A new chef plans ahead for a La Favela future, where Sarah Douglas finds a pandora’s box of bespoke interiors. Images: Lucky 8.
It is this Seminyak hotspot where it all began for the creative husband and wife team behind La Favela.
Gonzalo and Sandra Assiego found a rundown old building on Oberoi Road and rather than walking away, as many people would have, they envisioned a venue that embraced all the things they loved. It took two years to create the magical wonderland that now houses a thriving garden restaurant, two bars, an afterhours eating spot and a nightclub that sees hundreds of people line up every night for a party that defines Seminyak nightlife.
Sandra is quoted as saying their initial inspiration, “…was a rooftop bar with a Brazilian favela vibe. With laundry strung from building to building, fire pits and the smell of barbecue floating on the breeze. This combined with my immersion into the early ‘90s New York and London underground arts scene to create the kind of nightlife I enjoy.” From there it grew, and grew.
Today, the company, LYD Group, has opened a string of venues including La Plancha, La Laguna and La Brisa. Each is a study in sustainable architecture with almost every feature of the buildings created using recycled materials, items they have found, purchased or collected on their travels. La Favela is awash with recycled wood, old terraces, bric-a-brac from old TVs to art. Tables and chairs are mixed and matched, architectural elements have been salvaged and given new life, and it all comes together in the most incredible way.
Walking into La Favela early in the evening is a revelation. While much is written about the nightclub, the pair have always had a firm focus on food as well as creating magical spaces. On an average night over 200 people sit down to eat, spread out amongst the menagerie of moods, a Pandora’s box of collectibles, a series of spaces that lead from one to another, each with its own atmosphere. It’s irresistible.
Charged with taking La Favela’s menu to the next level, after their former long-time chef left the building, is Spanish Chef Federico Osorio. On sabbatical after years working in Australia, his plan was to spend the next five years cooking and sailing the world, until this opportunity came up and his heart said yes!
“I love this existing menu and the Spanish-inspired theme will stay. After working in Australia, in wineries and with my own business, my plan is to take the menu lighter, add more vegetarian options and introduce some healthier cooking methods to the kitchen,” he explains.
His plan is bring some modern Australian cooking methods to the kitchen, and “add vegetarian dishes that are far from boring. I think people are eating this way more and more and I want La Favela to reflect that.”
His first task is creating the menus for the Christmas week, culminating in a New Year’s Eve dinner, before launching his new menus early next year.
Meanwhile, we sit down in the fairy-tale garden to sample what’s on this current menu. It’s a sophisticated mix of Latin dishes created by their Mexican chef, designed to meet the heat of the tropics.
We begin on this humid evening with a beautifully simple beef carpaccio, fragrant with truffle cream, sweet balsamic, slivers of parmesan, fresh peppery rucola and crisp sourdough toast. It’s light, tasty and perfect for a starlit night under the palm trees.
Next up is a fresh tuna tiradito, a Peruvian-inspired dish that is artfully served with slices of raw tuna dressed with coriander, sesame, avocado, lemon and papaya, with a biting chipotle mayonnaise. The tuna is fresh, the cool slices of raw fish play off beautifully with the spice of the chipotle.
Our third dish is a mouthful. It’s gorgeous and it’s rich. Queso fundido is served in a wrought iron pot, filled with melted mozzarella spiked with flavourful chorizo and served with flour tortillas, avocado and pico de gallo. It feels a little sinful, and it is, but it’s also delicious. Roll it all up in the freshly made tortilla and add the sauce of choice and forget the diet, it’s a delicious dish.
Perusing the garden with a chilled pinot noir, we’ve crossed a bridge that exists in more than a literal sense. At 2am in the morning, with a throng of people in full party mode, it’s hard to imagine that hours earlier this space was dedicated to good food, conversation and tables filled with couples, families and groups of friends. It’s a metamorphosis that stuns me every time I walk in.
La Favela may have started as a street party but it continues to evolve and grow, and it’s not only the restaurant. The garden has been miraculously extended. A rooftop terrace overlooks it all, atmospheric private rooms stretch seemingly endlessly into the garden. Waterfalls flow, more bars are discovered and the oasis behind La Favela grows ever more interesting.
On the third floor, the former attic, the dedicated cocktail bar Attika is a speakeasy bar that welcomes early arrivals and party folk who are craving a different beat and more sophisticated cocktails. With its own dedicated entrance, it’s yet another space that seems to appear as if by magic. The second level, formerly an extension of the dining room, has now been transformed into a late-night street eats space, Sao Paolo, where party people can grab some sustenance before heading home, or to after parties of their own.
Little has been left to chance in La Favela and it takes a dedicated team to pull off this nightly event. From the chefs, under the guidance of the fresh-faced Federico, to an army of bar staff, floor staff, events people, DJs and management that keep the whole thing running. Change is something that La Favela adapts to on a nightly basis and this team are continuing to find new ways to invite both residents and travellers to walk up that dimly lit path into their world.