Duncan McCance had a choice when he arrived at Ubud’s contemporary boutique resort, Bisma 8. He could have gone anywhere with the menu, philosophically, technically, culturally – however, with a world of culinary influences at his disposal, he chose to do what he loves best, Modern Australian. Once mired in the confusion of fusion, the menus of a league of Australian chefs has taken over cookbook sales and television spots to firmly establish a very distinctive style that embraces fresh produce, European, Asian and Middle Eastern roots and a lawless approach to recipes.
He looks for all the world like the quintessential hipster and is affectionately known to friends as “the beard”. Melbourne-born chef Duncan McCance is the second chef to take his place behind the menus at the contemporary Ubud resort, Bisma 8, but has quickly put a very personal stamp on the signature restaurant, Copper Kitchen and its offshoots at Folk and No Mas.
Committed to a farm to table philosophy, Duncan was fortunate that the resort owners had established a farm just metres down the road, and he set about imposing his own stamp here as well. For Duncan, this is where it all begins.
“You plant a seed, you watch it grow and then you take what you have and create menus around it,” he explains. This is in fact where modern Australian cooking has its roots, based on plentiful fresh ingredients and enthusiastic farming practices.
The importance of variety is Duncan’s response when I grill him about the addition of celeriac in his melting pulled pork sliders served at No Mas, the bar above the coffee shop Folk, the night before. Celeriac so far hasn’t showed up in any local farms to my knowledge. Using imported ingredients allows for flexibility but increasingly Duncan is experimenting with seeds to extend his local base.
The bearded chef oversees 12 menus in 3 venues so the obligatory club sandwich and burgers are there, although they have also been tweaked to create versions that are vibrant and delicious. Lunchtime at Copper Kitchen features rice bowls with various toppings, priced at under Rp100,000, a nod to Asian tastes and the budget conscious diner. From there however the menu starts to take on a more creative shine.
Our lunch began with a simple dish of moon scallops, sourced locally, with an XO sauce, that brought to mind one of Australia’s leading chefs and a mentor of sorts to Duncan, Neil Perry. The scallops were plump and perfectly cooked, served with an edible garnish that was more than just a pretty face and the hint of Asian saltiness from the sauce was delicate and delicious.
Our next dish showed the measure of a contemporary chef; confidence sparkling off a jewel-like plate, with miniature waffles filled with a smooth chicken mousse paired with rosella jam and garnished with the seeds; the sweet and salty playing perfectly on the crisp, light waffle base. This is quintessentially a modern, fresh take on a classic.
The third dish was a signature from the dinner menu and a beautiful marriage of east and west flavours in a 12-hour miso braised beef short rib, falling off the bone, served with potato puree and crispy garlic, a winning dish crying out for a glass of red wine, which thankfully was supplied.
The interiors of Copper Kitchen reflect the industrial edge of the resort where Ubud meets New York with a hint of Japan in the design. It’s a clever mix of glass, concrete and copper softened by gardens, with a horizon pool clinging to the edge of a ravine at the end of the property and spacious terraces throughout. A cosy coffee shop on the ground floor speaks of an urban lifestyle and the intimate cocktail bar tucked away beside the restaurant is warm and inviting.
Folk on Monkey Forest Road came about very casually. The owners of Bisma 8 had the space and filling it was a short leap for Duncan who is firmly rooted in Melbourne’s coffee culture. So Duncan set about sourdough training and the bubble-crusted bread rolls out daily, the coffee is from Seniman Coffee House around the corner and it is rich and delicious while the menu is filled with sliders, fresh baked pizza, earthy salads and fabulous breakfasts. A highlight was the beetroot cured salmon with a poached free-range egg served on salad leaves, with a healthy chunk of toasted sourdough to soak up the pink stained juices. Smashed avocado is a popular side, sandwiches and even duck eggs show up on the modern coffee house menu that extends to bar snacks at No mas upstairs, a recent addition to the stable.
With the likes of Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong, Curtis Stone, Tetsuya and Bill Granger dominating TV screens and cookbook sales over the past decade, Mod Oz cooking appeals to a more health conscious population who have embraced the clean, earthy flavour and a fusion of culinary styles that mingle confidently to create a new tradition. This one honours ingredients firstly, style secondly, as long as it delivers on taste says Duncan.
Our dessert course delivered all of the above, with bold and beautiful desserts that gave a nod to Indonesia. A dragon fruit tart leaned heavily on vanilla to complete the flavour palette and showed up dressed for a party in vibrant pink. A chocolate dessert was, as always, our downfall; a crunchy peanut and chocolate biscuit base topped with a smooth chocolate marquise made with olive oil and served with a home-made peanut ice cream. It was literally the icing on the lunch.
The food at all the Bisma 8 venues is inventive, fresh and ingredient driven with a style that is definitely rooted in Australia but with the distinctive mark of the chef. The prices are reasonable and as Duncan promises, it tastes good, very good. Modern Australian cooking has a fine ambassador in Duncan McCane and whether you’re dressing up or keeping it casual, you’ll find something to like on any of these menus. It delivers.