Viceroy Bali Defines
the Art of Luxury
Michelin Star Chefs
Finding serenity in the
I’m standing on a long balcony two storeys above the stallholders inside Ubud markets. Down below a flurry of movement and colour at 6.30am as women negotiate with stallholders while precariously balancing dozens of eggs on their heads. In the wet market, an elderly butcher cleaves a chicken in seconds with surgical precision while the closely bunched fruit and flower sellers form a kaleidoscopic carpet of movement nearby.
Wandering down into the market hubbub itself and the noise ratchets up appreciably, a haggling cacophony of commerce in its purest form. Outside the market, hundreds of riderless motorcycles rest like a large, patient herd of steel horses waiting for action. On the road itself, motorcycles zip between small trucks and cars filling the air with a mix of diesel fumes, sun-ripened fruit and the damp aromas stirred by an early morning rain shower.
It’s still early but the damp warm embrace of the Balinese heat starts to draw its arms around me. I long for breakfast.
You've never tasted a rendang quite like this. Delicately rolled in a wilted cabbage leaf, the braised beef cheek breaks apart, releasing the heady aroma of a rich Sumatran rendang sauce. A soft dusting of charred leek adds a wonderful toasty finish. It's quite simply heaven to eat.
Author of this stunning dish is executive chef Nic Vanderbeeken, of CasCades restaurant at the Viceroy Bali, Ubud. Typical of chef Nic's talent for combining fine dining techniques with distinct Balinese flavours, the Rendang Sapi is just one of the dishes featured as part of CasCades' popular Indonesian-inspired degustation menu.
Taking its inspiration from the Dutch colonial-era Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), the six or eight course meal celebrates the flavours and spices found on the island of the gods and across the Indonesian archipelago. Diners are treated to a range of exotic flavour combinations not seen anywhere else, elevated through chef Nic's European fine dining skills.
It was around 7pm and the warm evening was cooled by a breeze rolling up Ubud’s Valley of the Kings. Like a big egg yolk, the sun was slowly easing into the pan-like horizon for the evening. Its last rays were streaking through the leaves of the palm trees opposite and washing the Viceroy’s CasCades restaurant in a dappled light.
Milling around the entrance to the restaurant were hotel guests, a string of local identities and other diners who had come to sample the culinary wares of chef Shinobu Namae from Tokyo’s multi-Michelin starred L’Effervescence restaurant.
Namae is the latest in a long line of international guest chefs to wow diners at CasCades. Over the last two years, CasCades chef Nic Vanderbeeken and the restaurant’s owners, the Syrowatka family, have made it their mission to bring the world’s best chefs to Ubud’s doorstep, delighting food loving locals and tourists alike. Unsurprisingly, the move has stimulated the growth of Ubud as Bali’s premier food destination, with many new restaurants opening as a result.
For anyone who has watched The Lord of the Rings films the more relaxing scenes in the first and last films were when the characters descended on Rivendell.
The magical home of the elves west of the Misty Mountains. In the films the Lord of Rivendell Elrond played by Hugo Weaving, lives in the “last Homely House” and true to its name everyone feels completely safe, secure and utterly relaxed.
Walking across the stone bridge separating CasCades Restaurant and the Lembah Spa at the Viceroy Bali I’m reminded of Rivendell and its offer of serenity. Granted my arduous journey hasn’t involved much more than a 20-metre walk from the lunch table but as soon as my bare feet pad across the cool marble floor of the spa I’m transported into an otherworldly state of bliss.
When did you last take a luxury holiday
It’s still early but the damp warm embrace of the Balinese heat starts to draw its arms around me.
Each dish is beautifully presented and showcases the very best local and imported ingredients.
Down underneath the dining room, Namae and Nic were making a few minor tweaks to the night’s six-course degustation menu in the kitchen.
I’m transported into an otherworldly state of bliss
I’d been up early after being told by the Viceroy Bali’s general manager, Anthony Syrowatka that I need to be there early to see the markets in action. Later in the day they’re turned over to local handicrafts and t-shirt sellers’ eager to catch the tourist crowd. Early morning was when the markets were really alive as the locals bought their groceries for the evening meal.
Anthony had mentioned the markets the night before as he passionately discussed the beauty of Bali and the cultural significance of Ubud. It remains the region’s arts centre with its mix of local art and crafts as well as dance and drama.
Beyond culture, Ubud’s deep valleys, rainforest and rivers make it an adventure destination and its sheer natural beauty make it an obvious choice for nature lovers with its abundant wildlife.
Apart from the food, there are a few things that make for a special evening. For one, the view is astounding – diners can relax in the open air splendour of the restaurant, overlooking the green lustre of Ubud's Valley of the Kings. Arrive early as the sun sets and relax in one of the adjacent bar's sumptuous booths, sipping a cocktail or two.
Ease into the evening with a relaxing drink and nibbles in the bar before CasCades' ever-willing and attentive staff guide you to your table. It makes for an auspicious beginning to what is a special night of fine dining matched with great wines and simple, unobtrusive service.
The Viceroy's comprehensive wine list takes a tour through many of the world’s great wine regions and caters for a wide range of tastes and budgets.
Opt to pair a flight of wines with the flamboyant flavours found across the degustation menu and you’re in for a real treat.
Back when Namae was invited for this special one-night only residency at the Viceroy Bali he was keen to not just reproduce the dishes from his own noshery. For Namae, the key was to create a menu representing a real collaboration with CasCades restaurant and exotic Balinese flavours.
Part of a series of dining events the Viceroy have hosted throughout the year and will continue to do so, the evening with Namae was billed as being “Fresh from the farm, intermingling in the wok, an eruption of flavours”.
Preparation for the event had begun months earlier when Namae, Nic and acclaimed Jakarta-based Indonesian chef and consultant Petty Elliott toured the Island of the Gods in search of the finest ingredients and best producers.
The kitchen aims to delight through imagination and playfulness
Just five minutes out of Ubud town and a short drive through rice paddy fields lies the Viceroy Bali. After an early morning visit to the markets, wandering back into the resort’s open lobby with its marble floor and high-vaulted bamboo and grass thatched ceiling immediately washes away any anxiety. A water feature trickles nearby and down a grand staircase the resort opens up into a compact, cool sanctuary clinging to the side of the narrow, strikingly verdant Valley of the Kings.
A soft, artfully manicured lawn rolls gently off to the side of an infinity-edged pool overlooking the heavily forested valley wall opposite. To my left, a path leads down to CasCades restaurant. Open on all sides with its thick beautifully woven thatched grass roof, it’s the beating heart of the resort where executive chef Nic Vanderbeeken’s Bali-inspired creations are imbued with a classic European sensibility.
Further adding to the feel you’re visiting one of the world’s more intimate and beautiful estates is a small swim up bar tucked on the infinity pool edge where the water gently slips over the side.
When I chat to Anthony over breakfast he says the resort is a reflection of what the family envisioned as their ultimate resort destination.
Originally conceived as a bolthole in Bali for the extended family of relatives and friends, the Syrowatka’s bought out their co-investors and transformed it into a luxury hotel.
It’s now a paean to luxury with each of the spacious 25 villas exquisitely furnished and exceedingly private. Moreover, each villa has its own heated pool and cabana as well as unmatched views of the surrounding valley and dense jungle. Adding to the serenity, the constant, calm, cool sound of a rolling river rises from the valley floor as guests sit on their private terraces and relax.
Dinner starts with a flute of Tattinger Prelude Brut Grand Cru and multiple amuse-bouche, which change daily. Tuna Tartare with a coriander cream excites, a basil sorbet cools.
A Gado Gado of organic vegetables, soft-boiled quail egg and peanut sauce is delightfully fresh and a subtle way to introduce that staple of Indonesian cooking, satay, to the palate.
The bumbu, or 'spice mix', is used throughout Indonesia. While the mix changes island-to-island, the version used to flavour a succulently grilled baby squid is distinctly Balinese.
The aroma of galangal (ginger), turmeric, garlic and salam leaves grabs the senses, while a confit of papaya offers a fleshy and sweet accompaniment to the squid.
The seafood continues with a delicately bumbu-spiced, pan-fried Red Snapper. Bumbu crème and crunchy seroendeng adds texture and richness to the dish. A Terrazas De Los Andes Reserve Chardonnay adds hints of acidity and lemon zest.
Energy on the plate
According to Namae, it was the markets in Ubud which really grabbed his attention; after an early morning visit he wanted to transfer the pulsating energy and myriad colours and aromas to the plate.
“I wanted Nic and I to work together; to source product together and connect the people together with an original menu that has never been seen anywhere else for one-night only.”
Namae’s reputation for innovation was honed during a stint at Heston Blumenthal’s little eatery in Bray, The Fat Duck and in recent years L’Effervescence has risen to number 12 on the Asia’s Top 50 restaurants list.
“With this night at CasCades Nic and I want to create a real synergy of Japanese and Indonesian cuisine. The heroes will be the local produce such as local foie gras, duck, beetroot and all the herbs and vegetables – the cooking reflects Bali,” Namae says.
It would seem they succeeded.
While the crowd small-talked outside, made new acquaintances and caught up with friends, the night began with a series of canapés such as a green asparagus fritter with caviar and a tender Rendang sapi sate with grated dried coconut. A rice paper roll with miso mayonnaise was driven by the zing of pickled vegetable and the night was off to a glorious start.
Stunning location – sense of timelessness
Fusing the flavours
“It’s just a beautiful location with beautiful views,” Anthony says, “and what we’ve created is an uber-luxury haven focussing on what we like as a family when we travel. We’re small and independent which means we wrote our own rulebook to create a place where we would like to stay as guests.”
“We are the owners of the hotel and on-site every day, with a passionate and wonderful staff of 140. It’s these things that make the hotel. A place that’s full of heart, feeling and flexibility where no request is too large for our guests.
For Anthony’s parents and resort founders Otto Syrowatka and Margaret Bainbridge, it’s a special place where guests can come to relax, reflect and rejuvenate.
“Seasoned travellers come here and they don’t want to leave.” Otto says.
“For me, it’s the best hotel ever built - a mix of great staff and the fact that it’s family run. Guests get a sense of time here, we give people a feeling of time,” he says.
The spinach and young coconut soup with coriander espuma (foam) enlivens and resets the palate, delivering an earthiness in anticipation for a trio of meat dishes. Famed as one of chef Nic’s best dishes, he discreetly shares his recipe with enthusiastic guests.
The salty, crisp skin of the Brem Bali duck breast is incredibly moreish, while the pink-hued meat is enhanced by the inclusion of a spinach and coconut urab. A sambal ulek adds an ever-so-sour heat to complete the dish.
Bali is unique in Indonesia for its love of pork, however CasCades imports its premium pork belly all the way from the United States for use as the hero ingredient in the Perut Babi. A chilli, pumpkin and tamarind sauce adds a zesty counterpoint to the pork belly's exquisitely fatty sweetness.
Out first was a dish billed as Ocean Garden “Bruno Lombok” in reference to local seafood supplier Bruno. The dish’s hero was a small tender scallop but it was simply surrounded by sea grapes, seaweed, sea urchin cream with yuzu-kosho and nori. Beautifully presented the dishes use of the sea grapes and seaweed drew the saltiness out of the sea urchin cream while the scallop remained sweet and tender.
A Canadian lobster matched with local vegetables from Owen’s Organic Farm including lacto-fermented finger cucumber, watermelon, indigenous tomato and lemongrass oil matched with edible flowers also leapt off the plate with its delicate mingling of flavours as well as how artfully it was presented. The delicate flavours of the main ingredient were sublimely intertwined with the fresh, zesty, herbaceousness of the local vegetables.
The local Foie Gras Terrine “Baturiti” was sourced from Baturiti-raised ducks and presented a slightly subtler flavour than most foie gras. Much of this could be attributed to the rujak salad – a local salad combining mango and pineapple and dressed with tamarind and palm sugar. A ginger bread crumble and soil further polished the tastebuds clean.
Each dish was ably paired with a range of new world wines except for the canapes which were served with a NV Moet champagne. A particular highlight was Kleine Zalze chenin blanc from South Africa which starred alongside the foie gras.
As I recline on a lounger overlooking Ubud’s Valley of the Kings I’m feeling about as relaxed as possible. My feet are doing a happy dance to the beat of a burbling water feature lying to my right and a cool breeze wafts up the valley. In front, the spa’s interior flows out onto an open terrace rimmed by a semi-circular infinity-edged moat perched high above the valley. This is Bali’s Middle Earth and so far away from any care in the world.
The Viceroy isn’t known as a wellness retreat but the Lembah Spa’s location and ambience suggests otherwise. It’s not a typical hotel spa tucked away somewhere quiet so it doesn’t feel like an add-on - it’s a natural extension to the Viceroy Bali experience and is primed to be expanded further in the next couple of years.
The difficulty in disappearing into one of the treatment rooms is you have to leave the view of the valley and the breeze behind yet after a 90-minute Balinese massage you’re willing to forgive the loss. Sitting down inside the large, naturally-lit spa suite I selected a Frangipani oil for my massage while the masseuse gently washed and massaged my feet in a lime-infused footbath.
For Margaret, who is also the resort’s managing director, it’s an enchanting location. When she first arrived the site was a jungle and the family have slowly transformed it into a place of five-star luxury.
“For guests, it’s perfection. They get this amazing feeling of living in the jungle in a location filled with beauty and calmness. They also get a feeling of warmth and kindness from the staff that cannot be bought, a sense of being part of the family.”
As Anthony reiterates: “If we were going to have our perfect holiday, it would be the Viceroy Bali. Guests experience traditional Balinese culture but in a luxurious way.
“It’s an extremely romantic destination as well as being very private and very peaceful. It is our home and our family business and we host our guests as such - a sanctuary in paradise.”
For dessert, chef Nic delivers a bold reinvention of an old European favourite - a Balinese 'Forest' cake.
Layered Balinese coffee mousse, pandan leaf sponge, meringue, rucola dust, a wonderfully fresh hibiscus granita and handmade chocolate rocks combine to produce something at once comfortingly familiar yet fantastically original.
Paired with a glass of Ruffino Serelle Vin Santo, it's the perfect end to an amazing evening.
Comfort food with panache
Namae’s homage to the Ubud market was grilled chicken bamboo with a sambal matah and a gorgeously moreish sweet potato infused with curry and vadouvan. In a night of delicate yet new and often unusual mixes, the chicken was the comfort stop. It was the dish that made you want to put your feet up and switch on the TV. Pure comfort and well matched with a Riposte the Dagger pinot noir from well-known Australian producer Tim Knappstein.
The duck breast in the final savoury dish of the evening, Magret de Canard, was exquisitely presented with roasted red beetroot, soursop, peanuts, kecap manis and a red wine reduction. A Chilean carmenere from Von Sienenthal was an ideal wine pairing with the rich unctuous gamey flavours of the duck which were cut back with the earthy beetroot and nutty custard apple flavour of the soursop.
For chef Nic Vanderbeeken, the series of guest chef events is about working with the best in the world, often connections from previous endeavours. It’s a way to exchange ideas and learn ever-changing techniques but the real winners are CasCades diners who get to reap the benefits of Nic’s global network and passion for collaborative cooking.
An example of the simple yet meaningful touches involved in the collaboration could be discerned in the dessert - a white chocolate semifreddo with a popcorn crumble and sweet corn crumble was lightly dusted with a final flourish of Matcha from Namae.
A chewy texture with a light crunch touched by the lightly flavoured white chocolate ensured the tastebuds were cooled, refreshed and satisfied before the night evolved into excited chatter and wine – it was a glorious evening.
Five minutes later I’m lying facedown on a massage table with mellow music playing softly through the sound system. For 90-minutes my mind flickers through moving images of childhood memories and moments of unbridled joy. There may have been flying involved and I know there was some sleep. Everything inside and outside seems to slowdown and move ever-so-gently forward.
A quick shower afterwards, back into my clothes and out on the lounger I’m overlooking the valley again. This time while I sip on a chilled cup of herb-infused tea and gaze at the steep rich green jungle walls, everything seems at rest and the world around moves at a more sedate, quieter pace. I didn’t want to leave but after rousing myself, floated back across the stone bridge to the bar and another night in the exquisite “last homely house” that is the Viceroy Bali.
There’s nothing quite like a stay at the Viceroy Bali.
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