunset, not realising that every person in Bali goes to Potatohead to have a drink and watch the sunset. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of seats, we couldn’t find one. And Potatohead doesn’t allow you to just buy a drink at the bar and then lurk – you must have a table. Fortunately, after a couple of increasingly frustrated circuits of the grounds, we stumbled across a table just as it was being vacated and managed to snag it.


It’s a good thing we did, as I then had possibly the best cocktail I’ve had in Bali – a concoction of lemongrass vodka and mint topped with a thick passionfruit foam.


Another great aspect was the music, a blend of late 80s/early 90s pop funk from artists who never made it quite as far as Prince or Janet Jackson. The funniest thing was that when I glanced over at the DJ booth, the decks were being manned by a little white girl, all of eight years old, smiling with delight as she bobbed her head in time with the music coming through her headphones. I was disappointed when the actual DJ, a scruffy 30-something dude, returned from the bar.


After the sun had gone down we walked over to Sarong for dinner. Sarong is a bit of an institution in Seminyak; a swanky establishment for special occasions. The barmen wear fitted retro white shirts and heavily oiled hair, while the hostesses are dressed in gorgeous, slinky black gowns with matching stilettos. The walls are decorated with mirrors, Balinese art and swags of sheer bronze fabric, and the ceilings are festooned with massive black chandeliers. This is the sort of place where the bathrooms have rolled white hand towels rather than a hot air blower.





We had one entrée of little chunks of crispy pork belly with poached tamarind, and another of fabulously spiced san choi bao. For main course, we shared a smoked chicken red curry with pineapple and pea shoots, a braised beef cheek crusted in crushed peanuts with cucumber and green chillis, naan bread and some black lentil dahl. We were too bloated for dessert there, so we elected to have some gelati on the long walk back to the hotel.


As usual, Sarong couldn’t happen in Perth. Very few restaurants in Perth can afford to pay $20 an hour to have someone standing around welcoming guests – they simply have the waiters greet people as they enter and seat them. In Bali, where a staff member would be lucky to earn $20 a day, there are usually two hostesses, a senior one to oversee the bookings, and a junior one to ferry guests to their tables. At Sarong, both hostesses are impossibly glamorous in their sleek and diaphanous gowns, and pose at the entrance with one leg slightly extended like models doing a high-end photo shoot.


I’m also pretty sure Perth wouldn’t allow people who stand for living to do it in stilettos, and without a little rubber mat to stand on. OH&S is so unsexy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lowlife

On my last trip to Europe, our muse on our Mediterranean cruise was a woman we dubbed Quattro Senni. On this trip to Bali, it’s another guest at the hotel we’ve called Big Hair Lady.





That’s not just Big Hair. That’s Malaysian soap opera character Big Hair. That’s Big Hair that’s had articles in scholarly engineering journals written about it.


Bow before its enormity and vast surface area!


After a long, leisurely breakfast I walked down to Revolver for a cup of decent coffee – the coffee at the hotel restaurant is as good as one would expect coffee provided under contractual obligation to be. Revolver is the birthplace of the recent Bali coffee revolution, and has a dedicated following amongst the hipsters, both local and visiting. Any doubt about this is dispelled when you meet the manager, who has the laid back surfer stoner vibe nailed down. He’s like an Indonesian Snoop Dogg.


Later I shopped for bootleg DVDs. Most of the little dodgy DVD supermarkets seem to have vanished; victims, no doubt, of the rise of YouTube and video downloads. Still, a couple still exist for the benefit of the elderly and the internetless. I bought 15 discs for $10, which will provide me with endless hours of entertainment as I struggle to switch off Hindi subtitles and try to follow the action through bursts of pixilation and skipped scenes.


In the evening, my travel buddy and I tried to get into Mamasan, but it was too busy and had a wait of 45 minutes for a table. So we walked down to the ocean and tried our luck at La Lucciola… which was too busy and had a wait of 45 minutes for a table. So we trudged through the sand dunes to the Samaya resort next door and had cocktails, then returned 45 minutes later.


La Lucciola is Seminyak’s most celebrated Italian restaurant, and also the cheapest restaurant I’ve eaten at yet, which is remarkable, especially considering its prime location right on the beach. My fettucine with tuna was good rather than great, but that’s just evidence of the wonderful food I’ve been having in Bali. Dessert was a honey and biscotti semifreddo. There was a nice cocktail of sake, vodka and rosewater, but the high point was actually their coleslaw, with its light dressing of mustard and parmesan.


But of course it couldn’t exist in Perth. La Looch and Samaya sit right on the beach, and while Bali beaches are mostly occupied by strolling couples, little kids excited to be up after 10pm, and the late shift of hawkers selling kites and light-up toys, Perth beaches are occupied by drunken lowlifes. Put a fine dining restaurant on a Perth beach and the ambience would be shattered by the scrag fights, inebriated bellowing and enough F-bombs to curdle the carbonara. I’m sure there are drunken lowlifes in Bali too, but it seems that the Seminyak authorities are quick to remove them and discreetly bundle them off to somewhere more appropriate. Like Kuta.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Photogenic

While I was wallowing around the swimming pool this morning, no doubt looking like a hippo with early onset dementia, a young couple emerged onto the terrace. He had carefully coiffed hair and perfect tan lines, and she had a turquoise bikini and matching blue-tinted mirror aviators. They lay on the lounges, swiping away on their high-end phablets, until she was ready to perch on the edge of the pool in the classic bikini girl sunning herself pose; one leg straight, one leg drawn up, leaning back on her arms with her chest thrust out so far I thought she was going to dislocate a shoulder. He obligingly photographed her, then she spent the next ten minutes furiously instagraming the hell out of it.


The only time they actually got into the pool was to take a selfie, in each others arms (but not so close to obscure their respective abs). And naturally at no point did anything above navel level get wet.


This is why I love Instagram. Anything that requires pretty, pretty people to take themselves really, really seriously is an ongoing source of comedy gold.


After my swim I decided to test the local caffeine scene. The first place on the list was The Coffee Library.





The coffee wasn’t particularly inspiring but it’s a cute, friendly venue. Putaloco even climbed up to their loft library to check it out.





Because one coffee is never enough, we then proceeded to Sisterfields. It’s the only place in Bali I’ve had to queue to enter, but their coffee is superb.


Then I strolled down to Sea Circus, only to discover that I was getting kinda jittery, so I had gelati instead of coffee. Sea Circus has a laid back surf shack vibe, painted with bright pastel geometric forms, which seem to draw in confused teenaged American tourists like moths to a flame. As such, eating there feels a little like being in a John Hughes beach movie circa 1985.


Putaloco searched in vain for Kelly LeBrock.





In the evening, my foodie friend and I took a long walk north to Metis. Metis is easily the best restaurant I’ve been to in Bali, on any of my trips. It's also the most expensive, at around $75 for three courses and a cocktail plus tips and taxes. At home that might cover a two courses and a beer at a mediocre restaurant, but Metis is anything but mediocre.





After an amuse bouche of savoury custard-filled pastries, I had a cocktail made with Aperol, citrus and sparkling wine, and an entrée of stuffed tempura zucchini flowers in an exquisite lemon, chive and mustard sauce.





Main course was Tasmanian salmon fillet on a bed of rice, with a shimeji mushroom and citrus soya butter sauce that was somehow even better than the sauce in the entrée.





Dessert was a nougat semifreddo with rhubarb sorbet.





After that big meal, we took a short walk around the manicured gardens, pausing in the gazebo to watch pristine white koi gliding silkily through the dark water below.





Metis is wonderful, but, like Ginger Moon, it couldn’t exist in Perth. Leaving aside the price rise that would make it unaffordable to almost everyone, Metis makes liberal use of gas-fuelled ornamental fires, set into giant urns filled with water lilies or long concrete troughs surrounded by bubbling streams. In Perth, there would be incessant whining about the fires being ecologically unfriendly and wasteful and what if children stuck their faces in them? And isn’t the ornamental pond filled solely with white koi racist? The whole vast, glorious, superlative venue would be savaged by ten thousand small, spiteful voices.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gingerly

Today I once again put miserliness before wisdom and experience and took a Jetstar flight.


Surprisingly, however, it worked out fine. In a rare moment of something airline-related actually going my way, the check-in agent offered me a window seat in the exit row. Legroom! Glorious, glorious legroom! So despite it being Jetstar, and thus about as luxurious as one of those third world buses with goats on the roof, I had a very comfortable flight and landed in Bali not wanting to curl up and die in a gutter.


From Denpassar Airport we took an overpriced taxi up to Seminyak. There are many calm, meditative places in Bali, but Seminyak veers between “decadent luxury” and “exuberant chaos” on a moment by moment basis. High-end shops and luxury restaurants stand aloof amidst listing power poles, crumbling footpaths, scooters parked in every conceivable nook and cranny, and shifty locals trying to sell tourists taxi rides, massages and Viagra.


Fortunately my hotel is being relatively honest when it sells itself as “a peaceful oasis in the heart of Seminyak”. Away from the street, the lobby is a Zen space of orchids, polished surfaces, mellow gamelan music and smiling staff who welcome you with a polite sembah. Upon checking in, we were subjected to the usual upselling, but we resisted, largely because we had no idea what they were actually offering: there’s nothing so ineffectual as an upselling attempt from someone who doesn’t speak your language very well.


Because we’d arrived fairly late in the day, we set off almost immediately for our first restaurant. It was the only one on my list that I’d already tried; Ginger Moon.


The last time I was here it was with the anti-foodie, who ordered chicken pizza. This time, my foodie friend and I could order The Banquet. Corn and zucchini fritters. Roast duck pancakes. Asian fusion mini hotdogs. Chicken satay skewers. Watermelon salad with deep fried soft shell crab. Three kinds of crème brulee (pandan, black sesame and ginger). All washed down with amazing passionfruit and chilli martinis.


Putaloco was a little alarmed by the traditional monkey head bill holder...





But he defeated it...





Or so he thought...





Sadly, Ginger Moon couldn’t exist in the same way back home. This delicious six course banquet cost us $23 each, not including drinks or service charges. In Perth I’ve paid more than that for a single martini.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Aspirational

The last time I went to Bali, I was traveling with someone who didn’t really care too much for food. He was allergic to shellfish, didn’t like fish or pork, wasn’t too fond of vegetables, and wasn’t at all partial to strong spices or Asian cuisines. And he didn’t drink.


This made our restaurant outings somewhat problematic, because Bali has some spectacular restaurants which offer a five star experience… for the same price as a pub meal in Perth. And I was with someone who didn’t want to eat in them.


So I’ve made plans to return to Bali, this time with a fellow foodie, to sample the high end delights of its finest and most celebrated restaurants.


Joining us on this epicurean odyssey is another one of my little plastic friends.





I have dubbed him Senor Putaloco, because he needed some sort of name, and I’m just that racist.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

End

I will keep many images from my time in Melbourne...





... including this one of a man reclining in Fitzroy Gardens while fondling his own buttocks.


Melbourne: a classy place full of classy people.