Sarah Douglas experiences 48 hours at the spanking new Apurva Kempinski, where European hospitality meets Indonesian grace in exceptional form.
WITH a swirl of red, a flash of blue, a wash of fountains, a sparkle of gold and a wave of technology, the Apurva Kempinski is revealed.
Looking forward and looking back has resulted in one of Nusa Dua’s most astonishing new resorts. Introducing Europe’s oldest hotel brand to Indonesia, Kempinski looked for inspiration in the rich history of Java and Bali to create a storybook experience that is both majestic and personal. Welcome to the Apurva Kempinski.
The invitation read 48 hours but I had to check again. The extended stay is an unusual testament to the generous hospitality of Nusa Dua’s most recent luxury resort. Still, I checked it twice.
Determined to set themselves apart from their neighbours, who include some of the most recognised hotel names on the planet, including Ritz Carlton, St Regis and Grand Hyatt, the Kempinski group got creative. After much searching they found inspiration in the stirring history of the Majapahit Empire, the source of many of the myths and legends that brought Hinduism to Bali.
Pulling into the vast entrance of Apurva Kempinski for the first time is daunting. The vast lobby soars high above the sea, wrapped in glass and gilt and fountains, with beautiful hand-made wooden screens that soar towards the ceiling. The welcome however is anything but intimidating. Friendly faces approach with iPads the moment you leave your vehicle, asking your name to start the check-in process before you arrive at the actual lobby.
Service here is something else. Personable, modern and genuine, you are taken care of from the moment you leave your car. And it continues this way throughout your stay. Despite the size of the resort, the experience is more like a boutique hotel.
My journey begins in the exclusive cliff lounge, open to guests who are staying in the suites. The check-in process is done in the lounge where refreshments and towels welcome you. The staff then escort you to your room. In my case I am on the 8th floor, one below the cliff lounge. The suite is furnished in cream and black, complete with a lounge area and a desk, it also has a stunning cliff-side private pool and terrace and a luxurious marble bathroom that looks over the property towards the ocean.
Built over 100 square metres, it’s beautifully decorated, filled with light, with amazing views. Kempinski’s designers have added brilliant terraced bougainvillea gardens at the top of each of the buildings and the central resort area is a sea of blue and green, with numerous pools and a central restaurant leading to the beach. Whichever way you look, there’s something beautiful.
Sunday at Kempinski.
My check in was on a Sunday which allowed me to join Nusa Dua’s newest brunch offering. A ‘brunchcation’, it offers guests a chance to stay all day and enjoy the pool with complimentary day beds and a sunset cocktail included.
Food is a huge part of the resort experience as the original Kempinski was a food and wine merchant in Berlin. He is credited with, among other things, introducing the fixed price menu to Germany, a concept that caught on immediately, especially as it included a glass of wine or beer.
The tradition continues, although the Kempinski family are no longer involved in the hotel brand.
Here I meet Executive Chef Eric Cocollos, a loquacious Frenchman who had stationed himself behind the fresh seafood buffet, shucking oysters and trading stories. This is his first posting in Asia.
His career has taken him from Paris to Marrakech, working at some of the world’s leading hotels, including the iconic Plaza Athene.
Not only is Eric a hands-on Executive Chef, showing up in every kitchen I visited during my stay, he is also one of the most generous with his time. We spoke at length about the challenges of opening a new hotel, inconsistent supplies and the enormous amount of training it takes to bring his team of chefs up to the level he expects. It’s high, very high, and he believes that it will take another year or so before the kitchens are where he expects them to be.
Despite this, every single meal I enjoyed during my stay was incredible. Including the brunch. A vast selection of fresh seafood, salads, Asian meals, roasted meats and barbecued seafood lay in wait. The open kitchen allows guests to watch every part of the cooking and preparation. The chefs are an international team that includes an Indian Chef, ex Oberoi, and local chefs who have worked in some of the island’s most exclusive restaurants and resorts. The floor staff are also incredibly efficient.
The generous brunch offering ends with dessert and here is my ultimate undoing. From a crepe station to a chocolate fountain and an endless assortment of cakes, patisserie and fresh gelato and ice cream, it truly is one of the island’s great spreads. Surrounded by water, the restaurant sits in the midst of the resort, with a sunset terrace and bar above it.
A rest in my suite followed, naturally. Sixty percent of the rooms and suites offer private pools and there is still an ocean-front tower to be completed. All the rooms and suites offer views and the resort has a dedicated family pool with slides and a playground for the kids. The main pool is vast and there is a protected beach at the front where a beach club will open soon.
One of the signatures of Kempinski is the Ladies in Red. They are roving concierges and appear throughout the resort. Just when you’re wondering where to go, what to do next, if you’re a little lost, they’re there. A quirky mix between a character from a children’s storybook and Japanese geishas, Kempinski introduced the ladies in 2009 and they are found at every one of over 700 properties worldwide. They meet you at check-in, they have a little hub in the lobby and are there to make your stay as smooth as possible.
Throughout the resort, the staff is empowered to deal with the guests. From the room service staff to the General Manager, everyone is approachable and it makes such a difference, before long you feel like you belong. No small feat in a resort this size.
My final experience for the day was the complimentary sunset cocktails and canapés offered in the lounge. With two pools, including a hydro pool, it’s the perfect place to wind down at the end of a day… Or begin one.
Day 2 at Kempinski – breakfast, lunch, spa treatments and dinner.
Breakfast for suite guests is also offered in the Cliff Lounge. Other breakfast choices include the main restaurant or room service. Once I had discovered their beautiful eggs benedict (the prettiest version I have ever been served), this was my regular go-to. It also got me out of bed, not easy when the rooms are so seductive.
Day two was filled with meals and spa treatments. Lunch was a chance to meet the Indian Chef and despite my reservations that it might be too rich for a pre-spa meal, it was perfect. Light and beautiful, fragrant curry was served alongside little starters that gave me a taste of things to come. A tandoor oven has been ordered from India and then a full Indian menu will be added. It’s definitely something to look forward to.
Behind the main restaurant, a staircase leads to Koral, the resort’s underwater restaurant, surrounded by aquariums. It’s in the final stages of set up on my visit and I expect to be enjoying a meal here surrounded by colourful fish and coral very soon.
The spa is everything you expect from a luxury hotel. Located on the top floor of the cliff building, the rooms are generous and overlook the ocean below. I was booked for a signature massage and scrub but in light of all I had eaten, and was yet to eat, I chose a more vigorous treatment, aimed at raising the circulation and smoothing out the curves. The masseuse was incredible and both the massage and the scrub left me tingling and the masseuse out of breath. It was amazing.
I resumed my position at the cliff lounge as the sky turned a beautiful pink, before heading down to prepare for dinner.
Izakaya is inspired by the award-winning Jakarta Restaurant, OKU. It’s a bistro-style setting with yet another open kitchen that offers à la carte or stunning degustation menus. While Eric hovers behind the stoves, checking on all the meals, the head chef greets me and explains the menu. The sommelier approaches with a choice of cocktails and sake she has chosen for my meal but offers to change it for anything I prefer. Her selection sounds perfect so I settle in for the full experience, the restaurant humming with fellow diners.
And then, not only a string of dishes, but a parade of chefs, accompanies my dinner. Each dish is perfect, the portions are small and every dish from the raw to the smoked and grilled shows off the amazing freshness of the ingredients. By the time jewel-like slices of wagyu beef and a little grill are laid in front of me, I am full to overflowing. The butter like texture of the meat inspires me to eat more than I need but with the offer of a glass of pinot, it’s too good to resist.
Dessert arrives and it is not one but two, along with a beaming young chef who explains this is her creation. She is owning it and I have to photograph them, they are so beautifully presented. The delicate flavours encourage me to continue. Thankfully my suite is just moments away and a cup of tea in the enormous bed, with the twinkling lights of the resort below, sends me gently off to sleep.
Day 3 – check out and an Indonesian farewell.
It’s check out day and it’s very hard to leave. I head to the Cliff lounge for my last bite of the stunning eggs benedict and some of their fabulous jamu selection, the health tonic famous across Indonesia.
I manage some time at the main pool as it’s too good to resist, before packing up and heading to the lobby for one last meal. The lobby bar and deli specialises in Indonesian food. With airy, terraced booths overlooking the resort, it’s a popular place for outside guests and those who want to find a quiet corner to read or work.
So far I have enjoyed a lavish brunch, gourmet breakfasts, a beautifully cooked Indian meal and a Japanese degustation I’ll not soon forget. My final meal is local, and it’s very good. Spicy, fresh and incredibly authentic.
With so much to see and do within the resort, I’d be surprised if guests ever leave. Despite having two nights here, there is so much more to discover; stories yet to be heard, spaces yet to discover, it’s all so beautiful and the combination of European hospitality and Indonesian grace is wonderfully expressed. They have absolutely achieved a resort that rises above many of its neighbours and will only get better with time.