Eat Street’s Moroccan Meeting Place Is Reborn, writes Sarah Douglas.
THE philosophical, dark-eyed Moroccans cast a seductive spell that few can resist. When Khaima arrived on what would become Eat Street, festooned with coloured lanterns and redolent of dimly-lit spice markets, it soon had a crew of diners swooning.
Ten years later, Jl. Oberoi is filled with slick international restaurants and diners have a world of choice, and Khaima has had a change of heart. Entrepreneur and restaurateur, Driss…has finally coaxed his wife Nora from behind the stoves of the Morrocan-based restaurant that was a very personal project for her.
“This was only the second restaurant in Oberoi, after Mykonos, and friends were always asking us to open a restaurant,” Driss says. “Nora has always loved to cook and entertain. This site came up and was quite a lot bigger than what we were looking for, but we went for it. The first night was a disaster, people waited over an hour for food, we ran out of food completely. We didn’t have portion controls and really were out of our depth,” he laughs.
They sorted it out quite quickly and went on to establish Khaima as a quality restaurant before opening Café Bali with a partner and then The Junction, both in Jl. Oberoi. These days the couple are asked to consult for new restaurants, such is their success.
Khaima’s make-over has completely transformed the site. The stripped wooden façade is an arresting design that has worked its charm on a new set of diners. A newly appointed executive chef worked with Nora to choose the most popular of the Morrocan dishes and then added his own spin on Indonesian and Western dishes to create a more eclectic menu.
“He is very creative and his pastas are some of the best I’ve ever had,” explains Driss. “The Indonesian dishes are also popular and the chef really shines with the presentation and preparation of some of the best local dishes, it is working really well.” The committed diners keep coming back and have been loath to let go of their favourite elements, including the belly dancer who suddenly appears as if from another planet, in the thoroughly modern dining setting created by local design house, Desain9.
With its Japanese sensibility, the new design seems somehow at odds with its former identity, yet closer inspection reveals Morrocan elements. The stripped wood that appears as bamboo is actually strips of natural wood bound together with twine, the lanterns are still there but this time in shiny chrome with clear glass, and the dining room still echoes with middle eastern sounds and smells.
A younger crowd seems to have moved in and women seem to outnumber men at the larger tables. Young couples seem to be taking advantage of the mixed menu and sharing dishes ranging from Moroccan inspired dips to the Balinese betutu. This is how it works here.
Nora has finally let go of her place behind the stove, reluctantly we are not surprised to hear. “This was her baby,” explains Driss, but he is very happy with the way the new look has been embraced by a new crowd of diners, and the long bar facing the street is a popular meeting place.
Nora has turned her hand to the business and will be visiting the kitchen of The Junction to create new dishes while still keeping an eye on her baby, Khaima. While she may have given up her apron to a new chef, there is definitely a sense of her that remains in the building, a blink of the eye reveals the ghost of the old Khaima. It may be shiny and new but it is not only the guests who remember, the very building seems to echo with the sense of her celebrated days as Bali’s best Morrocan cook. The tagines, the grills served with cous cous and the mint and cumin scents still float to the top in this modern international restaurant, brilliantly situated in the centre of Bali’s now famous Eat Street.
Tel: 0361 735171 Map Ref Q.8 www.khaimabali.com