Eat your way around Bali with this definitive culinary guide
Where would you start to plan a trip to Bali? First, decide how important the beach is to you
Bali is known as the island of the gods, a green paradise, and is also only nine hours away on a direct flight from Dubai. Where would you start to plan a trip to Bali? First, decide how important the beach is to you. Most holiday brochures and websites tend to provide very rosy, often aerial shots of beaches that are not quite how they appear in real life.
The beaches in Seminyak are broad, long and lined with activity, but very muddy grey in color. The sea is quite rough, but there is plenty of fun to be had jumping the waves. The beaches and sand in Nusa Dua are more of a classic golden color, and much gentler to swim in. It is a very resort-based area with large hotel groups, and great if you love hanging around mainly in one place.
Seminyak is full of vibrant nightlife and some of the best restaurants in Bali. Uluwatu is the place for great beaches and a classic surfing scene, but it is more of a clifftop area at the southern most tip of Bali, so a little remote from the rest of it. About 30 minutes before Uluwatu is Jimbaran Bay, with golden sandy bits of beach and some very characterful fisherman’s huts for fresh seafood at sunset.
It is possible to base yourself in one area and travel to others, but traffic is quite bad in Bali, and short distances can take much longer than you think. If food is a really important part of your holiday, head for Seminyak, about 20 minutes’ drive from Denpasar international airport. In particular, stay in the Petittenget area of Seminyak if you can afford to.
Sample restaurants such as the sublime Metis, with its tranquil garden courtyard setting that offers fabulous snails and seafood, and Merah Puthih for very good Indonesian fusion food. We had lunch in this airy, greenhouse-type restaurant and loved all our plates. If you are into steaks, Fire at the iconic W hotel is the go-to place, designed with the Bali fire dance as its central showpiece.
The latest buzzing restaurant in Seminyak seems to be Barbacoa, a Latin American restaurant with a gorgeous terrace overlooking the paddy fields. I loved my fish tacos, but the restaurant specializes in fresh pork dishes, so do not visit if this will offend you.
We ate really well at the Gourmand Deli at the St Regis Bali in Nusa Dua, and highly recommend their tuna tartare after a relaxing Balinese massage in their Remede Spa. At Jimbaran Bay, have lunch at the Sundara Beach Club at the Four Seasons, get a day pass and swim in the longest pool in Bali at 37 meters, then eat simple seafood at the Fisherman’s Huts at sunset.
The Ubud area of Bali is associated with artistry, paddy field terraces and yoga. The incredible Hujan Locale was one of our best meals in Bali. If you are a real foodie, also try Locavore a few minutes away for lots of mini courses of beautifully presented, award-winning food. Locavore recently made it into the Top 50 Best Asian Restaurants list.
The Alila Seminyak had the best breakfasts I have ever tried. Their choice of Asian, Western, and healthy Asian or Western within each section, was comprehensive, tasty, fresh and made to order. One of my favorites was the raw pad thai salad with peanuts, followed closely by the raw chocolate brownie made with cashew cream and chia seeds.
Once you have chosen your locale, you need to choose your particular style of holidaying. For Petittenget in Seminyak, I recommend the Alila for clean, modern, minimalist living and wide-open spaces. Try and book an Ocean View Suite room.
For some fun, zany, hugely modern Miami-type vibes, head to the W Retreat and Spa. Linger for drinks at the legendry Woo bar with its gorgeous, oversized fan, while you watch the sunset and take tea at the Mad Hatter’s party. This hotel has the best concierge service on the island.
If I had my time in Bali again, I would stay at the Four Seasons in Sayan in Ubud for its other-worldly spaces that are like a paradise lost, and visit Hujan Locale for dinner in Ubud town for the Ubud part of the trip, rather than stay in Ubud central. I would spend a bit longer at the St Regis in Nusa Dua for the beach, and another session in the Aqua Vitale spa area, but after my repeat stays at both the Alila and the W in Seminyak.
The Alila Uluwatu is a magical place and well worth a visit for tea or lunch, simply to experience the large promontory terrace on top of the sea, but the beach is 600 steps down and then up again!
Bali is still a paradise, but it makes sense to book your bit of paradise, especially if it is a sought-after restaurant, well ahead of time.