Contemporary fine dining restaurant Apéritif in Ubud, Bali is a sensorial exploration of modern culinary techniques and Indonesian inspiration in a most enchanting setting.
A beautifully laid out table catches our eye as we step into Apéritif; overlaid with satin red linen, it stands out among a sea of its white-linened brethren in the fine-dining restaurant.
“There’s a special reservation this evening,” our host winks as she leads us through the restaurant. “It’s going to be a proposal!” She proceeds to share about how even the helipad located right outside has even seen a wedding. We believe it.
Apéritif is that kind of cosy, high-end destination dining in Bali. Its far-flung location at premier luxury resort Viceroy Bali tucked on the side of a lush remote river valley in Ubud – Bali’s cultural centre – guarantees privacy and indulgence.
Whether it’s a wedding proposal, an anniversary celebration – or that secret culinary getaway with a favourite mistress – Apéritif is the place to awe and impress your other half.
But evening does not begin in the dining hall.
Instead we’re first led into an adjoining room. Imagine the gallery of a European mansion owned by a tasteful if eccentric collector, with an entire bar cut into its centre. The decor is somewhat the Roaring Twenties with a colonial European touch. Curios of bygone eras litter the space. A real (and hopefully disabled) flintlock musket on a coffee table here; a vintage rotary telephone on a side table in the corner there.
Here’s also why Apéritif is so named. The restaurant celebrates the European tradition of enjoying apéritifs before a meal; pre-dinner drinks help to stimulate the appetite, but more importantly, get you into the right mood for the meal later. At Apéritif, your meal comes with a complimentary pre-dinner apéritif and snacks.
We settle for a Kemangi Cooler – a concoction that combines vodka, a concentrated kemangi extract, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur – as well as a Tamarillo Negroni, the classic Italian aperitivo made slightly tangy with the use of tamarillo grown in Bali. At the same time we’re plied with canapés; the tiny little bites are a flavourful insight of what is to come.
Finally, we head into the main dining space. On the way we look over to the sole red table; its guests have not yet arrived.
It’s a cavernous yet elegant space, with a well-stocked wine cellar tucked on one side and an open kitchen on another; before we are seated we sneak a peek into the massive kitchen where Executive Chef Nic Vanderbeeken (pictured below) holds court. It’s one of the most modern kitchens we’ve set eyes upon, and we’ve seen a number. It’s also one of the quietest. There’s no angry shouting in this kitchen; it’s all quiet efficiency and smiles. A rare sight.
Speaking of the wine cellar, Apéritif stocks a modest collection of some 180 labels here. Restaurant manager Madhe Yudiana has done a great job in curating wines across regions and styles to suit most oenophile’s needs. Of course the number of wines could be bigger, but Indonesia’s import laws on alcohol makes it difficult for any venue to do far more.
Apéritif offers what it calls ‘global cuisine’ with a touch of the Indonesian archipelago. Belgian Chef Vanderbeeken marries modern European culinary techniques with influences and ingredients of Indonesia, and his eight-course degustation menu is a gastronomic traipse across the old Spice Islands.
There’s the Karedok (pictured below), for example. A traditional Javanese salad of raw vegetables smothered in a peanut sauce, which Chef Vanderbeeken interprets into a rolled melange of lightly-pickled garden vegetables with a delicate peanut sauce and a tofu crème. Another Indonesian inspiration is the Papua Crab, which sees the sweetness of freshly poached and picked crab lifted in a delicate bisque that’s been accentuated by spices used in rich Indonesian gulai curries.
The meat course of Venison Wellington (pictured below) is a hybrid of two classic Western dishes – the Beef Wellington and Beef en Crôute – that also sees an Indonesian influence. It is tender and perfectly medium-rare venison, wrapped in encased in a most flaky and buttery crust. The Indonesian component comes in the rendang spices that’s rubbed into the meat, as well as the unctuous spiced jus you pour over the dish. We’re tempted to empty the entire jug into our plate.
Dessert is as elaborate as pre-dinner. We’re loving Pastry Chef Alexander McKinstry’s work – his Cheese is a reimagination of a cheese platter, with a trompe l’oeil cheese confection that’s served with a cheese sponge cake, brown butter ice cream, as well as rosella-infused pickled apples. Then there’s petit fours – finger-sized morsels inspired by the nationalities represented in the kitchen – Belgian, Indonesian, American and South American.
Service at Apéritif, it must be said, is stellar; a most pleasant combination of Indonesian friendliness, European sensibility, and Japanese efficiency.
Dining in Bali can be an eclectic affair; on one end you have travellers looking for authentic Balinese eats such as babi guling (roast suckling pig), sate (meat skewers) or betutu (stuffed fowl); on the other extreme there are (increasingly) establishments offering diners healthy and ethical eating options, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or otherwise. Apéritif is none of these; it sits with a very small handful and elite group of fine dining modern European restaurants – the likes of Teatro Gastroteque and Metis – that just happens to also pay tribute to its Balinese influences.
“The menu highlights the wealth of experience we have from immersing ourselves in culinary cultures all over the world. We wanted to showcase what an eclectic and well-constructed global menu looks like,” Chef Vanderbeeken had shared. “We are constantly experimenting with a myriad of native herbs, fruits and produce available here, and incorporating it into our highly technical degustation menu. We have taken careful consideration to provide a dining experience that is truly enchanting and unlike any others found in Bali.”
We’re content to lounge for longer in Apéritif’s dining hall, but after-dinner drinks await back in the bar.
As we leave, we squint over to the red bedecked table again. There’s a couple finally seated there, having what looks like a most excellent, romantic time.
“Actually we got the dates wrong,” the same host laughs ruefully as she leads us out of the restaurant. “The proposal is supposed to happen next month.” Instead the restaurant had shifted another couple, who happened to be celebrating their honeymoon, to the special red table.
We’re sure Apéritif made their day, just as it did ours.