Paul’s Caul… Cuca, Bali

Cuca

The final chapter in the Balinese adventure for 2014, the final day of holiday and the final meal to be had in Bali. As if this wasn’t reason enough to celebrate, we where meeting my sister and two very good friends Bec and Mal for this last supper as it were… but with a noticeable absence of a messiah and about 6 disciples, we opted for the less holy and much more enjoyable lets get drunk and not die approach to our dining experience.

We set off that morning with our very own driver for the day, a great guy called Ivan, which made me laugh as with his broken English accent, it did seem he was explaining what he owned in the way of transport as much as he was introducing himself, but regardless of the what nonsense goes on in my head, we set off to pick up my sister.

My sister Zoe is not only hilarious and a shit load of fun, but she loves food and drink as much as me, in fact if I was to be fair she may like drink a little bit more… Zoe was in Bali with three friends for a week and it just so happened to coincide with our trip, which was brilliant, as we just don’t get to see enough of her. We arrived at her massive hotel around noon after picking up Bec & Mal, another lucky coincidence that more friends were not only in Bali but able to join us for a bit of foodie frivolity. We pulled up to see Zoe and her friend Joy waiting for our arrival, Joy informed us that her day was going to consist of massages and hopefully finding Mr. Package… now straight away I thought Mr. package could be a courier or a guy with a massive knob, its turns out it was the latter, so we left her Joy with her day well plotted out.

Today’s restaurant of choice was ‘Cuca’, it’s a reasonably new eatery and other than the glowing review from my Boss/chef/friend Herb, I really hadn’t heard anything about the place. But herb had been in Bali weeks before cooking at a local resort for a valentine’s dinner, and had eaten at Cuca and hadn’t stopped singing its praises, which is quite unusual for Herb. He’s not a hater, its just he has a very high standard and not many people/places can please him, so when he was excited, I was excited and got him to book me in and select the chef’s table.

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The grounds of this hard to find treasure are like stepping into different world, you drive through the noisy hustle bustle of Bali to enter a tranquil setting, quite minimalistic, but extremely well maintained. Upon arrival we were shown to the chef’s table, which looked down onto the most pristine kitchen, filled with all the newest toys, paco-jets, combi ovens, dehydrators and a god damn fairy floss machine! As the restaurant was dead quiet it was a tad awkward as we sat in a row looking at 4-5 chefs who quite frankly were doing fuck all. But for every awkward situation there is always alcohol to fix the problem, so we asked for the cocktails menu.

The concept of Cuca is based on Tapas, desserts and cocktails… this is exactly what you get, there isn’t a large extensive drinks/wine list and the menu doesn’t read little a shit novel filled with 1980’s cuisine much like the rest of International restaurants do… No it is a very well thought out collection of immaculately crafted dishes, desserts and cocktails, all with as much love and effort put into them as the last… These guys cared and it showed, these guys where good and it showed and believe me when I say that these guys spent a lot of money to pull an operation like this together… and when we where the only people in there, you have to feel for them.

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The cocktails were effing amazing, presentation like I’ve never experienced before, from flavoured ice cubes, special bottles and custom labels to the coolest glasses and vessels to serve said drinks in… the flavour was great as well, the chilli hit from the bloody mary was killer and the mojito with the lime ice sphere was very cool (pun intended) but being a creature of habit I did feel that after we tried all 6 cocktails we would of liked a grey goose caprioska or two.

The head chef wasn’t on premise the day we went, but he had told his staff to look after us, and they may have taken that a little to seriously, we had opted for chef’s choice, so the kitchen chooses the dishes and you get to relax, but as they had fuck all else to do, they decided to cook us most of the menu and see just how quick us large white folk can eat… this was quantified by the fact that we were eating the food quickly so we could chat and catch up but before we knew it there was more amazing food being served to us… I know it sounds awful doesn’t it, but I really do feel this style food is about relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere and flavours. So next time my young chef friends at Cuca please slow down with the food, maybe use that time to go polish your ridiculously clean kitchen some more.

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First to come was a spun sugar coated in a traditional Balinese chicken seasoning…

So it was fairy floss with chicken salt on it!

But do not for a second think this wasn’t cool, it was extremely cool, extremely tasty and a great was to start proceedings. Next to follow was onion rings with a green chilli aioli, this was simple but like everything it had its own cool bag for the rings and a trendy little bottle for the aioli, so it was fun and it worked.

Then the plated goodness started to flow from ceviche of snapper with watermelon and corn textures to smoked fish with beetroot foam then the most kick arse pumpkin and goats cheese salad with granola… the dishes were seasoned well, looked stunning and had plenty of body about them. Crispy chicken with picked red onion and olive powder was everything I like about modern cuisine, its was old flavours done with a new twist, molecular gastronomy that worked, not contrived bull shit, servicing nothing but some twats ego, this stuff was good food, and we were loving it.

We decided after dish number 12 that we needed a break and would like to sit in the restaurant as staring down a bunch of nervous chefs only entertains you for so long… so we adjourned to the main floor area which was simple and elegant, at this point that was the only thing simple and elegant as we had all drank quite a bit, laughter was ever present as we regaled each other with Balinese tails and past experiences, good times were had and finally we had room for dessert.

The desserts that arrived looked as you would expect, stunning, picture perfect and colourful… something I have forgotten to mention is just how colourful, vibrant and playful Cuca’s food and drinks are, think willy wonka meets Heston…. The egg dessert which consisted of mango, coconut and lychee flavours was a true marvel and one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten, the chocolate dessert with choc clusters, soft set choc and peppermint ice cream was extremely spectacular, not really to my taste but brilliant non the less. The final dessert was a take on the classic strawberry shortcake, they managed to achieve a very tasty version, although probably their worst plate up.

To finish the lunch we were show through to the cocktail bar, which was positioned at the end of the building on the out side, there they poured us a digestive infused Arak drink, a vanilla Arak for the ladies and a pineapple flavour for the lads, both were the best Arak I’ve ever tasted… but that’s not saying much as I hate the stuff and feel it would best be used powering lanterns or cleaning engines.

All in all I loved Cuca and would highly recommend going there, its awesome to see people trying something different and I really hope it works for them. I feel for it to be a continued success that they would need to change the limited selection of drinks quite often, but other than that they are flying the flag for modern cuisine, and I salute you all.

Paul’s Caul… Mozaic, Bali

Mozaic

We have two more days left here in our Ubud abode and tonight we are going to what our dear friend Che rates as the best restaurant in these parts… its called Mozaic and as with every dining experience we are incredibly excited. I have even started of late to not research menu’s as much as I used too, well not for good places anyway, as I love the surprise of what might come next, how its prepared and served and in what order are what makes a good dinner great and I can sometimes overthink the whole process given all information before hand.

So all I know is that you can choose 6 courses in their dego style and then you can add matched wine with that… so you guessed it we will most likely go for the most food possible with wines please and thank you.

I will continue this tale tomorrow morning once the details of our adventure have actually occurred, I find this the best way to tell a story, other wise it’s fictional bollocks, plain and simple.

So its now 9am the morning after and without putting to much of a fine point on it, its been a long night for my bum, not like jail days more like holy shit what’s happening inside my body days… come to think of they sound rather similar. This I’m sure has nothing to do with our meal last night so we shall leave it there.

We set off with Katut (actually is the name of our driver) to find Mozaic and luckily we didn’t take Laurens advice and walk there as it is rather far up a big hill… we arrived to a beautiful entrance guarded by a very polite security guard who doubled as a valet/host, the entrance was very cool, it was a picture frame that you walk through, very Narnia, very cool and very different.

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We where then shown through to the cocktail lounge where we were offered drinks and to browse the 4 dego options they have available for our dining experience, there was a local ingredient based 6 course dego which had versions of beef cheek rendang, mangosteen sorbet, snake fruit and crispy duck, all things we have seen on local menu’s… then there was chef’s tasting menu which blended the local produce with international flavours and it looked amazing with manchego gnocchi, foie gras and aussie lamb making up a bevy of dishes I really wanted to sink my teeth into.

But then there was the chef’s selection dego made up from all of the above and using what’s freshest at the time (even though I hope this would be his ethos with all menu’s) and we wouldn’t get the same dish as each other for each course, this for a pair of food sharers was a dream come true, 6 courses just became 12… Magic.

The fourth choice was a vego dego, which although I’d never order it, I do love to see it. Vego’s are the closest living animal to humans so we should care for them.

The entire menu was chocker’s with local flair, from the cocktails to the desserts the chef had obviously embraced his new found home with vigor. I started the night with a cocktail consisting of Absulut, star fruit, ginger and ginger syrup… so I changed the absulut for grey goose and bam I was very happy, Lauren had a similar drink with absulut, strawberry, lime and something very sour… she was equally as happy as me, especially when a canapé of edam cheese profiterole and truffle came to the table.

As we where lead out the cocktails lounge and through to the restaurant I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of roof the restaurant had, in fact we where out doors and never had we experienced such fine dining in such a relaxed and beautiful beer garden setting, they had put thought into every component of the dining experience and I guess that’s how you get into Asia’s top 50 restaurants. We never saw the same style of plate twice, everything was custom bought for its very own purpose.

We decided to not go with matched wines as we like what we like and prefer to have a few glasses of it rather than a thimble of deliciousness that is never to be seen again. So a 2008 Chilean malbac was just what the doctor ordered, a really great drop and reasonably priced at about 80 Australian dollars.

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The first course or amuse bouche as it were, was my favourite, it was a cornetto filled with beef, truffle and parmesan ice cream and Lauren had a similar cornetto with salmon and parmesan…. The cornetto was made form a savoury tuille biscuit of sorts and was eloquent, tasty and well measured cuisine… if only the rest of the courses to follow were as tasty.

Did you sense I slight bit of negativity in my wording? Well if I was to be honest about everything else that followed I’d have to say it didn’t all measure up to my expectations, these where expectations that I had before arrival and then they where magnified once I entered this very slick world. I will add some photo’s for you to all look at, and with out a doubt the execution of his dishes was superb, the ingredients where top notch and the obvious love for the art was ever present… but for me what was lacking in nearly all dishes was the magical 2% of flavour which makes or breaks dishes.

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This 2% could be salt, it could be spice it could come from the actual heat of a dish, it’s the thing that makes you salivate, it is unfortunately the thing that makes you move food around your mouth like a creepy person as you want to gain every last drop of the goodness from said dish… and even more unfortunately it was the thing missing from last nights dinner.

This isn’t to say that the crew are Mozaic aren’t talented, quite the opposite I think they are extremely talented and worth a visit as my photo’s show they create some amazing dishes, I am however overly critical when it comes to such quality restaurants as they are selling an experience not just a meal. And when these dining experiences come at such a high price tag, I want to leave with my mind going over time with memories of flavours and textures, I want to regale folks with tales of my favourite dish the one you must have if you ever go there… and a cornetto of beef with parmesan sorbet is not worth such a long journey.

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The entire bill was the equivalent of about $500 and when ever this amount of money is handed over for a meal, shit best be top notch, make sure your team is on it’s A game, and make sure every member of your team knows why they are adding ingredients, its not good enough following a recipe and executing the dish to perfection… if you don’t know the reasons for the steps, procedures and the need for certain ingredients then it will never be memorable.

I would go into more details about the dishes but I kid you not, I can’t remember most of them and with the breakdown of communication between us and the floor staff, it was hard to work out what was what… molecular gastronomy (MG) are words that get chucked around a lot and I for the most part love it when and only when it is used for a reason and used with restraint, they did seem to want to have some component of MG in all dishes and it was un-necessary. The large gel filled caviar they made was left for too long in their chemical bath and the skin was way to thick and as with shit loads of places they over used crumbs, soils and powders.

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Lauren and I still had a magnificent evening as we never look for fault at the time and left really happy, I went and had a chat to the chef and complimented him on how he called a pass with an international crew, we tipped the wait staff as they where so attentive and friendly the entire evening and we went home reveling in each other company, so please don’t think me a hater, I’m just calling it how I saw it.

Paul’s Caul… Same words, different melody

Breakfast Bali stylee
Breakfast Bali stylee

Same words…. Different melody

We really do get stuck in our ways. It seems that most western societies are comfortable with consistency. Some might even say we’re unimaginative… I’m torn as for the most part; I love what I have loved for too many years to mention, then every now and again I love something completely different…

What am I talking about?

Jam is actually what I’m talking about, but jam could be a metaphor for any number of common rituals in the food world or any other area of our life.

This was brought to my attention the last few morning as we where having breakfast in our Balinese paradise, we ordered fruit platters, juices, scrambled and poached eggs and croissants as well as coffee/tea… I know this isn’t at all Balinese and we are fine with that as it was a conversation we had and both decided prawns and chicken don’t belong in our breakfast repertoire.

First to arrive was the coffee and the old joke about “this coffee tastes like mud” followed by the answer “funny it was ground this morning” came to mind, but I’ve come to expect that of hotel coffee world wide…

Then my juice arrived and it was juice plain and simple, Lauren had opted for a fruit platter instead and it was brilliant, they hadn’t reinvented the wheel but it was plated in a manner unlike us western folk plate it, it was cut with care and detail and its minimalistic approach really worked…

Next to join the party at the table where our croissants, you may or may not know this but I effing love these buttery crescents of French brilliance, and I’m in the most part happy when they are escorted by their friends Mr. Butter and Mrs. Jam (I’m also not apposed to them being stuffed with bacon, ham, cheese, avocado, spinach etc.) so 9/10 times you can bet that you will receive strawberry or raspberry jam with your pastries/toast at any breakfast anywhere in the English speaking world… but not today I was treated to a magnificent papaya jam and an equally triumphant pineapple jam, it was so good but was so far removed from the norm that I felt mischievous eating it. Well done Katut, you are a preserve wizard…

This brings us to the egg component of the breakfast, which was as usual, a choice between poached, scrambled or fried… I as you should know by now choose poached and Lauren went for her fave – scrambled, both egg styles were executed brilliantly but what made us laugh was the fact that we thought we were just receiving eggs on toast, yet when they arrived they were garnished (yes garnished) with bacon, ham, sausage and tomato… YES a pig three ways two days in a row… wow that sounds nasty, a swine ménage a trois of sorts… no just three kinds of pig on my plate, what a lovely surprise to finish a very interesting take on an average western style breakfast, they call it American, but as far as I can tell there wasn’t enough food to feed an American and way to much fresh produce.

Paul’s Caul… Ubud in da hood!

Ubud in da hood

The last few months I’ve been working like a crazy man, setting up a new café, training new staff and in general filling my time more than one wants. But don’t feel sorry for me, hell no! Because this is accomplished with the sole purpose of getting me exactly where I am presently… “where is that?” you ask. You inquisitive make believe person… Well I am currently sitting next to our private pool in our villa in Ubud (I will take a photo for you right now). Brilliant. Got to love holidays, pools, camera’s and computers, possibly not all together as I have found over the years that pools and computers are not meant to meet, not even after a few drinks when both are nicer and more affable then normal, still they never seem to hit it off.

Proof of the pool/sitting back scenario
Proof of the pool/sitting back scenario

So my amazing and real life girlfriend/lover/travel agent sorted this entire trip for a Christmas present, I know! How effing good is she… but as I have just called her my lover on a public forum like this, then I imagine it may be our last holiday for a while. So I shall enjoy it all the more knowing it to be our final days together, I may create a montage of our time together and get it played on a massive screen to make leaving me nigh on impossible, as the treasured memories of frolicking in boats on lakes, snow ball fights and that time we rescued beached turtles and swam them back to the safety of the open ocean… hang on a damn tooting minute, none of that will happen as firstly I’m sure she just skim reads this just to placate me, and secondly non of the fore mentioned bollocks every happened, so I reckon I’m safe and shall continue my tale of wood carvings, Ralph Lauren shops and sweat as these are the three every present things I have associated with Bali in the last 12 hours.

As everything in our life our holidays are based completely around food, this I feel works so well as you should all be aware by now that we actually need food to survive… FACT… so why not put just a little thought into your dining experiences and then all you have to do is fill in a few hours in-between meals and bam your holiday is sorted, then add the extra dimensions of a different country and by all that is holy you’re in for a treat. Of course traveling doesn’t instantly mean new cuisines, you could for instance come to Bali and act like the majority of cashed up bogans and basically ignore anything slightly cultural and eat burgers, club sandwiches and pizza whilst sipping on what you think is Balinese culture in a bottle, a.k.a. Bintang… now I won’t lie to you that does sound kinda nice but not day in day out.

Since I started writing this we have snuck off and been pampered by a pregnant Balinese lady who performed some very impressive Thai massage techniques, I wonder if I was to go to Thailand, would a Thai virgin perform an impressive Balinese massage? Something for all of us to think about, me thinks.

Babi Guling
Babi Guling

Babi Guling* was what we where hunting for after our 90 minutes of bliss, and this my friends is the kind of hunting I’m best at; the kind where the pray is well and truly dead. If it’s not dead its doing a very good job of pretending, a rouse perhaps, one that this pig has definitely not thought through… regardless of my want to hunt helpless pre dead creatures and ineptness of the swine’s master plan, we started our expedition. We had a map which Lauren had compiled from two of our very good friends, both stating they knew the best pig place in Ubud. G-money is a true foodie and our most frequent dining partner so we where locked in with his suggestion, then another great mate suggested the same … Che is a chef, he is our very good friend and he lives in Bali, so when he agreed with G-money we thought too easy. So it was off to find a place called IKU OKA, down some alleyway hidden in-between shacks and bamboo scaffolding.

Lauren walks fast when she is hungry
Lauren walks fast when she is hungry

This adventure would have been a lot easier had we actually taken said map with us… instead we walked around Ubud with the kind of pace only hunger can arouse, we found out a few things along the way… firstly Lauren gets very snappy when she is hungry, secondly there are fuck loads of Babi Guling restaurants in Ubud and thirdly finding the right one is worth going through all that shit… Iku Oka is pretty effing amazing, we ordered the special plate which had, roast pig, fried pig meat so crispy it should be iligal, crispy skin, blood sausage, rice and shit tonnes of their delicious green chilli relish. All in all it was everything Gray and I always bang on about, it’s was simple, it was un-pretentious and it was pig in many forms…. Fucking right on Iku Oka, you guys are the tits!

Find the pig shack, eat the pork, make Grazza very jealous...
Find the pig shack, eat the pork, make Grazza very jealous…

Why spend an hour finding a pig shack down an alley? The answer is simple, play to people strengths I always say… well I don’t actually say that, but I really do think it a lot… let people/chef’s (they are almost the same thing) do what they know and love and the finished product will be amazing… unless they are a shit person/chef then it will be mud.

*Balinese roast pork