Sarah Douglas feasts on Seminyak’s latest hotel hero, Alila. Food photography by Lucky 8.
This stretch of Seminyak coast is pretty cool already. Home to Ku De Ta, W Retreat & Spa and Potato Head Beach Club, there’s no shortage of groove going down. Some of the best chefs, stunning resorts and not-so-secret hangouts offer more play here than there are hours in the day. So what more do we need, one might ask?
And then along comes Alila Seminyak, slipping into the little black dress of neighborhood beach life like Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Cleverly conceived along a strip of land that leads down to the beach, and with a minimal chic that sets the bar high for it’s competitors, Alila never shouts, rather it intrigues with simple sophistication. It’s at the heart of the action and plays to it without ever raising a sweat.
Sunsets are a destination event complete with a spacious deck, smooth tunes and a front row seat on the beach. Canapés come in all shapes and sizes from the pan-Asian kitchen with miniature cocktails to match. It is refined and relaxed all at the same time, perfectly composed to meet with friends or enjoy a romantic cocktail as the sun bids farewell.
Food is the heart of the resort’s philosophy. Chef Stefan Zijta made the move here from Alila Uluwatu where he won fans for his rarifed take on European-style dining incorporating some of the best local products and his early entry into Indonesian street food at the stylish Warung.
At Alila Seminyak, The Restaurant combines both and then some. The menu is more than a mouthful at first glance but once you get the hang of it, the culinary journey begins.
Stefan, the creative Dutch chef behind the menu, first took on Jakarta at the Anouska Hempel-designed fine dining restaurant, Shy. His two compatriots, Eelke Plasmeijer and Quirjin Rademaker, are now cooking up a storm at Locavore and Gado Gado respectively. These guys are among the island’s top chefs and share a passion for local produce and for mingling local flavours with contemporary European cuisine.
The Restaurant at Alila Seminyak plays to an upmarket Asian palate with a sophisticated European sensibility. The interior of the restaurant is spacious, modern and echoes the clean lines of the resort. An open kitchen that wraps around the interior is enough to make professional chefs green with envy – it’s quite beautiful and acts as a fiery juxtaposition to the cool interior. A large deck outside echoes the beach club and propels the diner towards the sea.
The thoroughly modern menu takes on some great Asian classics from China, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Indonesia. It begins with small bites, an Asian tapas of sorts, and then travels from the garden to the wok, to the grill and back to the curry house. There is also a rotisserie section and a carvery to satisfy the meat lovers. It’s quite a creation, this menu.
Dishes like quail-egg minced pork balls, a classic Indonesian dish that I had never seen before, was our first taste sensation, kind of like an Asian version of the scotch egg. Paired with the ever-present Chinese staple, shrimp toast, these two common street dishes were authentic and contemporary all at once.
From here our dinner travelled to Thailand with a Larb Nue, tender rare beef slices atop a cool glass noodle salad dressed in pomelo, mint, young mango and coconut-milk dressing. It was refreshing and light and perfect on a balmy night with the rolling waves reflecting the moon, quite special.
We danced with the cocktail menu created by Mexican-born beverage director, Carlos, who was tempted away from Manhattan by the soft lights of the tropics and has made his mark on the drinks here at Alila. He is quite the charmer too and before you know it, he has lured you into his web of creation and made the night.
However, we were ready for wine and a fairly well-priced Spanish Rioja felt right at home with the meat selections we’d made.
Here a local producer shines with Gede’s beer-fed pork belly. The soft, pale meat was offset with crisp skin and a house-made tamarind hoisin sauce. Finely sliced and laid out on slivers of cucumber, the inspiration was clearly Chinese with a depth of flavor that is almost French. We had to go the beef as well, and a beautiful beef rump steak was sliced to share by our waiter and served with a biting green peppercorn sauce.
The concept of a shared meal is front and centre here and dishes arrive much like a Chinese restaurant; as they do so the table fills with a variety that can be overwhelming. We will be prepared next time.
The vegetables on the menu are much more than sides. A glistening plate of warm beetroot was dressed with a warm sweet and sour dressing, pickled perfectly in their juice. Sweet slivers of pumpkin were roasted and dressed with crisp pumpkin seeds and cinnamon and creamed spinach arrived dressed to impress, with a toasted sesame seed sauce.
Our happy ending was approaching with a dessert selection I would never have considered if not for the company. It reads like a mad scientist’s breakthrough, a traditional martabak (that looks crumpet–like) smeared with chocolate, cheddar cheese and sesame seeds and folded over like a sandwich. How could this be good, I wondered? Well, it might sound ‘out there’ to the uninitiated and you sure won’t be attracting any body-conscious dieters with this, but it worked. Warm, soft and gooey with a balance of sweet and salty.
As I am about to ready to slide up the elegant staircase to the lobby, Carlos reappears with the offer of a post-dinner drink and we’re down with an Eastern Promise, his take on a whiskey sour. An artisan bourbon gets soured up by tamarind, sweetened with a ginger syrup and shaken up with an egg white.
That’s me, that’s us, that’s the story, anything beyond that goes in the private message box! We leave with a bungkus as Alila is lean and green with a no-waste policy. I’m still not sure who made it home with that. Cheers Carlos, until the next time.
Sunday Graze Special starts from 12 noon until 4pm IDR465.000++