Home ContentFlourish Travel - Restaurants of Ubud, Bali

Flourish Travel - Restaurants of Ubud, Bali

Published : July 29, 2016

Ubud in Bali, long known as a centre of arts and culture including its world renowned Writers and Readers Festival, is a favoured destination of yoga devotees, has also developed a third focus for destination travel …food.

Words: Simon Owen


There have always been a handful of remarkable venues from the local original Murni’s Warung (since 1974 see below) to the internationally recognised Mozaic, which was providing extraordinary sophistication and fusion of Indonesian and European (French) traditions long before it became popularised by a number of Seminyak based acolytes.

However time and the extraordinary development of Ubud as an international destination (“Eat, Pray, Love” ensured what was already underway and inevitable) has brought a variety and depth of offerings that overwhelm the usual time available on a single holiday.

Flourish had but four days recently to throw themselves into this world and has put together a snapshot of alternatives and thoughts that we hope are of some use in guiding your time when you are fortunate enough to next make it to this lovely part of the world.

Much of the ‘modern ethos’ surrounding Ubud dining owes itself to the fertile surrounds, which provide an irresistible array of produce that owes its almost exclusively ‘organic’ status to default rather than design.  Agriculture in this part of the world adopts natural practices as a way of life and necessity.  Whilst the locals may well look at the enthusiasm for local, directly sourced and organic produce with bemusement, no doubt many later imports have built their whole approach around it.

To this end, one might well start with a range of amazing breakfast offerings at cafés such as AtmanKafe (coffee on a Melbourne level), Casa Luna’s baked goods (see also Indus Restaurant below) or Clear Café where their cashew milk ice latte with a breaky burrito might just be the new age answer to a hangover cure.  This latter spot also has the advantage of being directly opposite the Antonio Blanco Museum so you can a browse the naïve Rococo eroticism of Ubud’s version of Salvador Dali.  Surely an ideal start to the day.

Much as any of the above would do a perfectly lovely lunch or dinner, the other alternatives below are interchangeable for lunch or dinner depending on just what suits you, when.

The Elephant, attached to the small Hotel Taman Indrakila, overlooking the stunning Tjampuhan Ridge, half way up Jalan Raya Sanggingan, and located only by its simple suave graphic sign on the road.  We stumbled upon it by  chance  for a late, light lunch but again, dinner would be delightful and its vegan smoothies alone would suffice for a triathlete’s breakfast.

‘Conscious, sustainable and ethical’ seem to the watchwords du jour, but they are not merely lip service.  The range of options is eclectic from a braised Moroccan eggplant with quinoa and tahini through Asian small offerings and a vegan or vego salad from each of the four corners of the world.   Mains run from a laksa, miso ramen, Ottolenghi inspired crisp sweet potato fritters with yoghurt olive oil and mango and radicchio slaw …. all the way to a spaghetti zucchini or potato gnocchi with the traditional burnt butter and sage.

In our experience, whilst Balinese restaurants can boggle the mind with their style, service and exotic combinations and ranges, they can often deliver a confused and overworked outcome.  A case of too many choices and too little discreet selection in the kitchen. Rightly or wrongly, I have felt that a number of notable ‘A’ listers have fallen prey to this.

Whilst the range of items on The Elephant’s carte is seemingly inspired by Jackson Pollack, each one is beautifully and properly realised.  At times almost a restrained simplicity.  This provides a completely different dining experience and who’s to say that there’s anything wrong with crisp potato rosti alongside sweet chive and tofu dumplings in a clean chill oil for starters to share if you feel like it!

Chilled, views down the Tjampuhan river gorge, quality food that makes you feel better than when you arrived and a sense of karma.

The Sayan House, associated with Omatenashi Hotels, occupies a house originally built by a wandering couple who would entertain on a grand scale, now dedicated to welcoming guests with humility and full commitment (the Japanese tradition of Omotenashi), via home style Asian cuisine.

There are several dining areas, inspiring vistas from the verandah area, an inviting and extensive bar and a teppanyaki dining area also. Whilst extensive, the variety of spaces offer an intimacy. Staff are relaxed but the service is all quality and there is an undeniable Japanese ethos underlying it.  Without contradiction, it can offer a casual romance for two but families with small children also looked relaxed and carefree.

The food runs the Japanese, Peruvian, Asian line in the same family as say Nobu, but perhaps not quite with that level of sophistication.  Sushi is done with the Indonesian classic Babi Guling (suckling pig). Ceviche or a variation thereof; a very popular Asian chicken salad along with a spicier noodle version; a lovely miso, chicken and porcini soup infused at the table in an elaborate bit of coffee kit which was probably the most resolved of all the dishes; and on the night we were there light soft tacos of chicken teriyaki or cerviche’esque salmon.

I think you get the picture and it is all tasty and largely successful, without necessarily pushing the dial off the meter.

Reasonably priced, and even more reasonably at lunch, this is a zen and rewarding experience at the slightly more formal end of the Ubud offering.

Indus Restaurant, 50 meters further up Jalan Raya Sanggingan from The Elephant, is the newest offering from the husband and wife team that established the Honeymoon Bakery, Honeymoon Cottages, Casa Luna, the Casa Luna cooking School and the birth of the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (which was this family’s response to the horror of the Bali Bombings).  Some people are just over achievers.  Each in their own way every element of the family’s business is pretty much spot on.

Again the Indus shares the breathtaking scenery down the Tjampuhan Gorge and, cloud permitting, a glimpse of Mt Agung in the background.  It's an impressive setting and worth a drink and Indonesian tapas at happy hour if nothing else.

But there is something else.  Predominately based in the Indonesian classics, but with a variety of forays across Asia and some pizza thrown in, this is seriously fine food.

Aside from the Indonesian tapas and Tunisian warm vegetable salad, the small dishes and salads tend to Thai in style.  The mains are based on Indonesian classics, Asian curries and a spanking Spiced Fish in Banana Leaves.  All receive a modern twist with class.

This is also at the more upmarket end of the Ubud dining spectrum, but then we are in Bali and t-shirts and thongs are not out of place.  Weather permitting, fight, bribe or persuade your way to the tables on the terrace with the best view.  The two casual lounge dining/grazing options aren’t bad either for those that enjoy that sort of thing.

Nomad Restaurant, established right in the heart of Ubud (maybe 200 meters further into town from Casa Luna) in 1979 has claims to serious heritage. Deservedly.

This is one of many options where your mood tends a little more casual, noisy and perhaps you are looking to give your drinking preferences equal billing with your eating.

There are a range of options on the menu and the ubiquitous array of Western offerings.  Depending upon your appetite, and keeping your drinking aspirations in mind, we would opt for a selection of the Indonesian tapas on offer. Something like nine small plates for around AU$13.00.  That means the budget is intact for some top shelf spirits.

Avoid the Chicken Saté tapas …. not because it's not terrific, but that’s going to be main course.  Say one serve between two.  The saté is cooked on the barbeque out the front and is good. 

If you can predict your mood ahead of time, or get there early enough, go for one of the three or four Balinese day lounges available (just behind the barbeque) or one of the front tables for gazing at the constant passing throng.

Service is prompt and friendly and the drinks reasonable but overall this is on song with what Bali does so well, a bar with food or a restaurant with a bar.  Can’t go wrong.

Murni’s Warung, is right at the junction of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Raya Sanggingan effectively right on the Tjampuhan River, at the bridge.  Established by the impressive Murni in 1974 it is the oldest Warung in town and is another example of an impressive Ubud business empire based upon the simplest beginings.  From two tables to four levels, a spa, a shop, villas/rooms etc.

Do your best to secure a table on the lowest level, nearest the river to appreciate the full vibe.  Note: if it looks a little slow and you are told that all of the tables on the low levels are taken, go and politely check for yourself.  The staff may just be making life a little easier for themselves.

Again there is a rather deflating spread of ‘Western’ options.  You’re not here for that.  You have to go local here, there is no alternative.  If you have a favourite go with that, or if you prefer a recommendation then Saté (mixed), Saté Lilit (mixed) and Bebek Betutu.  Saté Lilit is either chicken, pork or fish and is minced with spices before being squeezed onto lemongrass (traditionally) and cooked over charcoal.  Bebek Betutu is the legendary Balinese smoked fried duck.  There are undoubtably better versions on offer in Ubud (Indus for example) but they generally need to be ordered a day in advance.  Murni’s version available on fifteen minutes request is just fine, though less of the ‘fried’ is evident.

At both Murni’s and The Elephant, we broke with Flourish tradition and found ourselves ordering a bottle of wine with lunch.  Not to confuse tradition with abstinence, we would normally drink beer with lunch in Bali... martinis, negronis, mojitos etc being a little ‘too much too early’.  Wine is just not the sensible traveller’s budget option in Bali.  We found, however, that the Plaga Chardonnay (at approximately AU$22.50) a very acceptable local option.  A step up on the other more expensive ‘cheap’ alternatives.

This is a nice example of a ‘go to’ local experience.

Swept Away, at the Samaya, one of the restaurant offerings from the Samaya hotel business (originally one of the very upmarket beach front Seminyak options).

This is literally on the river a little out of town and was going to be our glammed up, grab the AMEX ‘date night’.  Unfortunately, they were booked and so we would love to be able to update you on the next trip, but enough research was done to confidently put it at the top of your list for ‘occasion dining’.

The restaurant was also very charming in their personal ‘reply email’ to our booking request.

Copper Kitchen & Bar, is the higher dining option at the new Bisma 8 boutique hotel.  This became the alternate ‘date night’ and a full review is available [here].

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