As visitors to Ubud in Bali know, there are two kinds of Ubud. The glossy magazine Ubud with beautiful people sipping cocktails in artfully designed restaurants. And then the everyday Ubud. Broken walkways, open drains, building sites abandoned, their materials spilling onto the road. To Australian eyes, the lack of regulation is mesmerising.
In Ubud and the surrounding villages there are thousands of warungs, cafes and restaurants. The knowledge of what is good and where to go is passed from visitor to visitor like a sacred text. At the top sits Locavore, with its degustation menu and international reputation. Next come tips on the good local restaurants serving Indonesian, western style cafes for the unadventurous, and the local warungs, the street side cafes, which are scattered every few metres along the road.
For our second night in Ubud, we are going high end with a restaurant for Nusantara, the sister restaurant to Locavore, and opened a couple of months ago. It specialises in regional Indonesian dishes and a seat in their stylish restaurant needs to be planned for and booked. The food served is a much more considered version of Indonesian cuisine than you find in the local warung.
The menu is for sharing and we order some small dishes as well as a couple of bigger dishes and they all come together. From Sulawesi, we had the stir fried banana blossom with shallots, chillies and kaffir lime leaves and from Central Java squid cooked in ink with chilli and coconut milk. The squid was intense and rich. The banana flowers had a similar texture to bamboo shoots and were a fresh counterbalance to the other dishes. For the larger plates we ordered a whole smoked snapper baked in banana leaves which had been carefully deboned and put back together in its original shape. The other main was a crispy duck, marinated with turmeric, candle nuts, chilli and lemongrass and came to the table dark, with its sharp little bones poking through the flesh.
For those used to the light and aromatic cooking of Thailand and Vietnam, many of the flavours at Nusantara were unfamiliar and seemed darker and grittier. The chilli quotient was high, too high for some at the table, and the tomato and chilli sambal which came as a side was impossibly hot for all except the most devoted chilli lover. Yet I found it an intriguing dinner of exploration. The chefs at Nusantara don’t dilute their flavours for the mostly western diners and instead present a master class in sophisticated but true flavours to showcase with pride their country’s cuisine.