Bali’s hottest new epicurean destination is The Ungasan Clifftop Resort in Uluwatu, writes Ondy Sweeting.
The Ungasan’s new executive chef Josh Tyler has brought the magic of a CV that was birthed in Australia’s Batemans Bay and scored him a coveted ‘chef’s hat’ plus some serious tutelage from one of Sydney’s greatest chefs, Peter Doyle. He also had several years cooking up a storm in France’s elite alpine resort of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
The alchemy of this culinary melange and Josh’s fully honed craftsmanship and creativity should not be underestimated.
What started as an overnight review of the resort, which is under the outstanding stewardship of GM Brenden Peace, soon morphed into an exceptional culinary tour triggered by an in-villa barbeque.
Villa Ambar – a five bedroom cliff top estate in The Ungasan – is utter gorgeousness with a timeless old school Balinese open pavilion with big living spaces, stone floors, a sunken lounge and exquisitely hand-carved doors, panels, partitions and exotic Indonesian antique artefacts. A private butler waits in her kitchen to deliver endless chilled water, pots of tea, cool gin and tonics and ruby red wine. She also unpacked our bags and cooled our rooms. The soft grass lawns are expansive while a long infinity pool meets the massive view of the Indian Ocean and sky. It’s little wonder that Villa Ambar is a go-to wedding destination.
Before sunset a team of staff arrive to set up the barbeque on A-frames made from tree branches and overhung with vintage-style Tungsten light. They laid a candle-lit, white linen dining table overlooking the cliffs and the sea while the sky blazed orange and purple at sunset.
Appetizer salads climax with an ambrosial salt-baked beetroot and carrot salad with creamy burrata cheese crowned with fragrant dukkah. The bread is housemade San Francisco-style sour dough served warm with cultured butter. The potato salad of baby chats is mixed with crisp prosciutto, egg and a light garlic aioli. The green salad is crunchy organic leaves from the hill country of Bedugul. Each dish hits its mark.
Coconut husks are burnt for the barbeque and deliver a light smoky flavour to the juicy meat of the little marrons’ basted in shellfish butter and soft baby barramundi cooked with an XO sauce. The meat falls of the tasty short ribs while a tender dish of butterflied baby chicken is lush. All is matched with a light pinot noir delivering what is possibly the best BBQ in Bali.
Clearly something very special is going on at The Ungasan – and that is down to chef Josh Tyler who becomes animated when our discussion leads to ingredients and purity.
“We make everything in-house. We made a stock recently and it didn’t go according to plan but the result was so good that we created a new dish for the stock,” says Josh who started his kitchen career washing dishes to finance his surfing habit and was apprenticed more than 20 years ago.
Josh has also developed a new in-villa dining menu that includes lamb shoulder, ceviche, wagyu steak, whole roasted duck and grilled rock lobster plus basics like ham and cheese toasties, pizza, pasta and a burnt honey and ricotta cheesecake with caramelised figs.
He has also created a neat four-course degustation lunch menu. It was looking like we would never leave this blissful villa.
Relaxing in Villa Ambar is easy with a four-sided lounge area for socialising and two dining tables that can join or separate out so one is for the kids since the villa is large enough to house two or three families. The bedrooms have cloud-like beds and maximise the water views. The big bathrooms are well planned with deep tiled baths – in the master suite the tub fits two people and looks out to sea. Toiletries are from Bali’s leading natural skin care range Sensatia Botanicals. The master suite is a cave-like escape down a secret staircase. Twin outdoor showers are partly hung with vines and partly open to the night sky. It has a private cushioned pavilion on a deck, and external walls are hewn from the local limestone. Throughout the property, tropical gardens abound – indoors and outside with bright pink and orange bougainvillea, fragrant frangipani trees and pots of beautiful white orchids on every worthy surface.
The Ungasan, where each villa is wildly different from each other, is also home of course to the popular Sundays beach club. Under the eagle eye of Brenden, The Ungasan’s star is shining bright.
The morning delivers Bali’s long absent wet season and an in-villa breakfast of yoghurt with Javanese honey comb squeezed over it, house-baked bread and pastries and cured smoke salmon. Add in smoothie bowls, eggs your way, an omelette, charred kale, ricotta hotcakes, a salmon bowl and local favourite of rice porridge and nasi goreng.
As sheets of rain whip the cliffs, two massage therapists arrive and in the vastness of the living area we enjoy a deep tissue massage to the sound track of tropical rain and chirping birds. Usually such a soundscape is only ever delivered through ear pods, making this massage an unforgettable experience.
Lunch rolls around to the Tyler degustation which starts with a chicken and pork pie – where the newly invented stock forms the jell base over a pastry case sprinkled with pork floss. For a tiny amuse-bouche this little pie is packed with flavour and is a worthy culinary creation.
It is closely followed by a yellow fin tuna tartar, an insanely good glazed pork belly with fermented black garlic, dark chocolate and milk skin. Slivers of wagyu striploin is served with shitake mushroom, a miniature turnip and a mustard jus. The wine is well paired to the dishes and traverses from Australia to France and back again.
Dessert is a triumph of unadulterated French caramel cheese custard combined with highly un-French local passionfruit and mangosteen served in misty dry ice and paired with a luscious Sauterne.
With Josh Tyler and Brenden Peace – a former chef – onside, The Ungasan has landed with great skill on Bali’s culinary map and demands a vaunted position among the greats of the island.
With such a gastronomic tour placed before us, we did not actually leave the villa once in a 24-hour staycation, and yet we felt like explorers who had uncovered something truly unique. Bravo.