The Yak steps into the resplendent past at Plataran Canggu.
It’s a mystery to many why Indonesian food doesn’t have a higher profile around the world. One theory is that plating is not really a thing here. On this I have to disagree, the vibrant presentation of food for celebrations and ceremonies is truly awesome. The other theory is that there is no single Indonesian cuisine. This is true. Across the far-reaching archipelago each region has a distinctive cuisine, sometimes similar to others yet often strikingly different.
Plataran, a locally-grown resort company with luxurious properties across Bali, Java and Flores, began with a restaurant and function centre in Jakarta. Sourcing their menus predominantly from Java (even within Java there are regional dishes that shine), the food is polished, sophisticated and delicious.
Plataran Canggu now brings the menu from the capital to its beautiful main building, formerly the lobby, to create a new restaurant that showcases the very best Indonesian cuisine. Overlooking the terraced property, with views over the pool, large windows welcome the light and classical architecture brings sets the scene for elegant casual and formal meals.
The menu is made for sharing. With many of the best-known Indonesian dishes featuring here. From regional rice dishes to classic soups like the buntut (oxtail) to Garam Asem ( a thick, fragrant chicken soup with turmeric, chili and lemongrass), to the Pindang Serani ( salmon, carambola, pineapple, chili and tomato), the ingredients are often a revelation to those not familiar with these dishes.
Having lunch with two Dutch students here highlighted what a journey eating this way is for the uninitiated. Many of the dishes tell fascinating stories of a time and place that are as compelling as they are exotic.
For the Indonesians eating out is an occasion. The table is laid with a multitude of dishes, rice and crackers are laid out and guests create their own meal according to their personal taste. Plataran’s menu is laid out in this way, you can choose from the signature menu, 6-8 recommended dishes, or select from the à la carte menu.
In the shade of a traditional joglo, over 250 years old, an ornate central chandelier and a long, colonial-style bar, we enjoyed dishes both new and familiar.
We began with a selection of appetisers. Bola Bola are fried croquettes made with chicken, squid celery, leek and coriander served with an intensely-flavoured peanut dipping sauce; Salad Putri Dewi is a refreshing mix of guava, jicama and oven-dried tomato with a sweet and spicy dressing. The salads sing with unusual ingredients that combine sweet, salty and spicy in beautiful harmony.
For main course we chose from a number of favourites including a beautifully cooked Ayam Betutu, a Balinese dish made with chicken that is spiced, steamed and grilled in banana leaf. It was perfectly cooked and turned out to be a favourite with everyone at the table. We also chose a delicious basket of fried prawns, Udang Ramayana, redolent with garlic, and another chicken dish, Ayam Dharmawangsa which combined breaded chicken thigh with mango, pomelo and a sweet and spicy sauce. As a base, we ordered the red rice over the white and as tradition dictates, we were served crackers and sambal.
Sitting here in this light-filled dining room with two guests whose experience with Indonesian food is mostly the nasi goreng or warung-style nasi campur (mixed rice), gave me a new appreciation of the intricacies of the menu and the inspired dishes.
As this resort is located in Bali, a number of classic Balinese dishes feature on the menu including the Betutu. Javanese dishes tend to be milder, sweeter and more balanced where Balinese food is often quite fiery. It’s a matter of taste and that is what makes this culinary tradition a source of endless discovery. There is something for everyone and here in Bali, with so many locals coming from other regions, we have almost every cuisine represented.
Plataran Canggu, tucked away in a quiet corner of Canggu, surrounded by jungle with a pretty river running through it, is a homage to Indonesian architecture and culture in the most graceful way. With 21 villas, a beautiful spa, some truly magical events spaces and stunning landscapes, it’s a perfect introduction to Indonesia. The original villas and the gardens were designed by the late Made Wijaya, creator of some of the island’s most famous gardens and author of a number of books on Balinese architecture.
The conversion of the former lobby into a restaurant space, is genius. The outlook is leafy and green, with the statue-lined pool below framed by tropical foliage, is an elegant venue for casual lunches, family events and romantic dinners.
Indonesian sweets can be very sweet and so we took the advice of the Plataran team, and ordered a selection. Surprisingly they were subtle in flavour and beautifully presented. My lunch companions had a great laugh trying to figure out how to eat the Es Daluman, a traditional (and slippery) mix of green grass jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar. It takes a little practice. The Dadar Gulung, a pandan pancake stuffed with grated coconut sweetened with palm sugar, is a favourite among Indonesians and unlike any pancake the girls had tried before. While the Pisang Bakar Plataran was unexpectedly good – this was a new one for me as well. It’s a combination of roasted banana with cheddar rösti, almost like a toasted sandwich with layers of sweet and salty.
Lunch at Plataran Canggu is a journey of discovery, of food that is both creative and traditional. It introduces elements of Thai cooking, exotic ingredients, skilful preparation and lots of dishes worthy of conversation. Each of us took something away from our lunch. Beyond the food, this really is an experience and a wonderful introduction to the more sophisticated side of Indonesian cuisine, for those that know and those that don’t.