When we left Ubud 2 years ago, anyone who read the last of my Ubud blog posts would assume I would never return. In fact, when I left, I too assumed I would never return. But, when the chef at Locavore Bali invited us for lunch, I suddenly found an excuse to return to Ubud. I’m glad I did.
Why We Returned to Ubud
During our last week living in Bangkok, we attended an award ceremony for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, hosted by The World’s 50 Best. I’m still not entirely sure how we ended up on the invite list. I will assume it is because we met Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, the 2015 best restaurant in the world. Or, that I am a budding culinary author with my recent publication of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna, home to the 2016 best restaurant in the world.
Sometimes, it’s just luck.
We showed up at the W Hotel in Bangkok, where the top echelon of the Asian culinary world rubbed shoulders. We were fancy for one night. We tried to fit in. We drank Champagne.
We sat in the large ball room and awaited the announcement of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Only one of which we’ve actually eaten at. But, we met the chef during that visit, so I felt a little more fancy.
At one point they announced the top restaurant in Indonesia, and without knowing anything more, one word crossed my lips: Locavore. In fact, Locavore also won the Highest Climber Award. Of the top 50 restaurants in Asia, Locavore rose from 49, to number 22. Not too shabby.
After the awards ceremony ended, we hung out for a little while more at the W, drank Scottish gin and tonics, and ate giant prawns. During the reception we ran into Chef Eelke, the man behind the top restaurant in Indonesia, Locavore. We mentioned that we were returning to Bali the following week. Although we had no intention of heading into Ubud proper, we had a meeting on the outskirts. Perhaps we could swing by Locavore and test it out.
Returning to Ubud, and to Locavore
I remember living in Ubud, when Locavore opened. I was skeptical, thinking with the name “Locavore,” and Ubud’s reputation as a hippie enclave, that it was a high-end vegan establishment. I had no interest.
But, watching the press that Locavore has received since we left Ubud, I was very curious. It also happened to be that a week after meeting Chef Eelke in Bangkok, we were planning a trip to Bali, our first in two years.
Kadek, our former driver from Ubud, picked us up from the beach in Legian, to drive us to a meeting just outside of Ubud. After, he dropped us off at Locavore, right smack in the heart of Ubud.
I could not have planned our coming home any better than Chef Eelke did. He sat us at a two-top table in the window, so that we had a view over Jalan Dewi Sita. It was all a bit surreal.
Drinking at Locavore
At most restaurants of this caliber, a wine pairing is in order. Chef Eelke and his partners, though, have come up with quite a unique concept. Instead of a wine pairing, they offer a cocktail pairing. In this case, the cocktails not only pair with each course, but focus on the same uber-local, zero kilometer ingredients as their dishes. Their thought process is that anyone can ship a bottle of wine from one side of the world to another. But, if you want to go local, a proper cocktail is the way to go.
With a ceviche, they paired a roasted coconut liqueur with vodka, mint leaves, and lemongrass. A fish dish with a spiced rum cocktail with pumpkin juice. A catfish dish paired with an alcoholic version of the local Balinese jamu, a turmeric-based juice that is a Balinese cure-all. It reminded me of a very adult version of the Bali belly sure our friend Nyoman used to make for us.
Each of the drinks were thoughtfully prepared and presented. But, the food was the main show. One dish in particular.
Dining at Locavore
When we accepted the offer to dine at Locavore, I was nervous about bringing Eric. He is decidedly anti-vegan and anti-vegetarian. Now, Locavore is not solely for the vegan masses that descend on Ubud. Instead, it is focused on local ingredients. Although there is an Herbivore menu, the Locavore menu is entirely not vegetarian.
There were two options on the menu: a 5 course and a 7 course. We figured this was our one shot to dine at Locavore, so we went all in. I did not know at the time that Chef Eelke also served 5 amuse bouches to start. I learned quickly that, what I thought would be a lighter, locally inspired meal, would be a mega meal that would leave me almost passed out in the car on the way home.
The entire time we sat in that window seat at Locavore, one word crossed my lips: surreal. I saw Scoopy motorbikes, which reminded me of the one I drove when living in Ubud. I saw the yoga-happy tourists walking by in their yoga gear, who reminded me of how I dressed while living in Ubud. At the end of the meal, I popped my head into the shop across the way where we still sell our very first product, a yoga massage ball. The woman who manages the shop recognized me, by name, within seconds, saying “Amber, are you checking on the massage balls.”
It was all so surreal. And, of all the dishes we ate, there was one in particular that truly brought this surreal moment home – Into The Sawah.
Dining ON The Bali Rice Fields
Chef Eelke served Bali rice fields on a plate. And, as someone who lived surrounded by the rice fields for over a year, I felt that I was tasting the memory of our time living in Ubud. Into the Sawah is the only dish that has been on the menu since Locavore opened. It is described as “Heritage Galuh Rice, Snails & Garlic, 64 Degrees Duck Egg, Frog, and Wild Flowers.” And, it was, indeed, an edible Bali rice field.
The duck, like the ducks that cleaned the rice fields after each harvest. The snails, like the ones that seemed to sneak out of the rice field periodically, and stick themselves to the walls of our villa. The frogs, like the ones that locals hunted with flashlights while we slept. Then, of course, the heritage rice from Central Bali. There was a unique texture from the 64 degree duck egg. But, really the dish was a memory. A memory of what it was like to live in Bali.
Sure the rest of the meal was incredible, all 15 courses, and at least seven cocktails. All influenced by local flavors and local ingredients. There were 5 amuse-bouche, a 7 course tasting menu, and the desserts. There was the pre-dessert, the dessert, the dessert after the dessert, and the dessert after the dessert after the dessert.
I was so full when I left Locavore, that I was happy to trust the drive back down to Seminyak to our driver, Kadek.
Chef Eelke and his team prepared the dishes with love, with attention to detail, and with a focus on local ingredients like I’ve never seen before at high-end dining in Asia. But, the Into The Sawah dish just stood out. More for us because we lived there. It was a fabulous meal, in a surreal setting, that made me feel strangely at home.
Locavore – The Details
Locavore only offers tasting menus. The five course menu is $50, and the seven course menu is $60. The drink pairings add approximately $40 per person. There is also a vegetarian tasting menu. Locavore is on Jalan Dewi Sita in the heart of Ubud. They serve lunch and dinner most days, and reservations are strongly encouraged.