Sarah Douglas levitates above the waves at Ulu Cliffhouse as it sets out to redefine the beach club experience in Bali.
Once upon a time a young Englishman sat on a rock and stared out over an endless sea, dreaming of a time when he could invite his friends to share this magical place. He imagined a place where musical friends created fabulous soundtracks and surfer friends would emerge from perfect barrels to tell tall tales over bitingly cold beers.
A place where the gin and tonics flow as freely as chilled French rosé and floral cocktails, where the barbecued prawns sing of the clear green sea below and every sunset is a celebration.
It is easy to wax lyrical about Ulu Cliffhouse because, aside from being a stunning venue, it’s a place with a beautiful story and generous hosts.
Uluwatu is a place of dreams. When the early surfers discovered it, they called it heaven. Movies like Morning of the Earth spread the legend far and wide, books were written about this rugged coast and the perfect waves, and the early days of Bali tourism.
The Englishman, Josh Forrow, is older, wiser and has travelled to some of the world’s best beach clubs and is thrilled with the way his favourite rock has been transformed. He wanders easily among old friends and new, barefoot and smiling. It is part of the warmth and appeal of the day/night club that is in equal parts a club, restaurant, beach club, a music venue and a collaboration.
The coast of Uluwatu has changed dramatically from the early days when the only way to access the waves was by motorbike and a long, hot walk. Some of the world’s best surfers, including more than a few Balinese legends, have beaten this path. Resorts, villas, warungs, restaurants and clubs have opened since then. Roads wind through the rugged coast and local villages have grown rich from the visitors.
Surfers still make up a large part of the community, alongside hoards of tourists who come for the sunsets and the cliff top views. They stay and play and eat and drink. They visit the legendary temple where the kecak dancers entertain sell-out crowds and large groups fill the famous beaches in search of Julia Roberts and a defining Bali moment.
Walking through the entrance of Ulu Cliffhouse takes your breath away. Thankfully it isn’t because of the thousand steps, at Ulu Cliffhouse you walk straight in from the car park and the magic begins; the views are uninterrupted and it almost feels as though you are floating high above the sea. A brilliant blue pool at the centre of the venue offers a chance to cool off, while the breeze brings welcome relief on a hot day.
There are two bars, a host of seating options from wide lounges overlooking the view to oversized armchairs, bar stools and sunbeds scattered throughout. The WiFi is good enough to post to Instagram but not fast enough to encourage business conversations. It’s the perfect opportunity to switch off and enjoy the available distractions, of which there are many.
Music is central to the experience but rather than being overwhelming, it is a soundtrack that is designed to entertain. Some hot talent has played here already and with the opening of their professional studio, we can expect a lot more in the future.
The well-travelled team who have taken this raw idea and polished it up is Out & Out Hospitality, who are behind Singapore’s much-loved venues Operation Dagger and Oxwell & Co. They opened Kiln in Seminyak to get the feel of operating in Bali while Ulu Cliffhouse was being built. Where Kiln is fiery and fun, an urban concept where locals, expats and tourists can gather over food, drinks and music, the Cliffhouse plays to its natural elements; the cliffs, the sea, wide open spaces and cool tones in cream and blue. It’s sophisticated without being arrogant, it’s polished without being precious and everyone is welcome.
The biggest downside here is leaving, it is very difficult to tear yourself away and a date for lunch can easily turn into a late night session.
It isn’t only the views and the music that are creating a buzz about Ulu Cliffhouse. One of the world’s hottest chefs came on board to create menus with a difference. Diego Munoz is on the pointy end of Peruvian cuisine and currently ranked among the world’s best chefs. His menus have been interpreted by a young Brit who finds himself in an elevated position beyond his expectations but is handling it with great style.
No doubt things will change on the menu front but for a flying start they are serving delicious food that is filled with freshness. From large, fresh salads to delicious grilled seafood and beach club classics like burgers, tempura and club sandwiches that are tweaked to add interest but still play well to a crowd.
The Rock Bar, accessed by a flight of wooden stairs, offers a chance to get close to the sparkling sea. Built on a wooden pontoon, a bar, lounges and deep sofas line the edge. It’s a beautiful location overlooking the long stretch of sand that lines Thomas beach and offers a VIP view of surfers riding the perfect waves.
Ulu Cliffhouse is ultimately a lifestyle venue. Rock up for the day to swim, eat, drink, hang out, enjoy the views and settle in with some great soundtracks. This is the Uluwatu lifestyle many of us have imagined, no sand, no stairs, loads of cool spots to hang out and a great list of wine, cocktails and local and imported beers to wash away our cares and add a little glamour to our beach days.