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Friday, 31 May 2013

The London Foodie Goes To Bali - Ubud (Part II)

With so much to do and see in Ubud (see my earlier post here), the 4 days we spent there seemed rather rushed. Ubud is the artistic capital of the island, and is a hub for art galleries, smart cafes, top class restaurants and antique shops. It is also highly popular with visitors looking for something a little more sophisticated than nearby Kuta, and is a good place to stay for a few days or even a week or two.

Where to Stay 

Of the 4 wonderful days we spent in Ubud, two were at Villa Semana, a collection of 10 unique villas each with their own private pool, set on the banks of the Ayung River about 4 miles southwest of central Ubud.

The entrance to the resort is breathtaking, overlooking a series of rice paddies cultivated by local farmers, leading into a meticulously maintained footpath and to the hotel's beautiful grounds. The resort has no reception area and each guest is escorted and checked into their own private villa by the staff on arrival.

Our villa was stylishly decorated and comfortable, with a large 4 poster bed draped with mosquito nets, cream marbled floors, a semi open-air shower, as well as standard mod cons like a CD player, a minibar, safe and aircon.

The winning feature for me was that the villa opened up to our own private swimming pool (in fact all villas have their own pool) with wonderful views to the Ayung River.

Private swimming pool in our villa at Vila Semana, overlooking the Ayung River

My office for the day....
The resort has also a fine, communal infinity pool surrounded by trees, with great views over the river valley and forest. The hotel's open air restaurant where breakfast is taken overlooks the swimming pool and is a wonderful place to while away the hours.

The owner, Jurg Suter, is a larger than life Swiss hotelier, with several other properties in Bali and Singapore, but who has lived all over the world including London. Given a few minutes, he will entertain you with fascinating stories of his varied career as well as anecdotes of the many A-list visitors to Ubud and Villa Semana. He is also full of useful information and advice about places to eat, stay and visit all over the island.

Service at Villa Semana was very good, and attentive, particularly by Ayu, the manageress. She arranged a car for us to hire, which was brought to the hotel on the morning of our departure for an excellent rate, and also gave advice on places to visit on our way to Amed.  

Where to Eat

Ibu Oka Warung, Jalan Tegal

This tiny cafe (the original one of a chain of 3) is an institution in Ubud, drawing in locals from the whole island as well as foreigners in search of the only item on the menu - Babi Guling or Balinese roast suckling pig. This is one of the most traditional dishes of Bali, and is served throughout the island from humble road-side cafes to the more elegant fine-dining establishments. Gastronomically speaking, a visit to Bali would not be complete without sampling this delicacy.

Around 30 pigs are served each day at Ibu Oka, arriving by motorbike from the larger kitchens at Ibu Oka 3 nearby and presented in chunks in rattan bowls with rice, sausages, crispy skin, fried intestines and spicy vegetables for the grand sum of £2. For £2.65, you can order a plate of pure pork meat, or another of crispy skin. The pork is wonderfully tender and succulent, and the crackling perfectly crispy.

There are no reservations - it's first come first served, and it is best to arrive before noon to avoid the queues. The restaurant is open from 10.30 am for lunch only. The original restaurant where we ate is a very simple cafe with only 3 or 4 western-style tables, although there is more seating available where customers sit crossed-legged on the floor, which can be uncomfortable.

Ibu Oka 3 is only a five minute walk away, and offers exactly the same menu in a much larger, prettier and more comfortable venue.

Pondok Restaurant, Villa Semana Hotel

Villa Semana's restaurant overlooks the infinity pool over the Ayung river, and serves a variety of Balinese, Indonesian and Thai dishes, as well as offering a good selection of wines and even a humidor of Havana cigars at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we didn't get to eat at the restaurant, except for the excellent breakfasts and complimentary afternoon tea served each day.

Sweetest platter of freshly cut fruit at Villa Semana
Breakfast was sumptuous at Villa Semana, with a variety of classic French options like Croque Monsieur and Eggs Benedict (which we tried and were delicious), as well as Balinese options like Mee Goreng and Chicken Porridge which were very good too.

The coffee was excellent, as well as the platters of ripe, freshly cut, deliciously sweet tropical fruit with vanilla yoghurt we were served each morning.

Kafe Batan Waru

In the centre of Ubud on Jalan Dewi Sita, Kafe Batan Waru is a renowned and popular eatery which was highly recommended to us. We had a good meal there of traditional Balinese dishes including Urap Pakis (£1.75), a dish of steamed wild fern tips with roasted shredded coconut and Balinese spices which was delicious.

We also had Nasi Campur (£4) - a rice dish served with beef tenderloin, red chilli chicken, beef sate, long beans in Kalasan sauce, whole prawn fritter, egg and sambals. This dish is also served at breakfast, and each restaurant has its own version.

The main event was Bebek Goreng (£7) - an Ubud specialty, this was a lovely half duck, slow-simmered with spice paste and then fried crisp, and served with long-beans and sambal.

What to Do

The hotel is around 3 miles from central Ubud, and there are no other hotels, restaurants or shops nearby. This makes for an admirably tranquil stay, and one of the nicest things is to lounge by  the private pool, the river, or the infinity pool. The hotel also offers a free shuttle service to and from Ubud every hour between 07.30 and 22.30, so it is very easy to get into town if you need to. There are a number of excursions on offer, including visits to nearby temples, volcanoes and rice paddy walking and cycling excursions.


Being the artistic capital of Bali, there are a number of art galleries, antique shops and boutiques selling local craft goods. Jalan Raya Sanggingan has a smattering of such shops, and is a good place to purchase tasteful Balinese artefacts including traditional Indonesian wedding head dresses, pottery and paintings were available for purchase.

Spa Treatments 

Villa Semana has a charming open-air spa on the banks of the Ayung river, offering a variety of Balinese treatments. These range from a traditional 60 minute Balinese massage at £30, to the 'Angel's Realm' 150 minute treatment that includes a footbath and body massage followed by the traditional Lulur scrub made from turmeric, a coating in avocado yoghurt and finally a floral bath, at £65.

Treatments are also widely available in Ubud at substantially lower cost (around £5-10 per hour) at many spas around town. We visited the oldest one, Nur Salon on Jalan Hanoman, which is set in a traditional Balinese compound with beautiful gardens, a temple in the grounds, and screened, open-air treatment rooms. A magical place.

We had the traditional 1 hour Balinese massage followed by a hot bath (£10). We visited twice, the masseurs were excellent on both visits, and the spa surroundings were also beautiful. There are dozens of different treatments on offer.

Travel Essentials

We flew to Denpasar, Bali via Singapore, for around £600 with Singapore Airlines. Several Gulf airlines offer return flights from the UK at similar prices.

Villa Semana
Banjar Semana
Desa Singakerta
Ubud 80571
PO Box 10036
E mail: info@villasemana.com

Rooms rates at Villa Semana range from £200 to £450 per night. This also varies according to the season. All have a private plunge pool, in addition to the main infinity pool.

Ibu Oka 3
Jalan Tegal Sari No.2
Ubud 80571
t: (0564) 976 345 

Kafe Batan Waru
Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud, Bali
t: (0361) 977 528

Nur Spa
Jalan Hanoman 28
Ubud 80571
E mail: nursalonubud@yahoo.com

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

London Restaurant Reviews - Tozi

Cicchetti at Tozi, Victoria

Words and photography by Simeen Kadi

Cost: Small plates range from £4 to £8 and you would need at least three plates per person to make a meal of it. There are a few larger dishes from £14.

About: Tozi is the latest addition to a growing cicchetti scene in London. Cicchetti is the Northern Italian answer to tapas, with baked and fried delicacies and even small portions of main courses such as stews and roasts are washed down with drinks, either as aperitivo or a main meal. Located in the backwaters of Victoria station, it is an unlikely find, but the cooking is good enough to make the trek out, even if you aren’t killing time before catching a train. It is located in the Park Plaza hotel, although I didn’t realise this until we left – the entrance is separate and there was no clue of hotel ‘styling’ in the décor.

Where: 8 Gillingham Street, London, SW1V 1HJ (http://www.tozirestaurant.co.uk).

What we ate: Small plate dining can be a little frustrating if you are ravenous and part of a large group,  politely waiting for your turn to scoop up your 1/8 share of a raviolo. But, while this type of dining does not provide the instant gratification of having a big plate of food all to yourself, I was pleasantly replete by the time we left.  

Bruschetta was exactly as I make at home (a good thing as it is one of my specialities) with well marinated tomatoes, a good zing of oil and vinegar and nicely flecked with basil. 
Zucchinni Fritti was perfectly fried – crisp and unctuous on the inside. And excellent value, too, at only £3.50 for a goodly mound.

We also had the Calamari Fritti, which must have been good as it was polished off before I could raise my camera and click.

Ricotta Ravioli came with a lemony butter sauce and generously anointed with truffle shavings. I could have eaten three plates of it and happily called it dinner.

The gnocchi in the Gnocchi with Duck Ragu was soft as pillows and the ragu was interesting but had a flavour which reminded me of a Northern Italian delicacy which I have struggled to appreciate – sausages encased in salt and buried under ground to ‘season’.

Chargrilled Octopus tentacles were perfectly cooked and came with a springy dressing with celery, new potatoes and semi-dried tomatoes.

The Aubergine Parmigiana was sturdy and dense and not sloppy and oily as it so often is.

The Ox Cheeks were my favourite, cooked for as long as it takes, with the sauce reduced down to a rich concentration and the meat yielding but clinging to all the flavour of its cooking juices.

The Swordfish with Caponata was also excellent, crispy coating delivering firm and fresh fish with the tang of slightly pickled vegetables.

We also ate the Pizzette which was as you would expect, if a bit on the small side. And the Piadina, with an overly salty ham and not enough cheese to balance it.

What we drank: The Barrel-Aged Negroni is definitely the drink to try here, as is the Prosecco on tap. My Aperol Spritz-Tozi style was a classic Aperol-Prosecco combo enhanced with watermelon juice, which I loved. Anita Ekberg was a zesty cocktail of Vodka, chilli, ginger, cucumber and passion fruit.

Likes: The food is assured and the quality ingredients shine through. The small plate concept means that a greedy person like me can try more items on the menu, which makes ordering a little easier. The cocktails are excellent and I would trek across town just for the barrel-aged Negroni.

Dislikes: The plates are rather small, even for small plates. The pizzette and piadini were particularly miniscule.

Verdict: Definitely worth a visit, especially if you happen to be in the area, which is largely devoid of interesting dining or drinking options. Going in a group for cocktails, with a few snacks, rather than for a full-blown meal is also a very good option.

Tozi on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 May 2013

The London Foodie Goes To Bali - Ubud (Part I)

Up in the hills, Ubud is a gorgeous Balinese town a dozen or so miles north of the capital Denpasar. At first sight, Ubud seems like a sleepy provincial town, its streets lined with banyan trees, where tourists, street-vendors and Balinese women carrying heavy goods on their heads jostle for space on the narrow pavements.

The town centre, however, reveals a plethora of temples, spas, museums and art galleries, cafes and restaurants to rival any Southeast Asian tourist destination.

This charming town is tiny, and its development has been sympathetic. Surrounded by a stunning landscape of mountains, rivers and terraced rice paddies, it is a great spot for hikes, cycling and photography. It also has a wide variety of small hotels of all degrees of luxury, making it a fine base for a week or more in Bali.

Where to Stay 

Uma by COMO

Uma by COMO is a 29 roomed hotel and spa set by the Barat river among the paddy fields and hills of Sanggingan, a village about 1 mile northwest of central Ubud. The hotel is part of the  Singapore-based COMO group that includes The Halkin and Metropolitan hotels in London, as well as fashion brands DKNY Jeans and Armani Exchange.

Unsurprisingly its properties also have a strong sense of style, presenting a sleekly modern and elegant design, while blending unobtrusively into the surrounding forested hillside. Each room has its own veranda and lawned garden overlooking the forest, where the ever-changing chorus of cicadas, birdsong and frog calls provide a mesmerising soundscape.

Our Veranda

Our room was one of the entry-level villas, but was nonetheless elegant.  Being mainly in white, it had a large 4 poster bed draped with mosquito nets, distressed white woodwork and a semi open-air shower, a huge bath, and lovely Venetian mirrors, as well as standard mod cons.

The resort has a fine infinity pool surrounded by trees, overlooked by the equally elegant bar and dining room. The hotel is about to be expanded to almost double the current number of rooms, with a new restaurant currently being built which will also be open to non-guests. It has an on-site spa, a yoga pavilion with classes twice a day, and  a well-equipped gym.

Breakfast at Uma by COMO was outstanding - particularly these highlights:

A wonderful laksa

A platter of tropical fruit

Breakfast nasi campur

Pancakes and fruit

One of the most endearing features of the hotel was that each suite was a separate villa.  They are scattered along various forested paths, each villa with its own wooden gate, leading into a small garden and porch, which gave a very private and intimate feel to the hotel.

Where to Eat


About 50 metres away from Uma by COMO, Mozaic is the fine-dining option in Bali, and has been included in the San Pelligrino Top 100 Restaurants of the World list. The restaurant is owned by Le Cordon Bleu graduate-chef, American Chris Salans who worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and the US, head-cheffing at some prestigious restaurants including Thomas Keller's.

The restaurant's current head chef is a Frenchman, Xavier Mauerhofer whom I was lucky enough to meet. Xavier has had an impressive career too, having worked at some of London's best restaurants for a good ten years including The Square (one of my favourite London restaurants), No. 1 Lombard Street and Sketch, as well as restaurants in Shanghai, Singapore and Beijing.

Mozaic offers 4 different tasting menus at various prices, all with an option of wine pairing at £37 or £57 per person for premium wines. We went for the Discovery Menu which uses primarily Balinese ingredients and is priced at £47 per person.

Commendably, Mozaic offers an entirely vegetarian tasting menu at £40 per person for 6 courses, as well as the Chef's Tasting Menu at £60 that uses some top ingredients like foie gras, pata negra ham and truffles. There is also a Chef's Surprise Menu priced at £83, which tempted me, but I preferred to stay local and sample the Balinese menu. 

The wine list is very impressive too with a comprehensive range of new and old world options. Like anywhere else in Bali, the wines were highly priced with the list's entry level wines starting at £35. However, to be fair, these were expensive and good, unlike many other places which offer expensive poor wine. We ordered a Portuguese Tinta Roriz 2006 from the Douro Valley priced at £37 which was well balanced, with some long, soft tannins and good red berry fruit characteristics.

The Discovery Menu is pictured below - the flavour combinations were sophisticated and exotic, I would struggle to describe them here, so I will leave you to savour the images that follow.

We kicked off with a fine amuse bouche of Balinese king crab with dabu dabu spices, served with cucumber emulsion and parma ham powder that set off the evening to a good start.

Kecicang - seared fresh water Sulawesi yabbies (an Australian crayfish), cauliflower, sesame, ginger flower gel and emulsion.

Kluwek - coral trout confied in coconut oil, Balinese "Kluwek" (a nut from the Indonesian Kepayang tree, also widely used in Nyonya cooking in Malaysia) infused black olive sauce and olive oil braised vegetables. The flavour imparted by the coconut oil confit was delicate but surprisingly distinct, it was a delightful and interesting way to confit fish.

Bumbu Rendang - rendang spiced oxtail tortellini with curry sweet potato, cep mushroom and parmesan emulsion. This was my favourite dish of the menu, the rendang of oxtail tortellini was rich and delicious.

Nangka - Kintamani suckling pig, young jackfruit emulsion, bok choy, ginger and curry leaf infused demi glace.

Sirsak - fresh soursop sorbet (Brazilian graviola fruit), grapefruit gelée, campari emulsion and pomelo tuile.

Kunir and Kemangi - lemon basil mousse with turmeric root sorbet and fresh pomegranate.

The food at Mozaic was highly sophisticated and beautifully flavoured. The Discovery Menu was indeed a journey of discovery into Balinese ingredients and flavours employed meticulously well by some classic French techniques. We were also offered a tray showing the primary Balinese ingredient of each of the courses were about to eat, which was a nice touch and informative. I highly recommend a visit to Mozaic when visiting Ubud - at £47 for a six-course tasting menu, this is excellent value for food of this calibre.

Kemiri at Uma by COMO

At Uma by COMO, Kemira is the restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner is currently being served. Australian Heidi Flanagan, a former London resident, is the Head Chef for both COMO properties in Ubud. We were fortunate to meet her there, and have a fantastic lunch cooked by Heidi herself.

Lunch began with a glass of Balinese sparkling wine from Hatten, a wine producer based in northern Bali, made from Chasselas Loulou and Alphonse Lavalée grapes (£6), which was surprisingly drinkable. Alcoholic beverages in Bali are taxed at around 400%, so they are very much a luxury item on the island.

We then had a very zingy and refreshing salad of grilled prawn, pomelo, palm heart & young coconut with a red chilli and lime dressing (£7.30) which was sensational, along with a Balinese spiced grilled flaked tuna, long bean & green papaya salad with shallot sambal, chilli & lime (£8.30) that was equally good.

For the main course, we had Nasi Campur, a local dish with a mixture of different meat, fish and rice elements including fish sate, beef curry, spiced grilled chicken, crispy fish, prawn & corn cake, long bean & coconut salad (£8), and Beef Rendang - spiced braised beef, tamarind & coconut curry (£11.70). Both salads and main courses were delicious, well seasoned and vibrant, and I enjoyed every single dish.

Glow at COMO Shambala Estate

A 15 minute drive from central Ubud by the Ayung River, COMO Shambala Estate is Uma's sister property. The estate is the flagship resort of the COMO Group, with the Shambala brand reflecting the owners' ethos of a 'wellness' lifestyle.

Shambala offers western and Balinese organic dishes as well as raw and vegetarian diets. It is a retreat for the weary wealthy, with 300 staff for 30 rooms, or about 10 staff per villa. We had a tour of their Royal suite which caters for heads of state and the occasional pop or movie star whom the manager would not name, in $3,200 per night splendour, or $4,300 for 2 nights as part of a package. It was utterly magnificent.

Royal Suite's open air living room

Lunch at Glow Restaurant was excellent, prepared in an open-plan kitchen in front of us by executive chef Heidi Flanagan. We started with a lovely salad of "tuna sambal matah" - spiced tuna, grilled and flaked, and served with apple aubergines, ginger, shallot and lemongrass (£15).  The Lawar Paku was another salad of minced chicken, coconut and turmeric served with fern tip, long beans and sprouts (£11), which was also delicious.

We also had a refreshing and flavoursome dish of poached chicken, mango and cucumber salad with fresh young coconut, green chilli and coriander chutney (£13.50).

The main courses were outstanding - full of herbs, well flavoured and zingy with interesting flavour profiles that were well integrated. I am not one to order salmon normally, but the grilled salmon with sumac & fennel crumbs was a highlight. It was served with a cauliflower, tomato & cucumber salad with quinoa & smoky aubergine puree (£16), which was a full meal in itself and was utterly delicious.

The cumin crusted lamb loin with roast barley, celery & walnut salad  was also good, served with a tahini sauce (£21).  The Mee Goreng - fresh egg noodles with seafood, vegetables, sambal & egg (£13) was very well made and beautifully presented.

For dessert, we had Es Bunga Chempaka - chapaka flower-scented ice with palm seeds, sago pearls and fresh soy milk (£8), and poached exotic fruits with spiced nut crumble and vanilla, cashew nut ice cream (£8). We also had Shambala's version of the classic banana split.

The food at Shambala Estate was at London prices which were about 5 times what you would have normally paid anywhere else in Bali. The quality and flavours were however outstanding and worth every penny in my opinion. I would highly recommend a meal at one of these two properties during any stay in Ubud (the menu at Shambala Estate is more comprehensive than at Uma's).

What to Do 

Yoga Classes

Uma by COMO offers free yoga classes for one hour each morning and afternoon, as well as a free hour-long pre-breakfast guided walk through the local rice paddies.

Yoga with a view...
Guided Tours

Uma by COMO can also arrange a driver and guide for escorted trips to the local markets, temples, volcanos and rivers. We took a three hour guided tour and downhill bike ride, which started with a visit to a local farm (Bali Pulina Agrotourism) to see and taste Indonesia's famous Kopi Luwak (civet-coffee), which is produced in Bali, Java and Sumatra.

Some brave individual noted in the 19th century that coffee berries eaten and defaecated by Asian palm civets could be washed and roasted to make drinkable coffee. First discovered by Indonesian plantation workers, the drink was rapidly taken up by their Dutch colonial masters and became popular most probably because of the novelty of the production method rather than the superior taste of the drink.

In any case, today luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling at around £300 per kilogram. In blind tastings by professionals, it has not fared well, but devotees believe the enzymatic digestion within the intestine of the civet alter the amino acid structure to make the drink richer and smoother. There are, however, concerns about the welfare implications for the civets whose droppings are so precious that they are kept  in cages and fed an unnatural diet exclusively of coffee berries (see an interesting article about this here).

At the end of our tour of the farm, we had a cup of the fabled drink for around £3.50 alongside a regular Balinese coffee, and could not but conclude that the civet's digestive processes stripped the drink of much of its aroma and flavour. 

After this, we paid a visit to the 10th century Tirta Empul temple (£4 entry). The temple was founded next to an underground spring, and pilgrims come daily to bathe in its fountains. After passing through the temple, the spring is used to irrigate the rice paddies for miles around.

Our trip ended with a downhill cycle through many small villages and miles of paddy fields with volcanic mountains on the horizon, and scores of children smiling and calling 'hello' as we passed them.

Neka Art Museum

This museum is next door to Uma by COMO, and is said to be the most comprehensive collection of traditional and modern Balinese paintings on the island. Entry costs £4, and the collection includes 6 pavilions covering Balinese painting from the 17th century onwards, as well as European and American artists and photographers who have lived and painted in Bali, and had an influence on local artists. It is well worth an hour's visit.

Travel Essentials

We flew to Denpasar, Bali via Singapore, for around £630 with Singapore Airlines. Several Gulf airlines offer return flights from the UK at similar prices.

Villa rooms at Uma by COMO cost from £140 to £268 per night. 
Jalan Raya Sanggingan
Banjar Lungsiakan
Ubud, Gianyar 80571

For more information, visit their website on www.uma.como.bz.

Uma by COMO's three-hour tours with chauffeur, guide and cycling cost £70 per person.

The featured Umabona Room on the Shambala Estate is priced at $3,200 per night, for two bedrooms with up to four people sharing, or $4,300 for two nights as part of a 'vitality ' package.  For more information, visit the website.

Mozaic Restaurant
Jalan Raya Sanggingan
Gianyar 80571

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