For many, Bali is known as paradise because of its white and black sand beaches, spectacular resorts, terraced rice fields, lush greenery and waterfalls, jungle and mountains, colorful ceremonies and ancient temples. But it is also quite the food scene.
My slice of paradise focused on three areas of the island: Seminyak on the western coast, Sanur on the eastern coast and Ubud in the central foothills.
The W Hotel on Seminyak beach was my home for two days. It is a spectacular luxury resort with an amazing pool that swirls and meanders along the beach.
The hotel rooms are large, chic, ultra modern and many have a terrace facing the ocean with plenty of comfy sofa room to curl up on and read or simply gaze. There is a great spa with treatment rooms that reminded me of space ships. Before my Balinese massage, the masseuse and I stretched together with bamboo poles.
The W is also the home to three fabulous restaurants open to the public.
The Starfish Bloo faces the beach and can boast both amazing views and amazing food. The hotel describes the ambiance as “glamorous, yet casual” and they have achieved exactly that. I also discovered that the menus give new definitions to extensive.
Let’s start with breakfast where I encountered my favorite new tropical fruit, the mangosteen.
It’s gorgeous and seems to be very smart because if you turn it over, there is an indication on the bottom of the number of pods inside. It’s fabulous to just eat or mix in juices or cocktails. The Singaporean crab omelet with clams, shrimps, sprouts, & sweet corn and the acai berry smoothie bowl with bananas, dragon fruit, coconut, yogurt and sesame dukkah (a nutty sesame crumble) were both delicious. Still hungry? Try the sushi, Asian noodle dishes, soups or pork tartiflette and the huge variety of breads and pastries, including gluten free options. Or, stop at the ice cream station for exotic flavors and all the toppings.
The Pan Asian quality shines at lunch as well. A refreshing and non-alcoholic drink called A Touch of Kemongi (Indonesian basil, dates, lemon juice and coconut water) is superb. I wanted more to bring up to my room. For entrees, try the Asian Kale Salad that was scrumptious and filling or the Sesame Salmon Nicoise bowl which included quail eggs, tomatoes, Kenya beans, chat potatoes and salmon. The Swordfish Moringa spaghetti bowl comes with swordfish, snow peas, broccoli, shitaki mushrooms, tofu and a wonderful sesame soy sauce. In case you’re wondering, moringa refers to a leaf found in Indonesia.
Sunset cocktails at the WooBar on the ocean can be spectacular, if you’re lucky. I hit it on a cloudy evening and even so, it was quite beautiful. I tried one of their signature cocktails, a pink raspberry coconut frozen slushy. I went light on the tapas because I was planning to have dinner next. Nonetheless, I sampled the jimbaran seafood ceviche – an excellent shrimp and roasted corn appetizer served with ubi chips that are made from purple sweet potatoes.
The third restaurant at the W is called Fire and dinner was fantastic. Their signature drink, The Fire Ritual, mixes bourbon with honey, Balinese tamarillo fruit, pineapple, and orange peel. The grilled Lombok oysters appetizer was wonderful as was the saffron spaghetti with fresh lobster. Steak is the house specialty and I ordered the Stockyard Silver Wagyu sirloin from Australia that was one of the best steaks I ever had. It came with a bit of “performance” – a server with a tray holding a variety of steak knives from around the world to choose from.
During the meal, I sampled a “mocktail” of fresh lime, orange and lychee topped off with lemonade that I wanted to bottle and take home. The dessert was a sensational chocolate sphere with white chocolate mousse in the center and Javanese vanilla ice cream on the side.
How I could eat breakfast the next morning remains a mystery, but breakfast at Fire was another memorable experience. The moringa toast with avocado chunks, hummus and shaved parmesan was delicious, as was the Norwegian salmon with pumpkin latkes and crème fraiche. I began with a healthy shot of juice – spinach, apple and mint and followed that with a mixed berry smoothie (strawberries, dragon fruit, blueberries, honey and yogurt).
The trendy town center of Seminyak with shops, temples and a very cute market is only a fifteen-minute walk from the hotel. For an afternoon pick me up in the heat, try some gelato or a frappe at the Rivareno. My favorite flavors were passion fruit and ricotta and fig.
Sanur is a beach resort on the eastern coast popular with both expats and local Balinese. The sea is calm and a boardwalk invites walkers and bicyclists. An early morning walk along the beach, before it gets too hot, takes you past yoga classes, early swimmers, coffee shops offering different varieties of java, market stalls getting ready to open and boats docked waiting for the snorkelers.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel is right on the beach. Sometimes referred to as the Grand Dame of Sanur resorts, it was recently renovated and reopened in 2018. It has numerous connecting pools facing the ocean and depending on the time of day, some are actually shaded. It also has a great fitness center and spa facility and is in walking distance of plenty of shops and restaurants.
If you are a Regency Cub member (an additional fee of $65/day), you are entitled to free cocktails daily from 5 to 7, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, and a variety of desserts, all served in a serene and secluded area of the resort with a beautiful deck surrounded by pools, Balinese statues, sculptures, and ducks. Some guests make this dinner. The wines came from Two Islands, a wine producer in Bali that uses Australian grapes. They serve a variety of red, white and rose, including Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Club membership also entitles you to breakfast in the same peaceful area.
There are two restaurants on site. The Pizzeria offers delicious pizza with perfect crisp crusts. The burrata, pesto and arugula was great. They also offer pasta dishes, meat and fish entrees, and salads.
The Oman Omang restaurant has more traditional Balinese cuisine. For dinner, I had the Ikan Bakar, a moist and delicious grilled sea bass with a salsa and a side order of some of the best crispy, roasted parmesan potatoes I’ve ever tasted. At breakfast, try the chia pudding with coconut milk and the “green detox” juice drink that mixes celery, spinach, pineapple, tangerine and guava. Delicious.
Ubud, in central Bali, is considered the spiritual center and arts center of the island. Ubud’s fame shot up after the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love. So, as you might imagine, Ubud center is filled with shops, restaurants, and crowds! However, a lot of fabulous resorts are in the surrounding area and I stayed at one of the best.
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is a stunning resort 20 minutes from the town center. It has been referred to as one of the top luxury hotels in Asia. The minute you arrive, you are struck by the uniqueness of both the architecture and the setting and think you have entered a secluded paradise or perhaps, an alternate universe. Set along the Ayung River in a lush jungle area with rice paddies, part of the resort is nestled into the hillside above the valley below. The open-air lobby with dramatic views sits at the top and the spa and fitness center are at the bottom. The villas and suites, pool and restaurants are on different levels in the middle. It is peaceful, gorgeous, and offers guests a unique opportunity to connect with nature. The service is impeccable. All you have to do is call your personal butler and a buggy appears to take you anywhere in the resort you want to go. Your butler can also arrange dinner reservations, excursions to temples, villages, coffee plantations, hiking paths, picnic lunches, and visits to almost anywhere your heart desires.
The dining options are all amazing and open to non-hotel guests as well. I hate to go on and on about breakfast, but I’d be remiss not to because it is really something to write home about. Not just the enormous variety, but also the creativity of the menu. The Sawah Terrace restaurant has panoramic views of the river and rice fields. The passion fruit yogurt was a definite wow, as were the lime chocolate smoothie and the juice combination of pineapple, ginger and yellow watermelon. The Balinese Martabak Pancake with bananas, chocolate sauce and peanuts defies description.
But if that doesn’t do it for you, try the coconut French toast, seafood or shrimp dim sum, Balinese brioche sandwich, eggs benedict, or any other kind of eggs, noodle dish, cheeses, smoked salmon, oatmeal with flax seed, cashew nuts and caramelized banana. Did I mention fruits, pastries and home made energy bars?
Dinner at Sawah Terrace is an Indonesian culinary journey. I started with a tiger prawn and coconut soup with turmeric and kaffir lime leaves. That was followed by an Ikan Tuna Gohu, a marinated yellowfin tuna with kaffir leaves, tomatoes and peanuts. The main dish was Bebek Goreng, a crispy fried duck with a side of both red and white rice.
The Mandapa bar – otherwise known as The Library – serves drinks, small bites and unusual Javanese peanut crackers with a chili kick called rempeyek. The signature cocktails pay homage to tropical flavors, fruits and herbs native to the region. The Wantilan is one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had — vodka, lemongrass, kemangi (local basil), and passion fruit.
Kubu is the fine dining restaurant at Mandapa and is considered one of the best restaurants in Bali. The setting is romantic—stunning views with soothing sounds of the Ayung River below. The design is inspired by nature and nine of the tables are housed within private, cozy bamboo cocoons.
The Gourmet Tasting Menu was inspired and extraordinary. Come hungry because it is eight incredible courses and you don’t want to miss any of them. Here are some of the standouts that stood out amongst all the other standouts. The cold almond soup with Hokkaido scallop, seaweed and a small scoop of almond ice cream was elegant.
The pumpkin squash tortellini with pine nuts, goat cheese, and lemon confit was amazing, as was the grilled black cod with smoked lobster bisque. There was a wonderful wine pairing with wines from New Zealand, the U.S. and France. The dessert, called a chocolate cappuccino, mixed a variety of flavors including coffee, almond, and saffron. A definite winner!
June Massell is a New York based journalist and strategic communications specialist. She was a four-time Emmy award winning national television news correspondent, investigative reporter and news & documentary producer. She reported for The Newshour on PBS, for ABC Network News (Nightline, World News Tonight, Good Morning America), and NBC in New York and Chicago. She also produced for the news and documentary divisions of CBS and NBC Network News and worked on 60 Minutes. She has a strategic communications consulting practice and helps institutions “tell their story”. With a passion for travel, story telling, and food, June is a freelance travel writer who has told stories from destinations all around the world.