Best of Bali: Cuca Restaurant

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Rebecca Anne Milford tracks down the hidden gems of the tropical paradise that is Bali. Here, she finds inventive and outstanding food in the beautifully bespoke restaurant, Cuca.

Made with love

As soon as one crosses the wooden walkway into the coconut grove where Cuca is located, it becomes obvious there’s a special kind of magic in the air. The glow of lamplight leads the way, and as you step from the soft shadows, you’re welcomed by the lilting, evocative chords of jazz that float into the night, combined with happy laughter of the guests sipping cocktails on the lawn. There’s a frisson of excitement in the air that is intangible yet deeply seductive.

No doubt this is partly down to the love that went into creating Cuca – the baby of Virginia and Kevin, who opened it in July 2013. The title refers to the pet nickname that Virginia’s mother used to call her, and the restaurant showcases a real passion for the cuisine and culture of Indonesia, given some truly inspired twists. 100% local ingredients mix with the concept of casual Western, tapas-style dining, together with delicious cocktails and desserts. On top of that, every individual item of the place has some link to the island. From the chopsticks, which are made from Balinese wood, to the stone that makes the bowls, right on through to specially sourced honey – a feeling of respect and adoration for the natural beauty of the country shines through.

A theatre for food

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The layout of the restaurant has been given as much thought as the menu, and is cleverly arranged so there is a space for everything, depending on your reason to visit. An outside garden glows like a fairy-grove from Midsummer’s Night Dream, while inside there is a large, elegantly lit room for group meals or romance (the seating is not too packed, and there are gauzy curtains that can be pulled across for privacy.) Dessert can be taken on one of the low couches outside, or an open air cocktail can be enjoyed at the al fresco bar. Whether it’s for romance, a friendly catch-up, or a group celebration, Cuca has thought of it all, and the overall sensation is chic, glamorous and stylishly modern.

But for real foodies, the treat is to take a front-row seat for an extraordinary kitchen experience. Sit at the bar and watch the chefs in action, preparing all kinds of fascinating dishes.

The Menu

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The concept is a simple yet refreshing one – rather than decide on a menu and then source produce, Chef Kevin has put the ingredients first. By finding key Indonesian food items and then shaping unique dishes around them, he has managed to present a menu that showcases the vey best of Indonesian bounty.

Although you can order a la carte, I can’t recommend the tasting menu enough. We perched at the kitchen bar, watching in fascination as the chefs whipped, stirred and poured the ingredients to create some of Cuca’s best-loved dishes for us. They are a mixture of playful innovation and seriously adept technique – in one impressive dish the sweetness of honey-baked pumpkin is combined with the crunch of seeded granola, anchored to its savoury roots with a dose of tarragon leaves.

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The sensory surprises begin immediately, and set the tone for Cuca’s teasing and cheeky nature – a puff of candy-floss dissipates in the tongue, leaving only the faintest taste (I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you, lest your caught-on-camera reaction be compromised). After that each dish delights and intrigues.

We absolutely adore the smoked butterfish; its impossibly silky texture is given substance by its smoky flavour, and the vibrant whipped beetroot seems so light it evaporates on our tongue leaving the most wonderful sensation of fresh gardens. Then there us that marvelous dish of honey baked pumpkin salad, that merges the crunch of granola with slightly caramalised root vegetables. William, our charming and knowledgeable host of the evening, explained that at Cuca the entire sensory experience is accounted for, and aesthetics and texture all play their part. Each plate of food certainly looks beautiful.

Crispy fried chicken with sesame dust and Asian basil is the ultimate gourmet comfort food, and one of my favourite dishes has to be the octopus. There is not the slightest hint of chewiness to the seafood, and the vivid green Asian gazpacho, merged with the sweet crunch of apple, is such a massive burst of flavour it seems cleanse my palate like rainfall.

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To finish, dessert is fun and teasing – a ‘Balinese breakfast’ that appears to be a fried egg in a bowl, golden yolk bobbing in a sea of snowy white. This white is of course coconut, and the yolk mango – break through its skin and it seeps out in tropical glory, to the frozen yogurt and fruit below.

The whole menu is so very carefully thought through – it is like witnessing a cleverly choreographed show that encompasses foods, flavours, culture, technique and, most of all, a deep-rooted respect for this adopted home in Bali.

Overall

Somehow Cuca has done the extraordinary, by merging a multitude of things that seem too good to be true. The dishes are vibrant with authentic Balinese flavours made from local produce – but are served in a distinct and unique fashion. It is a fine-dining concept that is affordable and, what’s more, completely accessible (the hospitality is so charming you feel comfortable at once). It is set in a space that encourages romantic dinners, lively chatter, and foodie heaven. There is something modern and fresh about Cuca, and yet it also wholly embraces the traditions, culture and crafts of Bali.

All this has been created by Virginia, Kevin and their team, and it is wonderful to see such a place flourishing. If ever in Bali, this is a destination restaurant that I could not recommend highly enough – you won’t regret it for a moment.

Visit Cuca at the website, or follow them on Instagram @Cucaflavor

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BOE Magazine

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The Brunch Diaries: Bill’s Restaurant

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In three words: Cheerful, Attentive, Vibrant

The Lowdown: It all started with torrential rain.

Had it not been for a flood that wiped out his initial greengrocer shop, Bill Collison might not have thought to make the leap into cafes. And yet in 2001 he veered from the fruit and veg business, deciding to expand to include an eatery where people could come for a relaxed meal and friendly service. Fast forward to 2015 and there are now over fifty Bill’s Restaurants around the country.

I remember walking past the Bath site one evening, and being halted by the glowing candlelight; the distressed wood; the chillies hanging in loops that made it seem like a traditional little bistro. This is surely one of the reasons for their success. Each of the varied establishments has something altogether cosy about it – a kind of welcoming pull that makes you feel as if you could be dining in Bill’s own home. This is further enhanced by the staff, who seem to have a fervent dedication to making one feel as if their presence is actually, truly appreciated – even on the busiest of days.

Another reason for its popularity is undoubtedly the food. As well as breakfast and lunch, Bill’s Restaurants also serve popular lunchtime offerings and are well thought of for their dinner fayre, where daters and groups of friends alike will convene as the evening descends. However, we were here one sunny morning to see the kind of good start that a visit to Bill’s provided.

Gl_1761Location: Bill’s Restaurants can be found all over the UK, and Londoners have their pick of places to choose from depending on their mood. We headed to the lively, jostling Soho site, whereas the Covent Garden location is more smart and sassy, and the Islington establishment provides a more calm and restful ambience.

Gl_1623Decor: There are cheeky little nods to the greengrocer history of Bill’s in all of the restaurants – be it the wooden wheelbarrows with fresh produce, decorative fruit and veg, and scrawled blackboards add to the rustic appeal. But it’s also been glammed up with candlesticks, glittering chandeliers and comfortable mish-mashed furniture.

Mlw_9904Atmosphere: Upon entering the waiting staff will meet you with a beaming smile and a cheerful greeting – and so begins the sense that you’re someone’s specific guest, The feeling of comfort is perfectly conducive to brunching fun-times – this is a meal of relaxation, after all, and you won’t feel rushed for a moment.

Brunch offerings: The reason we immediately fell in love with the brunch here was the obvious attention to detail. Bill’s have a savvy team who have constructed a menu that has all the obvious classics that we brunch-fanatics want to see, and yet they have been pimped to the next level. What does this mean? You still have a bacon sarnie, but it’s smoked streaky bacon served in a brioche bun. Granola comes with fresh fruit skewers, and there’s naturally black pudding, potato cake and beans on the Full English. It’s these flourishes that make it stand out, and might have you hankering for everything on the menu.

IMG_8385The Classic: Scrambled egg was genuinely some of the nicest we’d had – fluffy, light, and the colour of fresh yellow butter. The three brunch-must haves of Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine are all present, and come with pumpkin seeds, a toasted English muffin, and hollandaise the colour of spun sunlight.

The Unusual: We loved the inclusion of Blueberry and Buttermilk pancakes on the list – these fluffy delights include banana, strawberries and maple syrup, and you up your brunch-game with the inclusion of bacon.

The Game changer: Now, any hard-core carnivores out there might consider the veggie options a sacrilege, but this is before you’ve experienced Bill’s Vegetarian Breakfast. It’s not simply a Full English substituted with Quorn products –their meat-free taste sensation is something really special. Crunchy toast is covered in hummus and mushroom, smothered with silky avocado and doused with delectable chilli sauce. Cut into the additional poached egg to add an oozing river of yolk and you’re pretty much in brunch heaven.

Best of the Bloodys: Bloody Marys here will be made to your specification. We had an extra spicy version made with Bourbon, which had the essential stick of celery poking atop the rim of the glass, and was a delightful shade of ruby red.

Overall:I can see why Bill’s is always a hub of happy activity whenever I pass – it really is the kind of place one would like to start their day. Service with a smile, superior dishes and an atmosphere of comfortable joviality make this an ideal brunching spot, whether catching up with mates,colleagues, or entertaining large groups. The casual friendliness belies a real talent for producing yummy food, and I we left with full tummies and a skip in our step. Testament to a good meal if ever there was one.

Bill’s Restaurant

@Billsrestaurant

BOE Magazine

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