Prepare to be wowed as The Yak visits three of Bali’s top bartenders to find out what’s on the A-list (hic).
W Retreat & Spa Bali
Detox to retox, W Retreat & Spa Bali is once again reinventing the wheel with cocktails that wave the wellness flag, well…depending how many you have. While fresh and fruity rules the day, things get a little more twisted at night, although I can see the new range of signature cocktails going down a treat at brunch. Fresh on the menu created by W’s in-house team is a range that truly stretches the imagination. W is billing them as, ‘cocktails that cater to the growing wellness trend. ‘Go harder, stay later, last longer and fuel your body without compromising all the fun’. I’m in.
The Blue Blood Mary is a perfect play on the current trend towards the classics with a twist. This version is cheeky and definitely a little sideways. Clarified tomato juice is used to color it blue while homemade butterfly pea flower extract adds a virtuous tone. Spiced with fresh chili and horseradish, garnished with a celery stalk and served in a tall glass with a spiced rim, it’s a photo in a glass, you’ll wish you were here!
Nuts and Roses combines rose accents, cucumber and local spices with Hendricks gin on the rocks, to create a cocktail that is long, cool and refreshing and the perfect antidote to a few rounds on the dance floor, or a sunset yoga session, it’s a long tall ahhhh. The beautiful people will be lapping this one up.
Then there is one that frankly folks, I was scared to try. It has all the visual appeal of a sexy little black dress; naughty and nice. They are moving mountains with this one that is served martini-style with a perfect black olive garnish. Choose your spirit, squid ink infused gin OR vodka, it’s then muddled with black olive and shaken over the merest hint of vermouth. This one could send James Bond to the wall. Please let us know if you do order this as I am dying to know but olives are not my favourite thing so I am moving on. Instead I’m playing it a little safer and absolutely giving Moscow a kick with this version of the mule, the Green Mule that is. Fresh ginger juice replaces the ginger beer, mixed up with coriander, cucumber and mango and even a little vitamin infusion. Have this one straight or add alcohol – detox or retox!
Before you get the feeling that this might all be too out there for you, know this, head bartender, Arey spends a lot of time with the chefs, working out the perfect balance of ingredients that will go with food, without food, that work on the dance floor or in the intimate confines of Fire ( think smoky, meaty, hints of charcoal). He loves a challenge and has an excellent grasp of the classics – he does a mean whisky sour – and is equally at home with foam or a little molecular chemistry. As W Bali is famous for its flair with food, fashion and music, it seems only fitting that they are going for the wow factor with this new round of drinks and ultimately life is about finding the balance, detox, retox and repeat, perfect.
Last up on our list is a cheeky little number that owes its perfect blush to the humble beet, nature’s great detoxifier. Here we see a little tangerine mingle with lime, fresh mint, tequila, pistachio and honey water to infuse your experience while dancing with your regime. You can have your cocktail and drink it too, head to one of the W’s bars and raise a glass. You may want to sing along in the new sound studio after a couple of these. Let us know.
Akademi at Katamama
There are no prizes for choosing the coolest person in the room when you hit the smooth polished concrete bar at the ultra modern Akademi. You can’t miss Dré, the English bartender who has breathed life into Potato Head’s drink list and created a science experiment meets cocktail nirvana at Akademi. You can’t miss the bar, small though it is, at the entrance to MoVida and despite its intimacy you’ll find things to look at no matter how long you stay. There are bookshelves, a turntable spinning vinyls and a wall of bottles that looks straight out of Chemistry 101. Those bottles are the secret behind the buzzing cocktail list, this guy takes his infusions seriously. Each month Dré shifts the focus to a special indigenous ingredient in a push to discover new flavours and push the boundaries a little. When I visited it was chocolate, a cocktail based on arak that had been deconstructed and infused with the smooth tones of local cacao.
Something that sets them apart here is their reverence for arak. Dré says every country has its own version and why not put it to use? Are people nervous? I couldn’t help but ask. He assures me that their supplier is one of the country’s most trusted and he loves using it. Arak has a unique effect and it’s a great party drink, it positively puts a spring in your step and is perfect for parties. They are using an infused arak in their Sangria at MoVida that sets the bar well beyond reach of the bog standard party mixer.
The story doesn’t end there, in fact this is only the beginning. The designer-driven Katamama Hotel is an absolute joy. The entrance to Akademi is up a flight of steps created from the red Balinese bricks that are used throughout, almost sculptural. It’s modern yet timeless and retro touches throughout infuse it with personality. Potato Head Family strikes again. Akademi is no different, it’s striking and modern but for all the concrete, stone and brick it’s also warm, clever yet accessible. Dré is a London boy, accent and all, who was named UK bartender of the year three years in a row. He’s published two books and has been at Potato Head since 2013, shaking it up for the Bali folks. From there to creating Akademi was a small step. There is no actual bar here, rather the bartenders hang out at one end of the long concrete table and its clear that Dré Masso has carved out his own space here, flitting between customers, mixing and mingling as he finds the sweet spot for each guest.
He also loves to put his own twist on the classics and to put him to the test I ordered a whisky sour, my personal benchmark. Once again, infused arak came into play and although this is not the original it had all the characteristics that have seen this drink waltz back into fashion, perfectly pouty with an artisan bourbon stealing the show and a tang that offset the sweetness. Balance folks, is what it is all about. No matter what you throw at this guy he will match you and up the ante. The tools at his disposal are impressive and he strives for a locavore approach with little bundles of herbs growing among the bottles, local spices, fruits and flowers soaking up the spirits and giving them new characteristics. Akademi serves it all up with flair and polish. Pretenders need not apply, there is nowhere to hide here and no one is going to beat the cool of the man himself. It’s all for fun at the end of the day and it is a lot of fun here.
They don’t call it the Silent Assassin for nothing. This cocktail relies on local chili to give it a hit that spice lovers will crave. A perfect blend of raspberries, chili infused vodka, peach schnapps, a spike of lime juice and a flourish of fresh coriander, this one sure sneaks up on you. Startlingly pink and with a good kick, this is the elixir to set your lips tingling and your feet tapping. Gendra is the man behind the bar here and he has been here since the South American eatery first opened. He also opened The Rock Bar at Ayana and shook the tables at Mozaic Beach Club so his resumé is impressive and his drinks are skillful, balanced, exciting and lively. There’s a whole list of margaritas on Barbacoa’s list including an exotic chocolate margarita and another that features jalapeno-spike tequila, that is bound to put some juice in your jive.
The best seller here is the passion fruit mojito but, says Gendra in all seriousness, this is not your run of the mill mojito. He challenges anyone to find a better one. That said, my second sampler was a ginger margarita, shaken and served with one large ice cube, and loaded with fresh ginger juice. They aren’t holding back at Barbacoa’s long bar, and there was no shortage of punters coming in for drinks. The list manages to combine the South American bravado with a tropical twist and the drinks list is as bold as the burnished dining room.
As the lamb spins around the fire for the night’s asado, the main attraction here, but not the only one by any means (I’m rather partial to the burnt carrots but that may have to wait for another day). What appealed to me on the cocktail list was the lack of sweet, sugary cocktails. Gendra eschews the sweeter drinks saying it shows a lack of depth and skill. “A sweet drink just requires sugar and you can hide a lot of things behind the sugar. To make a real cocktail requires skill, you have to balance the flavours, understand the ingredients and how they work together,” he explains. Just like a chef? “Yes,” he agrees.
The signature cocktail list covers two pages and there’s hardly one that didn’t sound seductive. The bar is lined with top shelf spirits and a range of infusions waiting for pouring day. Aside from a range of spiced drinks there are also some warm and cheeky versions that feature cinnamon, honey, tropical fruit, and all the exotic spices that put Indonesia on the map. Saddle up folks, and ride it in, cocktails with polish and substance are on the money here.