In planning the trip to Bali, Hubs and I evenly broke the time between diving and eating — which, if I’m honest, is my favorite kind of travel. High on my list was an evening at Locavore, which is listed as #49 in the Top 50 Asia Restaurants (and regarded as one of the top restaurants in Indonesia). Having secured a reservation a few months out, I could only wait in anticipation for the meal itself.
What’s the concept? As the name would suggest, Locavore is all about local, from the raw Balinese abalone to the Sumbawa Island oyster, and even through to the plates, silverware and cocktail glasses, which are made in nearby workshops (true story, we tried to hunt down one of the wooden cups that one of the drinks came in).
On the menu: Guests can choose from the ‘locavore’ or the vegetarian ‘herbivore’ option; each is five to seven dishes long and influenced by European and Indonesian cuisines. While we both chose the locavore option, I really (really!) wish I had gone with the vegetarian option. A table seated close to us had made this selection, and it looked quite interesting.
Local ingredients: Locavore’s menu lists the origins of all its ingredients, so diners can see the kohlrabi comes from the restaurant’s vegetable garden in Payangan, the pickled seaweed from Lombok and the beef short ribs from Malang, Java. Vegetable sources include “Owen’s garden” – the nearby farm of an Englishman in Plaga, central Bali.
About the chefs: Perhaps the only import at Locavore is Eelke Plasmeijer, a Dutch-born chef who moved to Jakarta in 2008. There he met fellow head chef Ray Adriansyah, who was born in Jakarta to Sumatran parents, and the pair soon moved to Bali where they ran the kitchen at Alila Ubud. Combining their passion for cooking with sustainably sourced local ingredients, Eelke and Ray decided to take the concept to the next level, teaming up with restaurant manager Adi Karmayasa to create Locavore in November 2013.
As a side note, I always look for female chefs in high-end kitchens like this one. Unfortunately, on the night we were visiting, there was nary a female cook to be found. While there were plenty of ladies in the dining room, I wished to see one in the kitchen (this was directly opposite to Blanco par Mandiff, where the male/female ratio was relatively even and appeared to be almost all local chefs).
My thoughts: I’m going to be honest here (when am I not?). I don’t think the restaurant or menu lives up to the hype. While we were given awesome seats (back left corner — lots of privacy and ability to see the entire room), there were just a number of missteps I couldn’t overlook:
- To start with, while I know wine is more expensive in Bali (and all over Indonesia, due to import fees), the paired cocktail menu was not nearly at the level it should’ve been. Drinks were small and — clutch my pearls — many of them were pre-made!
- On the topic of drinks, when I received one that was literally less than a shot (compared to Hubs, who had a bit more) of liquid, and we pointed this out, it was mentioned, “It’s probably just the ice. You should shake it and it will settle out.” I’m sorry, but a Top 50 Restaurant should probably defer to the customer in situations like these.
- Similarly on the topic of drinks, what doesn’t match with above is how amazing our starting cocktails were. Hubs ordered a drink that involved burning a pinecone and cinnamon and was of a regular size (as was mine). I think we believed the paired cocktails would be of a similar nature.
- With all of above, it would be my biggest recommendation to potentially order a cocktail to start the meal, and then switch over to a bottle of wine (as I wish we had done).
- Such a reliance on consommé and broths of all kinds! There was an overabundance of this technique. While I understand it might go with what is sustainable and available, I still thought the dishes could’ve been better balanced.
- The Burned Monsieur, while very interesting to look at and quite high concept, fell completely flat. While there always seems to be one dish where I go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, this one seemed so fun and yet was so basic on taste.
- Similarly, I think the restaurant almost started too strong with the small bites at the beginning (which were almost better than the tasting menu itself). Case in point, a taste of seafood that truly brought the ocean directly to our table.
- One restroom. Yes, one toilet for an entire restaurant. You know, I’ve been to some smaller venues, but there have always been at least two toilets. I’m not bothered at all by two unisex bathrooms, but seriously (?!).
- We were able to compare the meal directly with one of the top Trip Advisor ranked restaurants in Ubud, Blanco Par Mandif (which I will definitely be reviewing) not even 48 hours later. While the service at Locavore slightly edged out Blanco, overall we far preferred the experience at Blanco. Therefore, I am still rather surprised Locavore is included in Asia’s Top 50. While I do applaud the sustainable practices (and delicious food), I’m not sure there’s enough to beat Blanco.
However, some good things (of course!) happened:
- So much creativity! While we’ve been a bit limited in our true fine dining this year, well above Staplehouse, Locavore showed impressive plating, combinations of ingredients and overall design.
- One of my favorite soups ever! (What a year this has been for soup, people). Although it did include a broth, the Bloody Mary soup which 100% lived up to its name. With a scoop of tomato sorbet matched with similarly flavored broth, taking a mouthful was simultaneously hot and cold — something I’ve never experienced before and simply a perfectly executed dish.
- I always appreciate when a meal is perfectly paced. It’s difficult to do and Locavore made it look easy.
- The location is brilliant. Tucked away on a busy street, you could walk right by and never know that next level food was being served inside. We saw numerous people get turned away, so getting a reservation is essential.
- Offering a full vegetarian tasting menu gets all the points.
Here are some of the highlights from the meal:
One fantastic thing about dining in Bali is how reasonable the cost of fine dining is. With a total cost of USD$283 (including all drinks and taxes), I feel this is a huge bargain for two people and close to twenty courses (all in).
Of course, now that I’ve done a bit of research and dining in Bali, I realize what a food lover’s dream it is!
Have you been to Locavore? What was your favorite dish?