Breakfast At Petitenget: French Toast and Marigold Brightness Colours Bali’s Most Popular Holiday Festival

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This year, Bali celebrated Galungan on 15 July. The beginning of a 10-day holiday festival, one of the most important on the Balinese Hindu calendar, it is the time when the spirits of the departed visit their relatives and the places they knew and loved. It concludes on 25 July, when, having been feted with food and colourful offerings, they return to heaven for another year.

Symbolically, Galungan marks the victory of Good, known as Dharma (not the one with Greg, the other one) and Evil, known as Adharma. If it’s at all possible, Balinese travel back to their villages; businesses close as do many shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, even in the tourist areas.

Needless to say, the few cafes opening to a hungry clientele on Galungan morning were besieged. There wasn’t much happening at Batu Belig, aside from one place I’d already tried and wasn’t wildly impressed by, so I continued south towards Oberoi and Seminyak Square.

On the way, I passed Petitenget, a long-time favourite of mine; it was the first eatery I fell in love with upon arriving in Bali early last year. Somewhat of an expat hangout (definitely a better class of expat), Petitenget has a compelling menu, very reasonable prices, excellent wines that don’t cost the Earth and the bar staff can even be relied upon for a seamless martini, should the whim take you.

When I want to show visiting friends some of my favourite Seminyak things, Petitenget (along with the nearby Motel Mexicana and Merah Putih) are top of my list. And while I call the menu compelling, I really should qualify that by saying that, despite my best efforts and a determination each time to order the slow-braised lamb shoulder or pork belly or even the Black Angus striploin, overwhelmingly I end up with the risotto of Balinese duck, irresistibly rich with wild mushrooms, spinach, shaved pecorino and truffle oil, a vast bowl that seems to be at least half duck. It’s that good.

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Petitenget’s website promotes the “farm-to-fork” philosophy of Executive Chef Simon Blaby, who previously worked at such resorts as Karma Kandara and Semara. The restaurant’s organic farm at Kintamani, in Bali’s north, produces about 80 per cent of the produce used in the kitchen.

Anyway, long story slightly less long is that it took me until that morning, well over a year since my arrival, to discover that Petitenget serves breakfast. The Universe was delivering me to that door (or the steps from the street that I always seem to trip up) so it would be ungrateful not to go inside.

Despite the place being packed, the Universe also provided the last unoccupied table, which I immediately commandeered. The breakfast menu was extensive and certainly had enough choices to provoke a certain consternation but I eventually chose the French toast with caramelised banana and a generous side of bacon.

Figuring the crowd of diners would slow the kitchen down a bit, I settled in with a strong latte and a newspaper. But far quicker than anticipated, my order arrived. And every bit as memorable as the duck risotto, I’m pleased to report.

Then, as I usually do with new breakfast locations, I ordered a macchiato. It was a little over-milked but tasty, with no trace of bitterness.

The boxes just keep being ticked at Petitenget.

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On the way out, I popped into the men’s room where the counter top was wreathed in bright marigolds. I’m not sure whether this was a nod to Galungan but the marigold, known locally as gemitir, is commonly used in offerings. Every day, countless thousands of canang sari can be seen throughout Bali. The canang is a tray made from a palm leaf. The sari may include rice, incense, money and always a flower of a particular colour; the burnished yellow of the marigold, aligned towards the west, symbolises the Hindi deity Mahadeva.

Just like dinner, breakfast at Petitenget is not an everyday choice. But for those times when you want something very special, it’s certainly a worthy option. And, unlike Galungan, it doesn’t have to be once a year.
Petitenget, Jl Petitenget No. 40X, Seminyak. Tel: (62 361) 4733 054.

Words and photos copyright David Latta 2015.

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Salty Salutations: Music Makes For A Great Night Out In Seminyak

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Salty Seagull’s AKA Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack, Seminyak.

Seminyak is not the real Bali, I’m told by so many people. Usually in a most dismissive tone. That’s a “duh” moment, if I’ve ever heard one.

OK, so the rice paddies and vegetable fields, verdant terraces and rainforest are long gone, replaced by traffic, boutiques, bars and restaurants. So, too, are the paddy rats, pythons and cobras, which is just fine by me.

If I wanted wildlife of the sort that makes my skin crawl, or ulcerate or worse, I’d be calling Canggu or Umalas home. But I want to live in Seminyak and, at the moment, I am.

Since my arrival, I’ve moved around southern Bali to better assess where I wish to hang my many hats. I started in Legian although, in actuality, it was Kuta; to state the bleeding obvious, as I’m not 19, steroid-crazed and heavily tattooed, it’s not the area for me.

BBQ Pork Ribs at Salty's
BBQ Pork Ribs at Salty’s

I then moved north to Seminyak and spent a few weeks at various points of the ‘Yak compass. Following a stretch in Sanur which was awfully nice if a little too sleepy for my tastes, I had the opportunity to return to Seminyak and this is where I feel I belong.

This I pretty much knew way ahead of time, well before I left Australia, but I needed to experience it afresh and in depth before committing.

In Sydney, I was an inner city boy. It was the proximity to all the social amenities, from caffeine to gym, artisanal bread-makers to live music venues, that gave me at least a passing illusion of being connected. Living in Seminyak is pretty much the same except it’s far cheaper and considerably warmer. Living deep in the gangs or alleyways of Seminyak, I get the best of two very different worlds – as the sun sets and thoughts drift to dinner, I can decide on just about any cuisine and it’s usually within walking distance.

But no matter how fierce the traffic and nightlife becomes, my villa is whisper quiet, a canopy of stars twinkle overhead, I can sit under a frangipani tree or lounge in the shallow end of the swimming pool, and I count the very many ways my good fortune has played out.

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If, however, I do want a little more stimulus, there are any number of fine bars, many with great live music.

One of my favourites is variously known as Salty Seagull’s (as it appears on its Facebook site) or Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack (as per its own menu) in Jl Petitenget, just south of Potato Head and the W Hotel. Regardless of the name, I discovered it early on, when it was still quite new. The theme is Caribbean beach shack and, as the name suggests, it specialises in mud crabs (of the chilli, salt and pepper, and plain boiled kind) and ribs (pork in either BBQ or chilli and soy), along with a small selection of other items including hamburgers and fish and chips.

There’s seating in a variety of semi-indoor bar areas or outdoors at retro picnic tables, a number of specialty nights such as half-price ribs on Monday, half price crabs on Wednesdays and a local rockabilly band on Thursdays, the staff are friendly and quite proactive on the service front, but – for me, at least – the real attraction is the music.

Salty’s is owned by Australian restaurateur, Adrian Reed, who already scored such a hit with his nearby Motel Mexicola. Adrian is obviously a man of impeccable and highly-evolved musical tastes; Mexicola is worthy of its own mention in this blog (as it will eventually be) but the music there is as stand-out as its soft tacos with an emphasis on quirky vintage Mexican pop.

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At Salty’s, there’s an undercurrent of reggae, to shore up its Caribbean credentials, along with some wondrously obscure cuts, some of which even left me baffled. Early on, when I was there a couple of times a week, I’d while the night away with a most satisfying game of “name that tune”.

To give some small example of what to expect, here’s what I caught at just one session: Led Zeppelin, the Wayne Fontana version of Love Potion #9, Bob Seger’s Beautiful Loser, Ian Dury, a version of Free Bird I’m not familiar with, Talking Heads’ Sugar On My Tongue, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Got To Get Ourselves Back To The Garden, The Proclaimers, The Rolling Stones’ Carol, The Hollies’ Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress, early Dionne Warwick, Elvis Costello’s The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes, The Five Man Electrical Band, Wilson Pickett’s Something You Got, and Peter Tosh’s Johnny B. Goode.

Now that I’m back in Seminyak, I’m eager to see if the music still holds up. Join me one night and find out.

Salty Seagull’s (AKA Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack).
Jl Petitenget 999, Seminyak
Tel: (0361) 8497 588

 

© words and photos David Latta 2014

How Suite It Is: Seminyak Is Bali For Grown-Ups

Pool at Tony's Villas
Pool at Tony’s Villas

 

There’s very much an aspirational undertone to Seminyak. It’s a tropical version of the Australian suburbs of Double Bay or Toorak, with a lot of Noosa thrown in, and that’s reflected in the boutiques, bars and restaurants.

There are those who write Seminyak off as not being the real Bali, that it’s just another anonymous high-end tourist experience. Fair enough. Head north, far north, for the real Bali. Stay in a joglo or a thatch-roofed cottage with no air-conditioning and commune with paddy rats the size of terriers. Get back to nature. Just don’t stand up-wind from me on your return. I’ll be in Seminyak.

The area has a range of accommodation, from hip and exclusive beachside resorts such as the W Hotel to a staggering array of private villas tucked away in back streets.

One of the longest-established resorts is the Oberoi, once the last word in luxury; although it’s been eclipsed by much flashier newcomers such as the Legian and the Samaya, the quietly attentive service remains a benchmark for the local tourism industry. Its historic role in the area is such that the main street, Jl Kayu Aya, which runs past the entrance, is generally referred to as Jl Oberoi.

First-time holidaymakers to Bali may start out in Kuta or Nusa Dua but, if they’re of a certain persuasion, they eventually end up, next visit or maybe the one after, in Seminyak. Kuta is for the young and/or budget-minded. The $AU30 a night hotels are perfectly serviceable and offer most of what a traveller needs, but there comes a time when cutting corners on accommodation to boost the drinking budget just doesn’t make sense any more.

Bedroom at Arvina Villas
Bedroom at Arvina Villas

When that happens, Seminyak, a twenty minute taxi ride north, awaits.

(As for Nusa Dua, the best advice is to examine its origins. It was established in the 1980s as a homogenised strip of luxury resorts, with inspiration drawn from similar arrangements on Hawaii’s Maui and the Big Island; in fact, the Grand Hyatt Bali echoes the design of the Hyatt Waikoloa which, when opened in 1988, was one of the most expensive resorts ever built and so revolutionary in design that Time magazine devoted a double-page spread to it. The Nusa Dua philosophy was to attract high-end tourism and conventions in a destination-neutral backdrop. It hasn’t changed much since.)

Over the years, I’ve stayed throughout Seminyak and it’s the quality, buttressed by the value, that keeps drawing me back.

Many of the villas and resorts in Seminyak quote their rates in US dollars. Because they can. It’s a hedge against a Rupiah that provides far greater value for visitors than locals (just a couple of years back, the exchange rate was $AU1 = Rp7,500; on my arrival in May 2014, it was $AU1 = Rp10,500 and by the end of June it had reached Rp11,200; prices haven’t risen to cover the different).

No matter what currency the final bill arrives in, the price of a two-bedroom Seminyak villa, with its own swimming pool, is less or comparable than a hotel room in the Sydney CBD. I know which one I’d rather have.

Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas
Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas

Of the places I’ve stayed to date, top of the Seminyak list would be Uma Sapna, a complex of completely private one- and two-bedroom villas, each with their own swimming or plunge pools. It’s located on Jl Drupardi, a few minutes’ walk from the eastern end of Jl Oberoi. It’s equidistant to Jl Seminyak near the intersection of Jl Kunti.

Internet rates for Uma Sapna for mid-July are around $AU230 for a one-bedroom pool villa.

The Arvina Villas were a great discovery that I stumbled across completely by accident when looking for Seminyak accommodation. They are in Gang Mangga, a laneway down the side of Café Moka heading towards Bali Deli. Five one-bedroom villas, with fully-equipped kitchens, grouped around a saltwater swimming pool. The villa I rented had a distinctive Japanese ambience, with a large bedroom, dressing room, semi-outdoor bathroom, and semi-outdoor living area with a koi pond.

In the mornings, I had the choice of walking a few minutes to Café Moka, Bali Deli or Buzz Café for breakfast (usually by way of the Periplus next to Bali Deli for the International Herald-Tribune) while some of the dinner choices include Made’s Warung (which also has a Periplus as part of the complex). Prices for the Arvina Villas start from just over $US100 a night. Great value indeed.

After the Jl Oberoi focus on Seminyak, I headed a little further north. I’d never stayed along Jl Petitenget before but soon felt right at home. Oberoi is now so popular it’s gridlocked much of the time; Petitenget is like Oberoi was five years ago (in the way that Canggu to the north will, in ten years’ time, be what Seminyak was ten years ago, if you catch my drift).

Canopy Bed at Tony's Villas
Canopy Bed at Tony’s Villas

Taman Ayu Cottages, from the street, looks like an old-style Bali hotel. They still have a number of the original rooms but the best option is one of the newly-built rooms – comfortable, spacious, with bathrooms almost as large as the bedrooms, and lots of spare power points and good lighting, things traditional Balinese hotel rooms don’t have.

This part of Jl Petitenget has an enviable selection of restaurants and bars all within a short walking distance. The choice ranges from the W Hotel and the Potato Head beach club to newcomers such as Salty’s Bib, Rib & Crab Shack. I’ll cover the restaurants and bars in this part of Seminyak at a later date.

Taman Ayu was such good value (about $AU50 a night for a newer room), I stayed two weeks. The pool was well positioned, if a little shady at some  times of the day, the staff friendly and efficient and it was close to everything I wanted.

I didn’t need a taxi to take me to my next hotel. I walked the three minutes, just on the other side of the W Hotel’s driveway, to Tony’s Villas. A half-price internet special at $AU90 a night lured me in to what felt like a secret hideaway of thatch-roofed bungalows set within a sun-dabbled rainforest.

The big bed, with its enveloping mosquito net, struck the right note of tropical exotica, there was a separate dressing room and a huge indoor/outdoor bathroom with two showers and a circular stone bath.

Bathroom at Tony's Villas
Bathroom at Tony’s Villas

The pool, one of my prime criteria for choosing any Bali hotel, was well positioned and the entire experience of staying at Tony’s Villas could hardly be faulted.

It can be difficult to decide where to live when relocating to a new place, whether it be across the city or on the other side of the world. Draw up a short-list of those places you know and/or have heard good things about. Stay for a week or so in each place. Explore the side streets, and shop as the locals do, paying special attention to the supermarkets. Do everything you’d do at home and compare how each on the list provide what you need.

Also, does it feel right? Could you envisage spending the next stage of your life there? As well as outlining the upsides, make note of the disappointments as well. The list will whittle down pretty quickly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be left with a manageable number.

The right choice will be the one you have the least number of reservations about. And, hopefully, it’ll feel like home before you know it.

© words and photos David Latta 2014