Chef Ryan Clift brings a new concept to Bali with his unique take on bistronomy at Grow. Sarah Douglas finds out more. Photos: Lucky 8.
When it looks like parsley, smells and tastes like parsley, is it really parsley? These kinds of questions will occur to diners at Grow from time to time. If you have found yourself in the latest hot spot in Petitenget, well done, because you have stumbled across something that is fresh and new and combines a world class chef with a cruisy bar and a down-to-earth approach to both the menu and the prices.
Being a chef can be the most arduous task, or the most joyful. Taking simple ingredients, understanding their true nature, applying a little chemistry to bring out their strengths and combining them in ways that spark not only the taste buds but also the imagination – it is a real skill.
Ryan Clift is almost a force of nature himself. The rough and ready Englishman rolled over Singapore like a tsunami. With four restaurants and an armful of awards, he’s like a boxer with a tricky right, destined to surprise. From the fine dining Tippling Club to his latest rooftop farm to table diner, Clift has spent enough time in Bali to get the lay of the land.
“Every time I go out in Bali I’m surprised by the mark ups, it doesn’t have to be that expensive,” he tells us. I’m working with local farmers and suppliers on a reasonable margin to make it affordable for everyone.
Clift was captivated by the science of food from an early age and has worked with some of the best chefs on the planet. From Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, widely considered the food-driven city’s best restaurant for a time, he moved to Singapore and took the helm of his own restaurant where he introduced intensive modern gastronomy to the foodie island.
There’s more than a bit of mad scientist here, and if he wasn’t so cool, he might risk being labeled a food nerd. The other thing about the guy is that he can really cook. Smart food, modern food and we now discover very down-to-earth food as well.
My first intro to Ryan Clift was at an Ubud Food Festival event held at Bridges. I was loaded with preconceptions that I would find the food, ‘too tricky, overworked’. The menu did nothing to assuage the sinking feeling that it was going to be weird. It turned out to be one of the most memorable and delicious meals ever. The menu was so light on detail it was almost non existent; beef, milk etc.
The foundations of his dishes are flavour and texture and he manages to elevate the simplest things to another level without being too tricky or changing its profile. Which is not to say that some of the techniques aren’t sophisticated or time consuming. Making it look simple is the trick.
Our lunch at Grow was earthy and delicious. First stop was the bar, where a few stragglers from breakfast remained chatting to the chef. The avant-guarde (his words not mine) cocktails were a definite pick me up, a whisky-based sour cocktail for me, a light and refreshing gin and cassis cocktail for my friend. The cocktails are serious contenders among the likes of neighbours Baker Street Social, Frestro, Saigon Street and Ling Lings.
Upstairs the dining room is still being finished, a bright and airy space overlooking the lobby bar. The staff is warm and friendly and keen to suggest the top sellers. A creamy potato and leek soup arrived in a bowl studded with roasted potatoes and large green leaves. The soup was poured over it. It did occur to me that the leaves were rather large but it wasn’t until the crunch happened that we realized these were parsley crackers, they added a richness of flavour and another layer of texture to the creamy soup. Based on his mother’s recipe, the menu suggests, it was a beautiful soup, vibrant and hearty without being too rich.
My entrée was a large, crisp nori cracker the size of the plate with marinated slices of tuna on a creamy avocado sauce, crowned with peppery watercress. Large for an entrée but great textures and flavor, light eaters could happily order this for lunch.
Clift has been creating his own organic garden on a rooftop in Singapore and is captivated with fresh, organic produce, both dishes offered a chance to show off his liaisons with local farmers which is a driving force behind Grow.
The wine chosen by my partner was a classy French Bordeaux priced around Rp400,000, a great wine for the price. The wine list is considered and not overly large but hits all the right price points and works beautifully with the menu.
Diving into mains cemented his description of Grow as an exercise in bistronomy, “Fine dining without the price,” explains Clift.
Next up, strozzapreti pasta with a 48-hour braised oxtail ragu was the kind of dish you wake up at night wanting, and I didn’t need to be told that the pasta was home-made, it was telling in every bite. Topped simply with parmesan and parmesan crackers and a scatter of pea shoots, it was delicious.
My partner chose the pork belly, braised and saucy, served with pumpkin puree, braised grapes, walnut and a marsala jus. The pork was melting, the pumpkin sweet and the jus provided a fruity finish. Both dishes are stayers on this menu I predict.
The rain was pouring down on this day, so our choices leaned towards the hearty, the perfect foil for the smooth red wine. Not a large menu, there’s still plenty to tempt.
Entrees range from Rp60,000 to Rp100,000 and include a bone marrow salad, duck and cashew rillettes, a Grow salad with fresh crab meat and the dish that has everyone talking, the steak tartare with confit egg.
Mains follow the bistro theme with three pastas, four seafood dishes and three meat courses including a confit chicken that almost won the day.
Grow began simply and does double duty as the L Hotel’s lobby bar and restaurant. By the time you are reading this, Grow Up will have opened on the rooftop, giving the Seminyak crowd a new place to play. With a curated soundtrack, tapas Clift-style and quality cocktails, I’m betting I’ll see you there.
Walking the fine line between doing enough and delivering too much is handled perfectly at Grow. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between, with sunsets, cocktail hour and late nights upstairs, Grow is the kind of place you could just pop into, regularly.
As the rain is still pelting down we decide it would be rude not to stay for coffee and dessert. The bistro theme continues with a few subtle tricks employed to raise the interest. An orange meringue tart spiked with fresh basil was a winner while my lemon thyme panna cotta was an instagram moment waiting to happen with the smooth panna cotta woven between textured apple and a granny smith consommé poured over at the table. The fruits and the herbs worked perfectly together, a fabulous expression of what you can Grow.