Is there anything you can’t experience in Bali? This Indonesian island is composed of distinct districts — all in fairly close proximity — each offering different experiences. While Ubud is the artsy area, Seminyak is known for its higher end lifestyle venues. Then there’s Nusa Dua, where families go, and serene Jimbaran, the honeymoon hub. Mention Kuta and it conjures up images of wannabe surfers, a hodgepodge of tourist shops and a party scene full of drunk backpackers.
It’s rare people go to Bali‘s district of Kuta looking for a quiet time or for a romantic meal. In fact, I spent a good hour walking along Jalan Legian and the famous Popies Lane, unsuccessfully trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t a burger joint or sports bar; however, there is a great hotel and dining option for those wondering where to stay in Bali that offers 5-star treatment alongside the Kuta party lifestyle.
The Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort, who graciously invited me to come experience their property and culinary offerings, is located along the busy Jalan Pantai stretch with the beach just across the road. Despite the heavy pedestrian and road traffic, the city sounds die away when you enter the building. An unusually-placed lobby resides on the 2nd floor of the premises, which doesn’t make sense until you head up the escalator and see the wide-opened, unblocked view of the Indian Ocean right in front of you.
View of the pool and Kuta Beach in the distance from the lobby
A Taste Of The Italian Home
It is this same ocean view I gaze upon when I am invited up to hotel’s in-house Italian restaurant, Bene, for the nightly Sunset Gathering, a culinary experience allowing guests to pair delicious food and wine with colorful sky-strewn art. The sun is a blazing ball of red as it dips below the skyline, and here, four stories up above the crowds on Kuta Beach, I am able to enjoy the serenity of the sunset with sangria in hand.
We are also introduced to head chef Rossano Renzelli for the first time, the talent behind Bene and all of the Sheraton Bali Kuta’s cuisine. He is a tall Italian man with a hearty smile and tattoos down his arms that he has collected from his travels all over the world.
“I spent over 20 years traveling the world,” he tells us matter-of-factly. “It has found its way into my cooking, but still I don’t forget my Italian roots.”
Once the skies start turning dark and all the photos are taken, my group is led down into the restaurant where we are seated at a table with exquisite crockery.
“It’s designed by our staff in Indonesia,” says our waitress proudly as she pours us some water.
There is a mason jar on the table with a wet towel in it, and the most exquisite scent of rosemary comes pouring out when you lift the lid, another signature of the Sheraton’s that pops up in the resort’s various food and decor.
Insalata di polpo con patate e asparagi – Octopus, potatoes and asparagus salad – served on custom designed crockery
The Italian food served at Bene is hearty and unpretentious, as if you were being fed by a close friend’s doting Italian grandmother. The waitress walks around with the dish and serves a portion onto your plate, and at the slightest inclination of interest, she’s more than happy to give you a larger portion. It’s a six-course meal that feels like ten, with the highlights being the two pasta dishes: Ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach, and a Pappardelle with pancetta in tomato sauce. They are both exceptional, so I eat them both.
The entire meal is capped off with a little jar of something called Scarpetto, the remainders of the Pappardelle sauce coupled with a small loaf of bread that you can have for supper or the next morning’s breakfast, although with the size of this meal I think I’ll still be full in the morning.
A Peek Behind The Kitchen Counter
This first meal drums up the anticipation with which I approach Feast, Sheraton Bali Kuta’s other restaurant serving an international buffet spread. What other delights will Chef Rossano be able to dream up?
Instead of being led into the restaurant, our hosts cheekily take us through a side door and we found ourselves in the starkly lit kitchens of Feast, surrounded by bustling chefs in the midst of preparing for night’s dinner. Chef Rossano welcomes us again — this time with his chef’s apron on — as he and his team show us around this often unseen side of any restaurant. The kitchen is a flurry of well-organized action, and unsurprisingly for a premium hotel, very clean.
Nasi Goreng Ayam – freshly cooked and served in little pans for us to taste
There are stations set up, with chefs conducting live demonstrations on the preparation of the food – like showing how they marinate the smoked salmon in white wine, and the complicated methods used to temper chocolate. We are also kept well fed in the process, with small portions of each station’s meal served to us on mini-kitchenware. There’s something about eating nasi goreng ayam — traditional Indonesian fried rice with chicken — out of a small saucepan that makes it taste extra special.
Finally the tour ends up in one of the pastry rooms, and we’re in for another surprise – the tables have been rearranged and set up for dinner service. The food is as good as you can expect from a five-star hotel, but the twist is the fun presentation style of our hosts. Continuing the theme of ‘behind the kitchen doors,’ our mains are plated on mess tins and mixing bowls. Of note are the flavorful seafood bouillabaisse and the juicy lamp chops. Other interesting items include wine served in a hollowed-out capsicum and cocktails we mix ourselves using liqueur-flavored ice cubes.
It was another night of satisfaction for my palate. I would come back again for this experience, but sadly the monthly Kitchen Table is only open to select VIP members of Sheraton’s clientele and not available for booking. No harm asking the staff though, you could get lucky. That being said, all the dishes served on the tour are on the regular menu, and you can always ask your server about interesting preparations.
Bringing The Market To Sunday Brunch
I am able to step into Feast itself on Sunday morning. It’s an explosion of pink — the choice of color for the restaurant’s Sunday Market Brunch — a stark contrast from the neutral browns of their everyday uniform. Their usual international buffet spread is interspersed with a number of foods I recognize from the Kitchen Table the night before, like the flavorful Oxtail, buntut soup, and marinated smoked salmon. Perhaps my new found appreciation for the hard work that goes into preparing this food helps me enjoy my meal a little more.
Pod Chocolate – organic and produced in the hills of Bali itself
Also present are several of Bali’s gourmet retailers, a rotating list of local folk specially invited down to showcase fresh seasonal produce amidst the buffet spread. I spy a local chocolatier from Pod Chocolate, who grows his cacao beans up in the cool hills of Ubud. He has a delectable range of pralines in six different colors as well as a demonstration of how they created their honeycomb goodies, and I end up with several bars of Bali chocolate to take home. There’s also an organic vegetable farm section with some of the biggest potatoes that I’ve ever seen. Next to it is a cheese-maker, an Italian expat living in Bali who brought his trade over with him. I watch as he patiently rolls balls of fresh mozzarella and other cheeses for us by hand. It may not be your usual Balinese fare, but there’s no doubting the freshness and quality of the food at the Sunday Market Brunch.
After my meal I exit the patio, cross the road and find myself back amidst the bustle of downtown Kuta on a weekend, gradually being swallowed up by the hordes of tourists passing through Kuta Beach. I take in that view of the Indian Ocean one last time, reveling in the moment of serenity, and make my way into the crowd.
*Featured image via ZaNuDa
Contributed by Jaclynn Seah.