Bali’s first zero waste restaurant is a journey through the best our oceans have to offer, writes Sarah Douglas.
Designing for dramatic effect is one of the signatures of the Potato Head group. Creating Katamama with over a million hand-made Balinese bricks results in a building that tells myriad stories of artisans, history and culture. Reclaimed wooden shutters, collected across Indonesia, add character and another storyline to the popular Potato Head Beach Club.
The latest restaurant to open within the beach club is Ijen, a seafood restaurant that aims for zero waste and focuses on the sustainable, the organic and line-caught fish. Offcuts are used in delicious ways while food scraps are recycled as feed for local farms. The crackers served on arrival are created from fish gills, normally discarded or added to stock. They sound a little weird but they taste great.
Large fiery grills line the back wall of the open kitchen at Ijen, while ice trays loaded with glistening fish play off a fire and ice theme. A tight list of entrees, sides and a small dessert menu pad out the main courses, which include just two items; a whole red snapper with a Jimbaran glaze and a barramundi fillet, oven roasted in banana leaf. The bulk of the main courses are hand-written on rustic blackboards, based on the daily catch of line-caught fish and fresh shellfish.
Hanging out at Potato Head Beach Club is always a bit of an event. The large horseshoe-shaped club, with its signature horizon pool sits handsomely on the beachfront. Everywhere you look there are pockets of interest, a constantly moving sea of people who traverse the lawn, hang out in various bars, swim up to the pool bar and walk around in various states of dress and undress. It’s a scene, day and night.
Ijen sits to the left of the horseshoe, glowing at night from the light of the candles and the wood-fire grills, it’s helpful to bring a torch, as the lights are low. Service is polished at Potato Head and the staff hand over from one to the other seamlessly.
We began with signature cocktails. A list of spiced and fruity cocktails based on organic and sustainable local ingredients, including arak, which seems to be trendy again, especially here. The cocktails were flavoured variously with orange and passion fruit, lemon grass and house made bitters. Quite a few mingled different spirits and liqueurs, including a homemade curacao. They play nicely here but you are welcomed to order from the main menu as well.
The wine list is also based on organic and biodynamic imported wines and a selection of local wine, including the hard-to-find Isola, which stands up well on the local shelf.
Cocktails away, crackers to hand, we chose a New Zealand biodynamic Pinot Noir, very nice.
Even though the menu is relatively small, we still struggled to choose, as there were quite a few dishes that tempted. We settled on two entrees; smoky garlic prawn skewers and rujak mackerel. The garlicky prawns had a nice hint of heat and a delicious char and they were beautifully cooked. The rujak mackerel was a stand out dish, with slices of fish marinated in a ceviche-style dressing mingled with tangy tamarillo and gooseberry. The flavours and the texture were amazing, it was our favourite dish of the night.
For our mains we went back and forth over the specials board, they all sounded delicious, and finally settled on a barramundi fillet grilled and topped with a spicy kecap glaze and a coconut crust. The crust was fabulous; the fish tender and delicious but the glaze was a little overpowering. Beautifully prepared and perfectly cooked, we nevertheless enjoyed it. We also ordered mud crabs, slathered in garlic butter with curry leaf and coriander, the sauce was gorgeous, the crab very fresh. We added a roasted cauliflower salad for our health.
Ijen is helmed by Chef Wayan Kresna Yasa ? who cut his teeth at Chicago’s two Michelin-starred Acadia and Blue Hill Stone Barns in New York. The Balinese-born chef adds both spice and personality in equal amounts while the wood-fired grill is a delicious crowd pleaser and handled to great effect in this open kitchen.
Sustainable seafood at Ijen relies on local fishermen bringing in their daily catch, hence the brief main menu, although starters and sides are full of intresting ideas and includes dishes that will happily feed the plant eaters as well.
The restaurant is lively, with the action in the kitchen a brief distraction from the club and the busy dining room. Ijen sings with Potato Head design details from the eco friendly materials to the minimal restaurant design. It’s quite a beautiful space.
Dessert draws around and our waitress is happy to recommend her favourite, titled simply ‘Banana’. She warns us it is quite sweet but we didn’t find it overly so. Roasted banana is topped with honecomb ice cream, palm nectar and chocolate soil, it was warm and comforting. The second dessert we chose was the coconut meringue, served with coconut yoghurt and meat, tropical fruit and a surprising ginger kombucha sorbet. There are only four desserts, including a sorbet and a chocolate dessert, enough for a happy ending.
The crowd was still lingering as we left, people came and went in a tapestry of movement. Ijen will please the seafood lover and the plant eaters, the space is beautifully warm and the fiery grill gives off a tempting aroma, the breezy restaurant makes a lot of sense in this space and the hand written blackboard menu lives up to it’s promise of creatively prepared fresh seafood that is big on flavour and personality.